Craig Johnson photo — A Coopers Hawk rests on his perch. Harvey, a hawk made famous during Hurricane Harvey, survived the storm by first taking shelter in a taxi cab.

WHIDBEY BIRDING | Harvey the hawk is one luck bird

Have you watched the YouTube videos of “Harvey,” the Cooper’s hawk that survived Hurricane Harvey?

It’s a heartwarming story, beginning with a taxicab driver filming the hawk huddled in the backseat of his cab. The hawk had taken shelter there before the storm hit. Soon “Harvey” is transported to a wildlife center where he is assessed and found to have minor injuries. Next he is transferred to a rehab center. The last video shows Harvey’s first flight within a large aviary, a week or so prior to his release.

Harvey was a lucky bird, protected from the brunt of the storm safe in the home of an employee of the rehab center. Many of his fellow avian species were not as fortunate.

Thousands of flamingos are known to have perished at Cayo Coco Cays in Cuba. However, the number of birds killed by the strong winds or carried out to sea and drowned will go unrecorded. Given the widespread destruction of some of Texas and Florida’s most important wildlife refuges, we can only guess at the huge number of lost birds.

When hurricanes sweep through an area, some birds, like Harvey, try to find a protected refuge to wait out the storm. But typically there isn’t an open window of a taxi available and the birds are blown into the storm. The plumage of most birds is designed to keep them dry, but heavy rain can waterlog even the most well preened feathers.

Hurricane Irma is likely going to shatter records for duration, intensity, size and destructive force. And even if birds survive the storm, they face widespread defoliation of their native habitat and reduced food sources. Many birds are pushed along with the storm and end up hundreds of miles away from their home.

Ornithologists worry about the highly endangered Bahama Oriole, which inhabited two islands in the Bahamas with a before-storm population of only 140-260 birds total. Or the Barbuda Warbler, another Caribbean island endemic species with a population of less than 2,000 birds.

The biggest concern, however, is how Harvey and Irma will impact fall bird migration. The migration of thrushes, warblers, flycatchers, sparrows, as well as raptors, waterfowl and shorebirds coincides with hurricane season. And this year birds following both the Eastern and Central (Mississippi) flyways encountered huge hurricanes.

Back in 2011 during southbound shorebird migration, among the hundreds of thousands of birds flying south was a whimbrel named Chinquapin by his research team. This bird had been outfitted the year before with a satellite transmitter backpack and scientists monitored the bird’s migration flight patterns along the Eastern flyway. Strong fliers, whimbrels can travel up to 50 miles per hour and cover 3,500 miles without rest.

Chinquapin was on his migration from the Canada’s high Arctic to Brazil when it encountered Hurricane Irene, a Category 3 storm with winds up to 110 miles per hour.

Scientists tracked Chinquapin flying straight through the hurricane and out the other side. It took about 48 tense hours for the data points to come in, but the researchers found Chinquapin alive and well in the Bahamas, where he rested for a couple days before continuing down to Brazil.

Harvey the Cooper’s hawk and Chinquapin the Whimbrel are amazing stories of the fortitude and strength of two lucky birds. But, we must also remember that a very large percentage of migrating and resident birds do not make it through severe weather events such as are happening this fall.

Whether because of forest fires in the Cascades or drought conditions right here on Whidbey Island, we need to give our avian friends every benefit we can. Remain stewards of our natural world even as we reach out to help the many people affected by these recent events.

Craig Johnson photo — A Whimbrel strolls through shallow water on a Whidbey shoreline.

More in Life

Getting ex-cidered!

Cider Festival features food, fun and Muscle and Arm Farm

Bird in the Hand Festival slated for Sept. 22

Audubon’s preserved birds to be displayed at Bayview

Church event to address racism, white privilege

‘Let Justice Roll Down’ set for Sept. 30

Fall festival returns to Greenbank Farm

Sept. 30 celebration of harvest and community

Photo by Maria Matson / Whidbey News Group
                                <em>Whidbey Island resident Dick Evans will be signing and selling copies of his book, Fazkils, at the Clinton Community Hall.</em><em></em>
Hollywood actor, author reflects on his life, career in new book

Richard “Dick” Evans is an actor, writer and director with a long… Continue reading

Free jammin’, campin’ sessions added to Djangofest

The Island County Fairgrounds Campground will be filled with music later this… Continue reading

Virtuosos joining forces at Djangofest

At 3 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 23, Grammy-winning classical guitarist Jason Vieaux will… Continue reading

Raptors ready to roost at annual festival

Get up close with nature’s hunting aviators Saturday

War hero celebrates 100th birthday this month

Movie scenes of World War II combat are real experiences and vivid… Continue reading

Most Read