21 May, 2013

Island Girl and the Moore, Oklahoma tornado

Island Girl flew NNE yesterday and crossed into Oklahoma, perhaps around the time the tornado was touching down in Moore, just south of Oklahoma City.

She flew 349 km (217 miles) while facing strong northerly headwinds from the weather system that spawned the tornado. By evening, she was about 150 km (93 miles) west of Moore and Oklahoma City. So she relatively was close to all that remarkable devastation.

She roosted in a row of trees bordering a small meandering creek in open farmland near Highway 183. Her elevation was 1,549'.

We don't know much, if anything, about how migrant peregrines react to such a massive atmospheric event. Have peregrines been killed by tornadoes? If a tornado overcame them at night, it could be fatal depending on the proximity of the funnel cloud.

During the day, if peregrines were to get too close to the debris field of an active tornado (there were reports of debris falling a mile or more on each side of this tornado at its peak), a falcon could be hit by materials in the air.

Would a falcon alter its migratory course in the face of a funnel cloud and the surrounding aerial debris? It seems likely that they would recognize the threat and react accordingly. But funnel clouds can drop out of the sky very rapidly. Some are nearly invisible until they hit the ground and kick up debris.

What about breeding falcons like American Kestrels in this case? Kestrels would be the only species nesting in Oklahoma at this time. I don't believe that Prairie Falcons nest this far east.

Most kestrels nest inside cavities of varying types like holes in trees, buildings or even holes in cliffs. Unless it was a direct hit, it would seem they would be protected. Nest boxes? Maybe not depending on the force of the wind.

In any case, Island Girl was a bit too close to this event for me. But, thankfully, it looks like she made it OK.

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