Hurricane Gonzalo throws migratory birds off course

POSTED: 10/17/14 4:01 PM

St. Maarten -With the celebration of the arrival of these birds to the island just days before at the St. Maarten Migratory Bird Festival, St. Maarten’s migratory birds were subject to hurricane-force winds late Monday afternoon and well into the evening as Hurricane Gonzalo wreaked havoc on the island and its inhabitants, both human and animal. These birds migrate from the US and Canada to avoid the cold and the severe conditions of winter. Unfortunately, this year, their arrival coincided with severe weather conditions of another kind – a hurricane.

“High water levels on the ponds may impact the (birds) ability to forage in the short term,” naturalist and cofounder of Les Fruits De Mer Mark Yokoyama explained. Yokoyama added that not only do hurricanes drive birds off their migration, but they also disrupt the birds’ food supply when they are stopped by these weather systems. Given the current raised water level of the Great Salt Pond, these birds may have difficulties finding food until the water level goes down again.

Hurricanes pose a number of problems for these birds as they migrate to St. Maarten and other Caribbean islands and on to South America. “Hurricanes can be problematic for migratory birds, and some, like the whimbrel, often take paths out into the middle of the Atlantic to avoid storms,” Yokoyama said. During his presentation on migratory birds at the festival on Saturday, Yokoyama noted that some birds fly up to 27,000 km each year on their migratory routes. Having to fly off course to avoid a hurricane is physically taxing for these birds, which, often times, arrive to the island already emaciated from their regular travels, without any hurricane interference.

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