Over the past week, Hurricane Sandy blasted through the East coast of the United States and made her way into Canada. Many people suffered extraordinary losses as their homes were destroyed or damaged by storm surges, flooding, and downed trees. Many lost (and continue to be without) power, leaving them without heat, warm showers, transportation, and fresh food.
Here at Animal Fact Guide headquarters in New London, Connecticut, I looked out the window of my darkened house on Monday afternoon. The wind was shaking the building, and big branches cracked as they snapped off a tree and then thudded to the ground. I noticed a squirrel perched on one of the tree’s lower branches huddled against the trunk, bracing himself against the powerful gusts. I wondered if animals were as adversely affected by hurricanes as we were.
I think that with people’s complete dependence on their homes and technology for safety and for their way of life, hurricanes do have a more devastating effect on people. But hurricanes also deeply impact wildlife in several ways:
While songbirds and woodland birds can usually ride out a storm by holding on to their perches, powerful winds from a hurricane can blow migrating birds hundreds of miles off course or push shore birds inland.
Downed trees can be devastating to species who rely on certain types of trees for food and shelter. Food sources are also lost as the seeds and fruits get blown off trees.
Storm surges destroy seaside habitats. Nest sites can be washed away by rising tides. In certain cases, entire beaches can be washed away. (This happened here in New London when Hurricane Sandy washed away Osprey Beach.) The influx of seawater also disrupts the balance of salt in wetlands, causing harm to marsh grasses, crabs, fish hatchlings, and minnows. Furthermore, the flooding causes sediment and pollutants to enter waterways, which negatively impacts marine animals.
What You Can Do
During a hurricane, the best thing you can do is stay safe. Listen to government officials and heed their advice. Evacuate your home before the storm if necessary and seek shelter in a safe location. Stay inside during the storm to keep safe from falling branches and flying debris. After the storm, avoid going near downed power lines.
In terms of helping wildlife, if you see any rare species or injured animals, report them to your local wildlife agency. You can also fill your bird feeders to help tired songbirds recover after the storm.
But in the grand scheme of things, the increasing frequency of storms like Sandy remind us of the effect global warming is having on our planet. A warming planet means more extreme weather headed our way more frequently. It means more storms and more droughts. With that in mind, it’s important to renew our efforts to curb our carbon emissions on a personal level and appeal to our politicians to instate policies that will cut back on carbon emissions on a global scale.
Learn more about how hurricanes and wildlife:
- National Wildlife Federation’s article, “Seven Things to Know About How Hurricanes Affect Wildlife”
- University of Georgia’s article, “How Do Hurricanes Affect Wildlife?”