Silhouette of Grey heron

Where do birds go when it rains? Can they get sick by being exposed to heavy rainfall? While a bird can look very soggy and miserable when it’s raining out, they have evolved well when it comes to handling heavy rainfall. In order to stay warm, a bird will trap tiny pockets of air beneath their feathers to regulate their body temperature. But some birds can handle cold temperatures and rainfall better than others. Many birds will resort to seeking shelter in order to stay comfortable and dry during the rainy season. Fortunately, many birds are very crafty and resourceful when it comes to finding a place to weather the storm. But where do they go exactly? Let’s find out.

Health Risks

As I mentioned earlier, a bird will trap tiny pockets of air beneath the feathers to regulate their body temperature. Unfortunately, when feathers get wet these pockets can fill up with water, causing the bird’s temperature to drop rapidly and putting them at a high risk of hypothermia. A smaller bird will have a higher surface-to-volume ratio compared to large birds. This means that they tend to lose body heat very quickly. Additionally, these smaller birds will also have a lower energy reserve which can also put them at an increased risk.

A wild bird can seek shelter under bushes and shrubs, once it begins to rain, but this is only a short-term solution to keeping the bird nice and dry. A bird must eat birdseed regularly in order to keep their energy level up, but to do so they will have to venture out into the cold weather. Birds can hide from heavy rainfall for a few hours but any longer and they’ll be forced to face the wet weather or starve.

Many bird feathers are fairly waterproof, and rain usually hits the surface of the feathers and will roll away before it’s absorbed into the skin. However, heavy rainfall can penetrate these feathers and can quickly have a negative impact on the bird’s body temperature. You may see birds in light rain showers fluff their feathers up in order to keep warm, but their feathers are no match for heavy rainfall since the force of the rain can quickly flatten and soak their feathers.

Some species of birds can coat their feathers with a layer of water-resistant oil. These birds will tuck their bill into the oil glands that are found at the base of their tail, spreading the oil throughout their body using their beaks.

Coping with Heavy Rainfall

In heavy rainfall, a bird will keep their head withdrawn, with their body upright and their beaks pointed up for the rain. Standing in this position will allow a bird to conserve more energy while also minimizing the rain’s contact with the body, causing raindrops to slide off the feathers. A bird may cuddle with other birds to prevent rain from hitting them and to remain warm.

Some species of birds enjoy taking baths in the rain, especially when it comes to hotter climates where long periods of droughts are common. These birds will perch in the treetops or at the end of branches, splaying their feathers in order to take full advantage of the falling rain while shaking themselves in order to remove any excess water. When the rain has ceased, they will begin preening themselves, drying their feathers out in the sun.

Can Birds Fly in the Rain?

Kingfisher

Yes. Most birds can fly in the rain for short distances because of the oil glands that are used to protect the feathers. However, when it comes to heavy rainfall their wings can become saturated, which can make it difficult for them to fly and can leave them vulnerable to hiding predators.

Feeding in the Rain

  • Many types of songbirds will be forced to wait out the rain and will sit and wait perched emotionless in the trees, much like when birds go to sleep. This is their energy conservation mode, which helps to not only conserve energy but retain heat as well. As I mentioned earlier, if the rain is falling for several hours, they will be forced to find food in the rain in order to refuel.
  • Finches and sparrows always seem to be able to find food, while thrushes seem to be especially bold when it rains. Birds such as robins will hunt for grubs and worms that have been flooded out, allowing them to eat their fill. In the rain, the species of bird that seems to be the unhappiest is the Raptor. These birds are more likely to get soaked through, relying on their mass to stay warm. Hawks can often be seen after a storm spreading their wings in order to quickly dry off. Unfortunately, it can take a whole day for this process to happen which will prevent them from making a longer flight.
  • Obviously, the water bird is in their element and tends to thrive in rainy weather conditions. Ducks and other waterbirds know exactly what to do, leaving behind deeper waters and moving into fields that are newly flooded and full of new opportunities. These birds will relish the lack of predators, not to mention the ability to utilize their impressive adaptations to water.
  • Unfortunately, insectivores seem to have it the worst. These birds have an athletic build and their bodies hold low levels of heat. Additionally, their diet has fewer calories. The insects they prey upon become active when it’s raining. Eventually, after enough wind and rain insects are literally washed out of the trees which will leave nothing behind for the insectivores to eat. After a huge storm, you’ll notice a flock of insectivores stressed and searching for any dead bugs to eat on the ground. In some cases, if the rainfall is severe and lasts for several days many of these birds will die. In urban areas, during severe cold and rain, insectivores can burst into even the busiest streets looking for flowers that are nectar-rich where old corpses of flies and other tiny insects can remain entombed in gummy nectar of certain species of plants. While this would be a great food source for birds during a trying time, unfortunately, these smaller birds are not equipped to handle the gummy nectar on their feathers.

Where Birds Seek Shelter in the Rain

All birds will be quick to seek shelter when it starts raining. In fact, some birds will fly in the rain and will take this opportunity to forage or hunt when other predators or people are not around. Additionally, as I mentioned earlier, this is also a great time for insectivores to get their fill. However, once the rain has stopped, these birds will quickly realize that their food source has become depleted due to flooded ground.

Below, I’ll go a little more in-depth in terms of which specific species hide during a rainstorm and where.

Seabirds

The larger species of seabirds can easily ride out a storm. However, smaller species of seabirds will seek shelter on land. If you see birds on the coast that usually fly far from land, it can often be a signal that a storm is approaching. Pelicans and gulls can fly out of the storm’s path easily. Their absence of flight or flight in general can also warn of an advancing storm front.

Land Birds

You’ve probably seen that a light rainfall doesn’t have much of an impact on birds. Their thick feathers can trap air against their bodies to keep them warm. However, heavy rainfall will cause them to seek shelter in trees, birdhouses, sheds, and brush. They will often remain motionless in order to conserve energy until the rain lets up.

If you want to increase a small bird’s chances of survival during heavy rainfall, using the best squirrel proof bird feeders. These feeders can be a great option since it will provide them with a reliable food source rain or shine.

Additionally, you can also leave out food scraps that birds can eat, that you were planning on tossing out anyway. While you shouldn’t feed wild birds food scraps daily, in inclement weather it can be a great treat and one that can provide them with the carbs and fat they need to heal up quickly.

Ducks

Heavy rainfall can be an opportunity for some species of birds. A flooded field can provide a whole new hunting territory for ducks that they can exploit, thanks to fewer predators lurking about. Additionally, a season that’s filled with rainy days can mean an increase in insect larvae.

Final Thoughts

Where do birds go when it rains can depend on the severity of the rainfall and the species of bird.  Some birds will thrive in the rainy season, while others can potentially starve unless they’re brave enough to head out into the rain and search for food. In many cases, a bird can use this opportunity to seek out new food sources, however smaller birds such as songbirds, are at risk of starvation and sickness if heavy rainfall occurs for more than one or two consecutive days.