Sunday, May 17, 2009

In the Wind

While the fast-disappearing Red Knots were the stars of a visit to Reed's Beach last week, they were not the only birds present. There were the other expected shorebirds like Sanderling and Ruddy Turnstones, as well as some lingering Brant. And, of course, there were gulls, mostly Laughing Gulls, but also Herring and Great Black-backed Gulls.

What was interesting about the gulls is not that they were present, but that they, like the shorebirds, all faced in the same direction. This turns out to be a fairly common tactic among birds in windy conditions. Indeed the beach was very windy last Thursday; local weather reported 25-35 mph, and several gusts felt a good bit stronger than that. Since birds are built for flight, they are used to dealing with a headwind. Their feathers are sleeked back to provide maximum protection when the wind is in front; a wind from behind would ruffle the feathers and defeat their insulating capabilities. Presumably facing the wind also gives them somewhat better control in the event that they need to take off suddenly, as birds on a beach often do.

Unfortunately I do not have photos of the Red Knots; they were too far out on the jetty for my camera. But here are some photos of Laughing Gulls instead to illustrate the point. The wind in these photos is blowing from left to right.