What happened to the birds in Hong Kong when Typhoon Mangkhut hit?
A look at how the hundreds of species that call the city home fared amid the most intense storm on record
When Typhoon Mangkhut battered Hong Kong on Sunday, it felled at least 17,000 trees and smashed hundreds of windows. As trees are home to hundreds of bird species in the city, we look at how the creatures fared amid the most intense storm in the city’s recorded history.
Where do the birds go when a storm hits?
Hong Kong Bird Watching Society research manager Yu Yat-tung said some birds flee the city when they sense strong winds accelerating, while others hide in spaces near air conditioners or sewers.
He recalled seeing some birds standing still in the middle of water or on land to face the winds.
“There is danger being among trees or buildings that could collapse but not much danger being in grassland,” Yu explained, noting birds are helped by their “streamlined body”.
Billy Hau Chi-hang, principal lecturer at the University of Hong Kong’s school of biological sciences, added that some birds choose to hide in the middle of forests or shrubs.
And while area birds could go into hiding, new ones could be carried into the city by the strong winds, Yu said.
“Some birds can’t escape from the strong winds.”
Over the past 20 years, six types of seabirds have been spotted in Hong Kong for the first time as a result of typhoons, he added: the pomarine skua, parasitic jaeger, Bulwer’s petrel, wedge-tailed shearwater, black noddy and brown noddy.
Did the birds survive Mangkhut’s onslaught?
Animal rescue agencies in Hong Kong reported a surge in the number of bird casualties following Mangkhut compared to normal conditions. Between September 17 and 19, a total of 29 cases of injured or dead birds were reported to the non-profit Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. The total marked an increase from the 10 cases recorded between September 10 and 12, when the typhoon had not yet affected Hong Kong.
The SPCA said most of the bird cases it handled after Mangkhut related to the storm, which the group noted had blown some birds off trees. Among the 29 cases, 13 were sent to Kadoorie Farm and Botanic Garden, which provides care for rescued undomesticated animals. Four were sent to the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD), one was released, and the remaining 11 died.
And the number of birds sent to Kadoorie Farm after the typhoon between September 17 and 19 totalled 19, up sharply from the six sent there before Mangkhut between September 10 and 12.
Visiting a prime egret habitat in Tai Po on Thursday morning, the Post spotted at least four birds despite the trees there appearing to be less dense than before. A man surnamed Chan, who has lived in the New Territories district more than 30 years, believed many birds had fled after the typhoon. He noted there were two to three bird nests and one to two chicks blown to the ground. “Some nice people picked up those chicks and brought them back to the woods,” he added.
Did Mangkhut significantly affect birds in Hong Kong?
In the wake of the large-scale destruction of trees across the city, it would be more difficult for surviving birds to find food for a period of time, Hau said.
“With more fallen trees and leaves on the ground, it would be more difficult for birds to find food, regardless of whether they feed on fruits or insects.”
Yu believed birds would move elsewhere to build their nests if the trees they previously used had fallen. But only next spring, when breeding season begins, would it become more evident whether birds’ lives had been significantly affected.
He noted that birds could adapt to changes in the environment and might choose smaller trees to build their nests when larger ones were unavailable.
But Yu said their reproduction would not be greatly hindered as autumn is not breeding season for many species. “If the typhoon had come in May, there would have been major casualties among birds that breed on trees.”
The AFCD said after Mangkhut that it had inspected key sites important to birds, including Mai Po nature reserve. “No massive die-off of birds has been recorded,” it added.