A recent study out of UC Berkeley has discovered that tiny golden-winged warblers can predict impending storms — or rather, they can actually hear them approaching. Scientists hope to use what they’ve learned to help save lives ahead of violent weather.
In April, a massive thunderstorm ravaged central and southern United States, causing more than $1 billion in damage across 17 states. Two days before the event, flocks of songbirds and golden-winged warblers departed the areas. Scientists believe that the birds can hear the incoming storms.
“At the same time that meteorologists on The Weather Channel were telling us this storm was headed in our direction, the birds were apparently already packing their bags and evacuating the area,” Henry Streby, a population ecologist from the University of California, Berkeley, said in a statement.
After flying 1,500-miles down to Tennessee, the warblers suddenly switched their path and flew 900-miles to Florida and Cuba.
Researchers wondered why the birds would travel so far from their migratory route and after analyzing data, found that it coincided with the comings of storms.
Tornadoes below 20 hertz make frequencies that travel thousands of miles. Humans cannot hear it but birds can.
“Biologists had not been looking at the use of infrasound in this way, but it certainly makes sense to me,” Jon Hagstrum, a geophysicist at the U.S. Geological Survey who linked pigeons and infrasound, said in a statement. “We may find that acoustics are a pretty significant way that birds in general view their environment, much like dogs use olfaction and humans use sight.”
This study showed that animals’ migration routes are not subject to instinct but also situational cues. The warblers did not complete their usual route of migration in response to the cues. This suggests that migratory behavior is more intricate than perceived and deserving of more study.