In the wake of Hurricane Sandy and the spiteful me-too northeaster, much of the East Coast looked so battered and flooded, so strewed with toppled trees and stripped of dunes and beaches, that many observers feared the worst. Any day now, surely, the wildlife corpses would start showing up — especially birds, for who likelier to pay when a sky turns rogue than the ones who act as if they own it?
Hurricane Sandy battered the mid-Atlantic region on Oct. 29 and 30. Here’s a day-by-day look at the storm’s impact.
Yet biologists studying the hurricane’s aftermath say there is remarkably little evidence that birds, or any other countable, charismatic fauna for that matter, have suffered the sort of mass casualties seen in environmental disasters like the BP oil spill of 2010, when thousands of oil-slicked seabirds washed ashore, unable to fly, feed or stay warm.
“With an oil spill, the mortality is way more direct and evident,” said Andrew Farnsworth, a scientist at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. “And though it’s possible that thousands of birds were slammed into the ocean by this storm and we’ll never know about it, my gut tells me that didn’t happen.”
To the contrary, scientists said, powerful new satellite tracking studies of birds on the wing — including one that coincided with the height of Hurricane Sandy’s fury — reveal birds as the supreme masters of extreme weather management, able to skirt deftly around gale-force winds, correct course after being blown horribly astray, or even use a hurricane as a kind of slingshot to propel themselves forward at hyperspeed.
“We must remind ourselves that 40 to 50 percent of birds are migratory, often traveling thousands of miles a year between their summer and winter grounds,” said Gary Langham, chief scientist of the National Audubon Society in Washington. “The only way they can accomplish that is to have amazing abilities that are far beyond anything we can do.”