Your question is a great one, but very
different to answer. Don't be surprised if you get
a different answer from everyone you ask.
On the one hand, it's entirely possible that
the robins were affected by the storm in some
way. Scientists know very little about how
birds perceive things, and how their brains
interpret what they perceive. Some of the things
we do know are very impressive, though!
Vultures can smell a dead animal from
thousands of feet in the air, for example, even
with winds blowing. Pigeons flying at
thousands of feet high can detect changes in their
altitude as small as a few inches! So maybe the
robins could tell there was a storm there.
On the other hand, it's hard to imagine why
they would stand and stare at the storm. If they
were alarmed by it, I'd expect them to look for
some shelter to protect themselves, or maybe eat
as much as they could before the bad weather
I can think of two reasons why it's very
difficult to interpret this kind of observation.
One reason is that there are so many unknown
things that might be going on. Maybe a cat was
lurking in the bushes to the south, maybe they
heard some noise that you couldn't hear, etc.
The other reason is that there's no way to set
up a situation to test your ideas about it. Even
if you had a lot of birds in a cage, and you could
show them different things and see how they
reacted, just keeping them in the cage probably
changes their behavior.
Your observation is impressive, though, and
it's great that you made the connection between
the birds and the storm. That's the first step in
asking important scientific questions!
That's a lot of robins to see at the same time
- truly an amazing observation!
I would encourage you and your teacher to start
keeping a journal of bird observations like these.
(3) weather conditions (wind
speed, wind direction, barometric pressure, cloud
cover, and anything else you can think of that
might affect wildlife), and
(4) what your observations are in detail -
this is what professional research scientists and
bird watchers do in order to learn more about
these amazing creatures.
Believe it or not, scientists still
do not know exactly how migratory birds are able
to navigate thousands of miles from winter to
summer feeding grounds each year. Check out
the web references I found below for some ideas to
answer your question.
Also, since I live near the Pacific Ocean in
Monterey, CA, I often have the chance to observe
seagulls, pelicans, shorebirds, cormorants, and
grebes in windy conditions and changing weather
(we get lots of fog and sun and wind!). They
typically sit facing into the wind (beak first, so
to speak!), and I have heard people say this is
because they want to keep their feathers from
getting ruffled (which would more assuredly happen
if they faced away from the direction of the wind
(talk first, so to speak!).
What do you think about this in
reference to your robin observation - was there
wind from the south when your teacher observed the
birds?Best of luck with your avian research
and nature observations - we need good
observationists who can question what they see,
hear, smell, taste, and feel around them.
Dr. Alex L.A.MiddletonDepartment of Zoology,
University of Guelph. "As human beings we are
often amazed at the sensory capabilities of wild
This amazement, I suggest, is related to our
increasing environmental isolation. For example,
most of us no longer have to worry about the
changing seasons because we live in dwellings that
provide artificial light, warmth, shelter, and
security. Neither do we have to worry about the
impact of weather on our survival because the
necessities for our daily existence can be
obtained from the closest shops. In a sense,
most human beings now live in an artificial
As we have become more distantly removed from
our natural environments the sensory awareness
upon which our lives once depended has become
dulled, even though the impact of environmental
factors is as real as ever, e.g. atmospheric
pressure and human well-being. By contrast,
wild animals are profoundly responsive to their
environments.Their activities are dictated by
the natural rhythms of light and dark, heat and
cold, and wet or dry. They are bombarded daily
with environmental information the interpretation
of which is vital to their survival as they search
for food, avoid predators, and cope with the
changing seasons. Therefore, it should come as no
surprise that animals are finely tuned to their
environments and show remarkable sensitivity to
In this brief article I will identify the major
environmental factors to which birds are
responsive and which influence many of their
[ Dr. Middleton goes on to discuss birds
ability to sense day length, positions of sun and
stars, polarized light, UV light, sound,
magnetism, olfactory signals (smells), and
I have only copied the section on barometric
pressure, but the other paragraphs are equally as
"Awareness of changing barometric
pressure is probably an ancient attribute of most
animals. We have long recognized that birds
often feed actively to build up their energy
reserves in anticipation of pending storms
(Middleton 1982, Gill 1995).
Also, we have observed birds' abilities to
time their migratory flights in anticipation of
favorable weather conditions. In both cases
the mounting evidence suggests that these
behavioral responses are precipitated by
changing barometric pressure. Few birds
have been extensively tested for their ability to
respond to changing barometric pressure, but such
sensitivity has been proved in homing pigeons
(Alerstam 1990, Gill 1995). Based on
circumstantial evidence, the supposition is that
many other species must show similar sensitivity.
That being the case, it would explain why migrant
birds are expert weather forecasters and why, once
aloft, can adjust their altitude to take advantage
of the most favorable atmospheric conditions".
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