Natural disasters and wildlife

Yesterday, Birds Caribbean emailed me about the La Soufriere volcanic eruption and its impact on the endemic birds of St. Vincent. It linked to this story, which includes an appeal for help.

Whenever natural disasters strike, we hear first about the impact on people – how many dead, missing, or homeless. But wildlife, too, often end up dead, missing, or homeless in these situations. I was in the Dominican Republic for Hurricane Irma. One of the two royal palms in my yard was a colony tree for Hispaniolan woodpeckers, a fruit bat occupied a disused woodpecker cavity, and there was a palmchat communal nest in the crown. The hurricane winds snapped it off at one of the woodpecker cavities – presumably, their excavations weakened the trunk. Next day, I saw the palmchats perching on the stub, as if bewildered where their nest went.

Volcanoes, hurricanes, blizzards and ice storms, even earthquakes can be as hard for wildlife as they are for us, not to mention the more obvious wildfires. How have you seen wildlife affected by natural disasters where you have been observing?


It’s not limited to volcanoes.

Probably the largest recent example of this was the wildfires in Australia in 2019 and 2020, but the western US wildfires, particularly those in regions high in endemic species, are becoming annual examples of this.

Tsunamis, especially those affecting islands, are another relatively common example of this.

Even major storms can have similar results. Where I work after every typhoon we are a bit concerned that we may have lost a few individuals from the critically endangered species we work with.

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We have just had a huge fire on Table Mountain (Cape Town)
People are relieved that Hermes, our charismatic urban caracal has been seen. Alive and well after.

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Here in NE Ohio we had some purple martins return to some lakes near Akron, Ohio where they use martin houses set up for them. Purple martins depend on these man-made structures. This year we had about a week of nice warm 60 - 70 degree weather. Then, we had three days of 30 degree weather with some snow. That is typical of NE Ohio springtime. The martins were having a hard time. Well, a couple of years ago some birders got the idea to bring them food when this happens. They seem to like scrambled eggs. So, birders bring containers of eggs for them so they can get through the few days of frigid temperatures when this happens in the spring. In the past some birds would die from the cold. Naturalists confirmed that the scrambled eggs are good for them. Mealworms didn’t seem to do the trick. The martins also like to huddle under the cars to take advantage of the heat coming off the engines. So, the birders plan to stay awhile when they bring the eggs.

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Canada often has bush fires - there are never any reports on the state of non-human life. In my neck of the woods, the Red River is important for many species. It’s low right now, but a few years ago it flooded in the early summer. I presume all the bank swallows died. The vagaries of life, I suppose. No less sad. Though most people are unaware of it.

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