Thursday, November 8, 2012

Hurriconundrum - The White Ibis


Originally published on Audubon Guides on August 25th, 2012
On Sunday, August 26th, Tropical Storm Isaac loomed 150 miles southwest of me in the Gulf of Mexico. For five days, hurricane trackers had forecast the storm’s position and strength and offered suggestions of where it might hit. Flooding, storm surges and high winds are a big concern. When the call goes out to evacuate, it’s time to go.
A mixed flock of Ibis, Wood Storks and Egrets © Pete Corradino
Birds and other wildlife are sensitive to barometric pressure changes. When storms rage through, strong fliers will depart in advance of the approaching storm. Tree cavity dwellers like owls and woodpeckers will take shelter while others will simply gran a branch, hang on and ride it out. The ibis can fly at speeds of up to 28 miles per hour, so it is possible that they are the last to go, but Ibis also amass in huge flocks and fly in “V” formation making them conspicuous to even a non-birder.

The White Ibis was named the mascot for the Miami Hurricanes back in 1926 because as the school’s website states, “Folklore maintains that the Ibis is the last sign of wildlife to take shelter before a hurricane and the first to reappear after the storm.” Clearly this is fact because several other websites state that “Folklore maintains that the Ibis is the last sign of wildlife to take shelter before a hurricane and the first to reappear after the storm.”
White Ibis © Pete Corradino
I was born and raised in Florida. In my 41 years I have yet to experience a hurricane (lucky!). I’m sure it made little sense to others that a native Floridian was asking when and if we will need to evacuate. I wonder if the birds do as well. Do they look to the Ibis or decide for themselves when it’s time to go? There are plenty of people who wait until the last minute to evacuate and then it may be too late.
Juvenile White Ibis © Pete Corradino
Thankfully there was no need for me to evacuate and I had the opportunity to watch to see which birds returned first. Keep your eyes open – with storms like these, occasionally a rare species like the Greater Flamingo will have been gusted north and made a rare appearance in Florida. 

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