Today’s Wonder of the Day was inspired by Amy from Wethersfield, CT. Amy Wonders, “Can ducks fly when it rains or is stormy?” Thanks for WONDERing with us, Amy!

Let’s start today’s Wonder of the Day with a joke. Okay, here it is: What do you call a bird that’s afraid to fly in the rain? 

Any ideas? That’s right, it’s a chicken! Ha! Of course, chickens don’t spend much time flying anyway—rain or no rain. But rain does affect the flight habits of most birds. 

Can birds fly in the rain? They can—but not very well. While it’s not impossible for birds to fly in the rain, they usually choose not to. You may see birds fly short distances in poor weather to find something to eat, but most of them prefer to stay put.

Why does rain make it harder for birds to fly? You might imagine that moving through the air while being pelted by raindrops would be pretty annoying. However, it’s not the rain itself that makes flying difficult. Instead, birds are affected by the drop in air pressure that comes with most rainstorms. 

When pressure drops, the air is less dense. There are fewer molecules, which makes it harder for birds to fly. Moving through the sky in areas of low air pressure takes a lot of energy. That’s why you’ll see more birds sitting on tree branches or even power lines during a storm.

If rain continues for some time, though, birds will have to brave the storm. Most birds need to eat several times a day, and they will fly short distances in the rain to find food. Luckily, their feathers are highly waterproof. Most water will roll off of their feathers, protecting the skin beneath. Many birds can also produce oil that they can spread over their feathers to further protect themselves from the rain.

Despite this protection, most birds don’t like rain. In fact, a 2010 study found that it causes them a lot of stress. A team of researchers studied birds living in a Costa Rican rainforest. Through blood samples, they found that the birds had higher levels of a stress hormone on rainy days.

That may not surprise you. After all, many animals feel stressed out during storms. Pet owners often find that rain and thunder make their animals nervous. Some animals respond to nature so strongly that they almost seem to predict the future

Other birds don’t seem to mind rain at all, though. Ducks, for example, are known to stay out in the rain and even play in puddles. That’s how the saying “Lovely weather for the ducks” came to describe a rainy day. Birds have also been seen using a downpour as a chance to bathe themselves. For those that live in hot, dry climates, rain also seems to be a welcome chance to cool off.

While birds prefer not to fly in the rain, it’s not impossible for them to do so. Have you ever seen a bird flying through a downpour? More than likely, they were looking for something to eat. What do you like to do when it rains? Would you rather play in the rain or stay warm inside? If you’re like most birds, you probably look for shelter!


Wonder What's Next?

We think tomorrow's Wonder of the Day is exCELLent!