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WEATHER UNIVERSITY: When they fly low, prepare for a blow

A murmuration of starlings. -Matthew Gibson
A murmuration of starlings. -Matthew Gibson/123RF

I’m always reminding people to look up and around, so I guess I can’t complain if someone stops to ask me about something they’ve seen.

One day last week, I was approached by a man who wanted to know what the birds were doing. In a small field across from the parking lot where we stood, a large flock of starlings had gathered. It looked a little bit like a scene from that classic Hitchcock movie, The Birds!

It was an overcast afternoon and the air was heavy with moisture; rain was imminent.

The answer to the man’s question lies in that sentence. Small birds struggle when the air fills with moisture. It becomes difficult for them to fly near the base of the clouds where the air is saturated, so they stay close to the ground.

There’s also the issue of wind. Rain systems often come with wind gusts and downdrafts, making it difficult for a little bird to fly high off the ground. When you see large flocks of birds close to or on the ground, it’s usually a sign of a storm, or at least heavy rain!

Our ancestors believed that animals could predict the weather and, while that can be true, in many cases the animals are reacting to the changing conditions.

We can learn so much by observing the animals!

Have a weather question, photo or drawing to share with Cindy Day? Email weathermail@weatherbyday.ca

Cindy Day is the chief meteorologist for SaltWire Network.

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