Birding is a great way to get to know different species and enjoy nature, rain or shine.
Rain affects birding by changing the behavior of the birds. Before and during the rain, you’ll see seabirds coming to the shore and songbirds sheltering in place. After the rain, you’ll see all kinds of birds heading out on foraging missions to make up for lost time.
Can You Birdwatch in the Rain?
You absolutely can birdwatch in the rain, and doing so allows you to see unique birds and bird behaviors that you might otherwise miss. As long as you’re dressed for the weather, birdwatching in the rain can be a remarkable experience.
What To Wear
When you’re setting out to birdwatch in the rain, you’ll want to make sure you’re appropriately dressed. It’s a good idea to wear two layers, an inner quick dry layer and an outer shell of Gore-Tex or something similar.
A hooded jacket and bibbed bottoms, like the FROGG TOGGS Waterproof Breathable Rain Bib, are both good ideas, as well as a ballcap to keep the rain out of your eyes and rainboots to keep your feet dry.
What To Bring
The most important piece of equipment that you’ll need for birdwatching in the rain is a good set of waterproof binoculars.
The Adasion Binoculars are a good choice for light rain, and are fogproof. But for heavy rain, you’ll want something more robust, like the Celestron Nature DX 8×42 Binoculars.
You may also want to bring a waterproof phone case, or at least a plastic bag to keep your phone in.
A waterproof notebook, like the Rite In The Rain Weatherproof Top Spiral Notebook, and a waterproof pen, like the Rite in the Rain All-Weather Durable Clicker Pen, is also a good idea.
What To Expect
Birds behave differently in the rain, and you can expect to see interesting and unique things birdwatching in the rain.
Birds are less likely to fly away when it’s raining, so you can get a better view up close than you’d otherwise be able to.
You’ll also be able to see birds bathing, keeping themselves warm, and feeding on the worms that come up from the soil.
Birds To Watch in the Rain
Some birds are more active than others in the rain, and many display really interesting behaviors that are exciting to witness. These include seabirds, songbirds, and many more.
Seabirds flee the open seas and rush to the land before a storm comes. They’ll often be seen on land days before the coming storm, and then stay there until the air is clear for flying again.
The following seabirds are ones you might witness from the shoreline on a rainy day:
- Wilson’s phalarope
- Storm petrels
When migrating birds are unable to keep flying due to changes in weather, they’re forced to take to the ground to rest and wait out the storm.
If they didn’t do this, they could be blown off course by strong winds or lose too much energy struggling to keep going.
Migrating birds tend to travel together, and rest together. When a flock of birds takes to the ground together to rest, this is a phenomenon known as fallout.
A fallout is one of the only times you can catch more than a glimpse of a migrating flock, and for this reason some birders will specifically seek out times of high precipitation to go out.
The following are some migratory bird species you might see in a fallout during the rain:
Birds that nest in cavities are lucky to have a place to go for shelter from the rain. This could be a chiseled hold in a dead snag, or a nook in a live tree.
Some of these species, called primary cavity-nesting birds, create their own holes by chiseling or burrowing, where others, called secondary cavity-nesting birds, use natural or abandoned cavities with minor modifications.
Sometimes entire flocks of small birds will crowd into one hole when it rains, like the Pygmy Nuthatch. The Pygmy Nuthatch will even store stashes of pine seeds nearby so that they can stay sheltered rather than forage in the rain.
You can find cavity nesters in the following places:
- Dead or decaying trees
- Tree stumps
- Soft, vertical riverbanks
- Dirt mounds
- Rock niches and crevices
- Exposed chimneys or pipes
- Nesting boxes and birdhouses
The following birds are all cavity-nesters that you might find tucked away during the rain:
- Mandarin Ducks
- Wood ducks
- Barn owls
- Purple martins
- Great tits
- European robins
- American kestrels
Most songbirds focus on conserving energy when it rains, and can be seen perched motionless in bushes and trees weathering out the storm.
Seed-eating songbirds like sparrows and finches are forced to go out foraging in the rain, but worm-eating birds really appreciate the opportunity that rain brings, because the rain forces worms out of the soil and makes them easy to capture.
After a rainstorm ends, songbirds will spend a lot of their time and energy foraging to make up for the lost time during the storm. This is a great time to go birding, because you’ll be able to see the flurry of birds going after food.
The following are some songbirds that you might encounter foraging after a rainstorm:
- Blue Jays
- Water Thrushes
Raptors like hawks do not enjoy the rain, and tend to get soaked. They rely on their body mass to keep warm, and spend time spreading their wings out to dry after the storm.
Their prey face food scarcity and are more willing to go out in the open during the rain, which means that it’s a great time for hunting.
The Sharp-shinned Hawk and the Merlin are some of the easiest raptors to watch in the rain, because they’re smaller and dry out more quickly than other raptors.
This makes it easier for them to take flight and to hunt effectively.
These birds are all kinds of raptors that you might spot shortly after a rain:
Waterbirds like ducks and waders thrive in the rain, moving from deeper water to newly flooded coves and fields. Their predators are inactive during this time, which allows them to freely explore without stress.
They’ll preen their feathers, poke around in puddles, and play, as long as it’s not too cold or too windy.
These are some kinds of waterbirds you might find wading during or after a rain:
Where To Go Birding in the Rain
The right place to go for birding depends on the kind of behaviors and species you’re hoping to witness. Y
ou’re likely to find birds in any green space or open water source, but knowing their favorite perches and shelters is a great way to know where to look when it rains.
- Coastlines are a great place to go to watch seabirds taking shelter from the open seas.
- Trees and shrubs are common resting places for songbirds who need somewhere to perch during storms.
- Flooded fields are good for finding and watching ducks.
You can seek these habitats out in your own backyard or neighborhood, or try seeking out one of the following public places for birding:
- Refuges: There are over 150 million acres of national wildlife refuge in the United States, and much of this is great habitat for birds.
- Government parks: State and national parks are often good places to go birding, depending how and why the land was preserved.
- State trails: States have recently begun to dedicate trails for birding, linking together hotspots for birds. For example, the Great Texas Coastal Birding Trail connects 310 points of birding interest along 2,100 miles of the Gulf Coast.
- Important bird areas: Important bird areas (IBAs) are protected through a bird conservation initiative of BirdLife International and Audubon. Each IBA is a key habitat for one or more bird species.
- eBird: a citizen science project by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and Audubon, connecting thousands of birders who import their sightings into one common database. This site shows you hotspots of bird sightings, and is free to use.
If you go birding during the rain, you’ll see unique bird behaviors, like the fallout of migratory flocks and post-rain foraging missions.
As long as you’re dressed for the weather and have the equipment you need, there’s no reason why rain should get in the way of a birdwatching trip. If anything, rain is an enhancement for many birders.