Where do birds go when it rains? And what do they do then?

posted in: Miscellaneous | 2

It has been raining on and off these few weeks and the birds have not been around. Have you ever wondered what happened to them when it rained? And what do you think they did at these times? Well, there is at least one perceptive birder around and he has the answer…

James Heng sent in this account of his encounter with Pink-necked Green Pigeons (Treron vernans) at the Bukit Batok Nature Park one rainy afternoon in December 2006 (above: male pigeon left, female right).

“The year end has always been amongst the wettest period of the year. While the rain may be an inconvenience for some birders, it is also a good opportunity to observe the birds’ behavior during the rain.

“On the afternoon of 18th December 2006, it rained while I was bird watching at Bukit Batok Nature Park (above). That was when I came across a small flock of Pink-necked Green Pigeons. There were two males and three females in that flock. I sought shelter by a hut that happened to be just 10-15m from the trees that they were perched.

“When it started to drizzle lightly, two of them snuggled together shoulder-to-shoulder on a Cassia tree (as shown above, but on the frond of a ceram palm). There was obviously insufficient cover so when the drizzle turned to a downpour, all of them flew over to a tall, large-leafed tree, the cabbage tree (Fagraea crenulate) (below).

“They tended to choose perches that were at the top third of the tree. Upon closer observation, each bird was seen to perch on a branch that was immediately below at least two large overlapping leaves (below, showing branches with leaves but no birds). By having such leaves above them, they would remain dry. Perhaps due to the scarcity of choice spots, all the birds were perched separately.

“At about 3pm, during the first five minutes of the downpour, all of these birds shook their body and fluffed out their feathers. It might be to aid the drying of the wet feathers or perhaps to trap their body’s heat. After that, they became relaxed and sat down on their respective branches. In the next five to seven minutes they began to yawn and their eyelids became very heavy. They fought very hard to keep their eyes open. Before 15 minutes was up, all five of them were soundly asleep. So birds do take siestas! All this occurred as it rained relentlessly.

“You have got to see it to appreciate such adorable proportions.

“When the PNG pigeon sleeps, its long neck is relaxed and it appears to be drawn into the bird’s body. The neck appears almost non-existent as only half of its head appears to be above its body. In fact, the bottom of the bird’s eyes is just at shoulder level. Just imagine the silhouette of a large fat plum. The male PNG pigeon has grey, pinkish-purple and orange on its head and breast. When it is all “balled up” in that sleeping state, the colors make it look like a clown!

“When the rain ended some 45 minutes later, the Yellow-vented Bulbuls (Pycnonotus goiavier) and drongos were happily sunning themselves in the open again. Only one member of this flock of pigeons woke up to sun itself. The remainder of the four birds continued with their siesta.

“So after a thunderstorm, do search the horizontal branches of some of the tall broad-leafed trees. You might just be lucky enough to see those adorable “furry balls” in deep snooze.”

Input by James Heng, images by YC.

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