Birding With a Chance of Fog

Do you sometimes wonder why birds just don’t seem to be out and about when its foggy? Well, ok, maybe you see some birds, but, for the most part, it is a struggle to find the ones you were hoping to see.

Thinking back to a field trip my Tweetspeak class went on last week, this was exactly what we were wondering as we scouted out the banks of a black swamp habitat. Early in the morning, it was so foggy that birds would simply disappear into thin air as they flew into the sky. Yes, we were easily able to spot the loud Canada Geese and the motionless Mallards out on the ponds, but where were all the other water birds we had hoped to see, like the Gadwall, Northern Pintail, American Widgeon, Green-wing teal, Canvas Back, Ring-necked duck, Hooded Merganser, Ruddy Duck, and American Coot.

Foggy Insight

My first reaction was that seeing fewer birds could have something to do with the poor visibility of the fog we were seeing. Kirk Janowiak, Wildlife Biologist & Educator, offers this piece of insight: Birds have a much keener sense of sight than humans do, so fog on its own does not necessarily pose as big a problem with visibility. Birds can still feed and fly even when it is foggy. Furthermore, if birds are familiar with the area, they don’t need to heavily rely on sight to get around. 

However, fog only poses a real problem when, of course, it really is too dense for birds to see through. When this happens birds may hunker down and rest until the dense fog clears up. This could have been the case for us that early morning. The few water birds we noticed were not too active but the ones that did fly only moved to bodies of water that were in close proximity around the swamp area. 

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Bird vision in fog

Kirk emphasizes the range of ability birds have in their keen sight. For example, many bird species can see into the ultraviolet range of light as they fly through fog. Others have retinas that have specific color-sensing cones for seeing different colors when looking upward, downward, and sideways. This is greatly beneficial for navigating through fog because of how light is refracted and reflected off of the water molecules in the fog.

Looking toward the future

If I were to go birding in foggy conditions again, I would have to keep in mind just how dense the fog is. If it isn’t too dense (visibility of about 1km or a little less), I could expect to see more birds if I look around and don’t stick to one location. However, if the fog is dense, I could try moving to locations where there is good visibility near the banks of the water’s edge. I could probably expect to see more action looking closer near the brush along these banks.  However, if I’ve learned anything from birding, is that you can’t totally rely on the weather for good birding experiences. You have to know where to look and be willing to go to where the birds are.


2 thoughts on “Birding With a Chance of Fog

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