[CT Birds] In Support of Hurricanes

Dennis Varza dennisvz at optonline.net
Thu Sep 2 17:42:54 EDT 2010

Hurricanes are a regular natural phenomenon of the Caribbean and the  
east coast of North American. Like any other phenomenon the plants  
and animals adapt to it, even to the point of needing it. This is not  
unlike the need for fires to maintain some western forests. There are  
studies showing that native caribbean vegetation survives hurricanes  
better than introduced species.

The wind, rain and wave action moves sand, removes vegetation and it  
cleans out debris from channels and rivers. In general it resets  
habitats to an earlier successional stage. Birds needing such habitat  
include Wilson’s and Piping Plover, American Oystercatcher and Least  
Terns and Black Skimmers. After several years of without storms the  
habitat degrades for the above species and they must move on or the  
population declines. In Connecticut we have gone many years without a  
hurricane and its cleansing effects. One can see the consequences at  
many of our birding spots (if you’ve been around for a while), Long  
Beach Stratford, Milford Pt. Milford, Sandy Pt. West Haven   Griswold  
Pt. Old Lyme.

The negative reputation of hurricanes is derived from its conflict  
with humans. The Atlantic coast in reality is a dynamic system of  
mobile barrier beaches, channels, and salt marshes. Humans in an  
attempt to utilize them set about to stabilize this fluid system.  
Breakwaters and jetties are built, channels dredged, and sand filled  
in all in attempt to stop time and tide. The loss of life and  
property is a consequence of this attempt. In Fairfield I know of  
beach houses with all pilings under water at high tide. Penfield Reef  
once was a bar where colonials grazed cattle. I don’t know how many  
times sand was dumped in West Haven to replace that which was eroded  
away. At one time beach houses ran the length of Long beach from Oak  
Bluff Ave. to Pleasure Beach. A hurricane removed the houses and  
created a channel into the marsh, you can see this on old maps. In  
the early sixties the Army Corps of Engineers closed the channel and  
built the jetties. If houses weren’t built in exposed locations then  
hurricanes would not be such a problem. Hurricanes may actually  
provide opportunities to create more coastal open space as the  
government gets tired of subsidizing flood insurance.

Given all the above, another benefit of hurricanes is the birds it  
brings. Hurricanes may bring exotic birds, but there is no certainty  
as to what gets brought in. The path of the hurricane and time of  
year determines what birds get picked up. Where it makes landfall  
affects distribution. Sometimes we get exotic pelagics, sometimes an  
increased abundance of regular birds, and sometime just a lot of late  

Dennis Varza

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