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The tornado warning brought a downpour of rain, and I was delighted with what I saw next

Living the Wild Life

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Waxwings gather after the storm on Monday | Bill Schiess,

As I walked out to weed the garden Tuesday afternoon, I could hear the low rumbling of thunder in the distance as a thunderhead began building on the desert northwest of Rexburg.

“No worry. It will hit St. Anthony instead of Rexburg,” I thought as I started weeding the third row. But then, the slight breeze from the southwest switched to gale force wind from the north and the occasional drop of rain quickly turned into a downpour.

The thunder was a constant roar, and as I watched out the window, I saw a flock of Cedar waxwings fly into the four large pine trees in my front yard. An alert came on the television,

“Tornado watch is posted for Hibbard near Rexburg. Get inside and stay away from your windows!”

That warning was like telling a kid not to eat candy on Halloween.

I sat on the couch, away from the window, watching the sheets of rain and an occasional short bout of hail form puddles on our lawn, and the road became a shallow river. Once in every few minutes, the rain would lessen enough for me to see some of the 50 to 60 waxwings hugging the branches next to the trunks of the trees.

We were lucky that it rained for about half an hour instead of 40 days and 40 nights as it dropped over half an inch of rain. I sloshed my way across the lawn to check for damage and get a closer look at the birds. It was not long before insects were flying and the birds moved to the outer branches to begin feeding as the bugs landed. Birds are like teenage boys: they cannot go a half hour without finding something to snack on and they were very hungry.

As the storm passed, an opening in the clouds was celebrated by a beautiful rainbow and the sun started to warm the cold dampness of the storm. With the warmth, the waxwings flew to a sun-bathed aspen to preen while others fluffed their feathers to allow the sun to dry them.

Bill Schiess |

I had witnessed a mini “bird fallout.” A bird or “migration fallout” happens when a severe storm interrupts a flock of birds during migration causing them to seek shelter quickly. Several years ago, I witnessed one in Texas during the warbler migration from South America across the Gulf of Mexico. Near Galveston, Texas, millions of warblers showed up along the coast too exhausted to fly, and it took them several days to recover to continue their migration to their nesting grounds in the midwest.

The flock of waxwings that appeared on Tuesday was gone by Wednesday, probably to the forests in Island Park or Teton Valley where they nest.

To protect them from severe storms, birds have the ability to detect the change in barometric pressure and to hear infrasound. Infrasound is very low frequency sound produced by storms, and the birds can detect them and seek out shelter, oftentimes before the storms hit.

I have a pair of Cedar waxwings nesting in my backyard, but for one day they had a family reunion of many of their relatives that got them all excited. They seem to be happy to be alone again to go about their regular routine.

Bill Schiess |

Bill Schiess |