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The solar eclipse may confuse the behavior of the birds

Unlike the 2017 eclipse that occurred in August, this eclipse occurs when the spring migration is already underway. And since most birds fly at night, a solar eclipse may affect them significantly

A solar eclipse affects animal behavior. Credit: The Science website, via DALEE
A solar eclipse affects animal behavior. Credit: The Science website, via DALEE

Note: The solar eclipse on April 8 will be visible in large areas of the USA, and will not be viewable from Israel, where the time will be between nine and ten in the evening.

On April 8, a total solar eclipse will pass quickly over North America. At the same time, researchers from the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology and their partners will rush to measure the effect of daytime darkness on the movement of birds, bats and insects - flying creatures that are very sensitive to changes in light levels.

Unlike the 2017 eclipse that occurred in August, this eclipse occurs when the spring migration is already underway. And since most birds fly at night, a solar eclipse may affect them significantly.

"Light is such a basic and common sign that governs so many areas of life on Earth," said Cecilia Nilsson, lead author of a study on animal behavior during the 2017 eclipse. "But light is very difficult to control on a large scale. Here we have this unique natural phenomenon that allows us to conduct a tremendous 'experiment'."

The researchers will measure aerial activity using US meteorological radar stations located in the path of the eclipse, which stretches from Mexico through Texas to Maine. Signals resulting from weather events, such as rain, will be removed from the radar images so that only biological data remains - birds, bats and insects. The team will measure movement at the peak of the eclipse, when the Moon is directly between the Earth and the Sun, a time also known as "totality". Additional measurements will be taken at sunset for comparison.

According to NASA, most locations along the path of totality will be in the dark between 3.5 and 4 minutes, and up to 4.5 minutes in Mexico - not much time to collect data. The researchers build on findings from a similar study conducted during the August 2017 total solar eclipse.

"During the 2017 eclipse, we saw a decrease in the number of insects and birds flying, but it did not have the pattern typical of the onset of darkness at night," said Andrew Farnsworth, a visiting researcher at Cornell Labs and lead author of the previous study. "At sunset, there's usually a big explosion of movement showing insects, birds and bats going to sleep or alternatively starting nocturnal activity."

There is a big difference in the total eclipse length between the two eclipses. The eclipse in 2017 was a short solar eclipse because the moon was at a point farther from Earth. This time the moon will be closer, which will extend the duration of totality. The previous solar eclipse occurred in August at the beginning of the bird migration season, and its shadow moved from northwest to southeast across North America. This time, the eclipse will pass over parts of Mexico and 13 states along a southwest-to-northeast path and will take place during the spring migration.

"The timing of this eclipse is excellent," Farnsworth said. "This time we have 13 radar stations along the route compared to eight during the event in 2017. There will be more birds on the move, who really want to get to their breeding grounds. Theoretically, if there is any significant change in their behavior due to the unexpected darkness and the drop in temperature that accompanies it, it is much more likely to see it during this event."

Another difference, today technology has improved. In 2018, the BirdCast project was launched, which provides three-day migration forecasts, on the location and intensity of the birds' migration. These projections are produced by the Cornell and University of Colorado Ornithology Laboratories. BirdCast's monitoring tool even allows users to track the number of night-migrating birds in their area, down to the county level.

"By distinguishing the animals' reaction to the total solar eclipse we can get clues as to how they perceive and use light under normal circumstances. For example, birds and insects may use light cues differently," said Nilsson, a researcher at Lund University in Sweden, who is part of the team investigating the April 8 event. The researchers will publish a scientific paper detailing their findings.

Note: The writer of these lines was at the time of the 2017 eclipse in Nashville, Tennessee, which was in the center of the eclipse's path. Every evening in the days leading up to this there was a flock of crickets that greeted us in the early hours of darkness, and indeed even at the peak of the eclipse the crickets began their musical performance.

More of the topic in Hayadan:

2 תגובות

  1. Was in our area, I was in Antalya in 2006. My wife and daughter and I were in Nashville, and we didn't need to move from the hotel, there was a hobbyist who brought devices and glasses with him, including a sun projector, and there was a festive happening.

  2. In 2017, we were in Hopkinsville, Kentucky, which was recommended as a town with a long total eclipse, the media warned of huge traffic jams and millions
    There were no traffic jams and no millions, but we paid in advance for parking next to a church...
    In 1999 we were in Hungary, also at the peak, with a much longer eclipse.
    It's a crazy experience, especially in August, the temperature drops (and rises) by 15-20 degrees in a few seconds and the crickets sing.

    Le Pierre that Israel is full of defects and here in the Levant it is not.

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