What do you envision when you picture the perfect day for birdwatching? The sun is probably shining in a clear and bright sky as birds chatter and chirp among the trees. Perhaps a gentle breeze stirs the leaves while you focus your binoculars. With this ideal mental picture of birding, it is understandable when first-time birders and non-birding friends ask “Can you birdwatch in the rain?” And the answer is a simple one: Only birdwatch in the rain if you want an experience that is unforgettable.
Experienced birders will be more than happy to tell you that birdwatching in the rain is not only possible, it is an experience you should certainly seek out. Rainy day birding can result in sightings that are unique. With changing weather, the behavior of birds alters. In the rain, birds perch in trees and remain still; this makes them easier to spot and photograph. You may also sight migrating birds. They are forced to land in inclement weather. Still other birds may bathe in the rain, sporting in puddles and enjoying themselves.
Sighting Bad Weather Behavior
The biggest advantage of rainy weather might be its tendency to cause birds, among other animals, to react with different behavior. Birds can still fly in the rain, of course, but they are generally less willing to do so unless strictly necessary.
Oils contained in birds’ wings make them waterproof, but a wing that grows too sodden with rain will not function in flight. Because of this, birds tend to find perches out of the rain and stay there or flit amongst areas that provide plenty of perches under shelter. Catching the birds between perches is easier in the rain, and birds that are relatively still are easier to observe.
Birds can also commonly be seen bathing while rain showers are ongoing and after they have subsided, leaving behind puddles and pools. You can also see birds enjoying the smorgasbord of post-rain worms that have surfaced from the saturated ground. Watching birds bathing and feasting is both delightful and informative. You may also spot birds preening. In this process, they rub an oil that is waterproof from a gland located at the tail’s base and spread it over the outer feathers.
As for avian posture in the rain, you might see them fluff up their feathers against the cold. This holds warm air in about their bodies, preserving their body heat.
Those enthusiastic birders and curious watchers who want to learn bird behavior will benefit greatly from birding in the rain. An entirely new dimension is added to the pastime when you see the actions and attitudes of birds in inclement weather.
The behaviors of birds in the rain are interesting to watch, but another real advantage of answering the question “can you birdwatch in the rain” with an enthusiastic “yes” is a result of storm systems. They not only bring rain, but they also can provide low-pressure systems in addition. Birds have a much more difficult time flying when air in these systems becomes less dense. The low pressure presents quite a challenge, as do the strong winds that carry storms along. Birds at risk of being blown off course have a greater likelihood of keeping their feet firmly on the ground, or on a branch.
Such weather systems have a profound impact on birds that are mid-migration. They may divert their courses to go around low-pressure systems, but in extreme cases, migratory birds are forced to halt in their journeys.
The phenomenon called fallout occurs when a large group of migrating birds stops to rest in one area. Exhausted to a dangerous degree and incapable of continuing their struggles against powerful wings, they land to take their ease. While an inconvenience to the birds that are unable to reach their destination, it is a phenomenal experience for birders at the right time at the right place.
Whole flocks of birds that are otherwise only visible in brief glimpses, at great distances, and from the bottom alone are suddenly easily seen at rest. Some among the most dedicated of birders stake out patches in the paths of storms where precipitation is due to be at its heaviest to glimpse this sight. To join them, look along ridges and coastal regions, learning the local weather patterns to predict a good spot.
Success Starts with Preparation
Maybe enduring a drizzling evening outside is not ideal for you, but the reward is worth the discomfort. Proper preparations can ease the disadvantages of wet weather. Dress for a rainy day, first of all. Carry an extra pair of socks, wearing a pair that is warm and wick moisture away. In cold climates, put on a base layer consisting of thermal underwear. Layers are helpful; you can always strip off one or two if you grow too warm. Birding backpacks should include single-use packets for heating boots and hands as well.
Invest in a good raincoat. The shell needs DWR, or Durable Water Repellant, coating. A baseball cap worn under your hood helps prevent the rain from falling in your face. Rubber boots are also wise so you can slosh through standing water of rainy landscapes or even marshes and bogs with dry feet. Gloves can be helpful if it is cold or if you suffer from arthritis; this condition is often worsened by the damp. An under-glove of silk feels great and warms the hands while they work binoculars.
You can find more rainy day attire and outfit ideas for birdwatching right here, where we pick out some of our favorite clothes to wear for birding.
Birding on Rainy Days
While you wouldn’t want to sunbathe or dry laundry in the rain, you can and should certainly try birding in the rain. Waterproof gear is the final step to a successful outing. Binoculars, camera, phone, notebook and pencil, all should have waterproof cases or simply made of waterproof materials. Sandwich bags make impromptu rain covers, but more professional and convenient covers are also available. With this gear, enjoy lousy weather and try to spot exotic migrating species or normal birds at rest or enjoying a splash.
Hopefully if you’ve read this far, you’ve realize that YES! You can absolute birdwatch in the rain. So get out there and stomp some puddles with your little flighty friends, and start capturing some memories.