Back to Nature (Published on - Feb. 8, 2006)
Where do animals ride out the storm?
A rain-soaked squirrel creeps along an awkward live oak bough as lightning strikes all around him. Sudden flashes of purple and chartreuse brighten the leaden sky momentarily, then carve through the thick layers of heaven with stiletto speed into the depths of the earth

As the storm rumbles and booms, I recall my mother’s voice attempting to comfort me as a young child: “Thunder is a sign that God is rearranging his furniture.” I smiled to myself thinking, “Hey, I do that a lot. I just hadn’t realized it might be a blessed activity.”

A weatherman points to dark red then purple cells moving slowly over Tampa Bay, while reports of rescue workers rushing to scenes of real and false alarms flood the airways. As the electricity intermittently shuts off and on the breaking news flickers back and forth to a blank blue screen and the overhead light bathes the darkened room in staccato on and off illumination.

Strange weather, I’m thinking, for a day in early February. Briefly the clouds lift. Birds curiously fill the vacant spaces between the bare branches. A nervous chatter ensues and, just as suddenly, a crack of thunder pierces the atmosphere causing the windows to rattle in their frames and the chattering birds to disappear abruptly again. Where did they go, I wondered, feeling thankful for my windowed and roofed sanctuary.

After an intimate binocular survey, I discovered a dampened blue jay hovering under an awning and two wrens nonchalantly gathering seed at the feeder, otherwise no trace of wildlife, not even the sopping wet squirrel.

So where do birds go? After surveying the intensity of this storm and remembering the hurricanes of this summer I decided to investigate.

Type into any Internet search engine: Where do birds go in a storm? You will obtain numerous theories on this query. Some speculations assume that birds and animals hunker down much as we do under a thick bush or on the dry side of a tree. Many Floridians might wonder about that thick bush over there at the edge of the garden and definitely question the theory of a “dry side of a tree.” Those situations don’t appear to provide significant shelter for living beings in Florida. I wouldn’t want to be out there. Would you? Maybe there are birds in those thick bushes, perhaps they’re huddling together right now in the pine trees or cuddling under palm thickets, but I suppose this is one circumstance when wildlife benefits living in close proximity to humans.

Another clap of thunder.

Breaking news shows flooding and the phone rings. “You’ll never believe this!” the woman’s voice exclaims. “There’s a pair of red-shouldered hawks in a barren tree outside my second story window.” Betty explained that during the storm the garden flooded and the hawks began swooping down to gather drowning tidbits and floating morsels. Hmmm, so to the hawks this storm offered up a banquet of sorts. Betty went on to explain that the storm didn’t seem to impede their activity. Obviously the feathered and furry are more amply equipped to withstand and cope with inclement weather than we humans. Still, even the hawks would need a place to dry out eventually.

Betty noted that the dry, downy feathers were beginning to peak out at the nape of the one hawk’s neck. We can only guess as to where the hawks will spend the rest of the afternoon, but since they are paired perhaps they will retire with full bellies to a cozy home built high in a sheltered tree.

Other members of wildlife may not fair as well as this specialized couple. Baby birds and bats are often victims of storms, as well as flooded dens and hollows of the fox, rabbit, raccoon and opossums. When we’re faced with injured animals we want to help, this is one time our assistance is better left to the experts.

During the next months we will be experiencing many storms. Hey, we have those green lawns in winter, remember? But we can make preparations for the wildlife in our gardens before hand. Providing safe havens, specifically built alternate housing, bat and owl houses, for example, are just a few improvements.

Access to clean water, alternate, natural food sources are some other features to consider adding to your landscape. Take into account what you can do to assist wildlife within your surroundings before the storms arrive. Perhaps outsmarting Mother Nature just a bit, but definitely providing a much needed port within the storm, back to nature.

For information on what to do when wildlife is injured, refer to: Wildlife Reference Sheet: Compiled by Robyn Graboski, L.W.R., state Wildlife Rehabilitator:

Karen can be reached at

Copyright © 2004-2017 Karen Mitchell Tremmel, All Rights Reserved.
All text in this site is original and copyrighted by the author, who writes for a living. Please do not reproduce in whole or part without permission, except for brief quotations covered under the "Fair Use" provision of U.S. copyright law. Thanks.