Thursday, April 17, 2014

Dropping The F-Bomb or This Is Not A Fallout

Tennessee Warbler. A veteran of many fallouts, they live to migrate another day. I resurrect an old blog post, with some minor changes. Now that I live within striking distance of the Gulf Coast during spring migration, I sure hear the "f" word a lot...

What I'm talking about today is a "fallout". A fallout is the stuff of birder legend, birder lore. They say you never see things the same way once you have encountered one. There is such a force of birds that you are brought to your knees, weeping openly, crying out to the bird gods, thanking them for delivering you this divine gift.

My definition of a fallout is simple. It is a MASSIVE number of migratory birds, usually passerines and landbirds, which inundate an area due to a weather event. A typical scenario is when migrants encounter bad weather on their epic and extremely perilous flight north, such as trans-gulf migrants flying to the southeastern United States directly from Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula. When said birds are finally able to land on solid ground, they arrive completely exhausted. Sometimes people are able to approach within a few feet of these birds, or even pick them up (I do not recommend this).

Fallouts are the stuff of birders dream of. For reals. We've all heard of them, and we all want to experience them, despite how it is a direct result of the birds' misfortune. Perhaps this is why birders left and right are constantly claiming that they saw one.

Black-throated Green Warbler is an eye-popper that has shown well in many a fallout.

Look, lets be clear. A dozen birds in your yard or favorite patch is not a fallout. A hundred probably isn't. And if they're doing their normal thing, foraging in the trees, singing their songs, then that's all it is. It's bird migration! It's great! It's so, so sick. It's what birds are expected to be doing. Sometimes there are more birds than other times. But that's not enough to conjure up the magic word. Increasingly popular bird migration forecasts seem to suggest a fallout in a region pretty much every week during spring migration. I've even seen the phrase "modest fallout"....what the hell is that? What would an immodest fallout be? The word is just getting a lot of abuse.

A true fallout describes a completely different scenario from your typical flock doing its thing. It is bird apocalypse. There are not warblers "dripping from trees", they are sitting there on the ground because they are dead-tired, and many of their fellow migrants probably did not make it to shore. There is a Cerulean Warbler perched on top of Purple Gallinule in a rosebush. Under a car there is a Gray-cheeked Thrush trying to forage in the back feathers of a passed-out Chuck-will's-widow. Who knows why? Fallouts are crazy. Some old timers claim fallouts don't even happen anymore, because there are not enough birds left for it to happen....of course we all know from radar data and some solid documentation that this is not at all true, but it still seems to happen less than it used to. 

When you abuse the word you are, in a sense, settling for bird populations that may be a fraction of what they used to be...and that, my friends, is doing these birds wrong. So, in closing, think twice before you drop the f-bomb. If you tell someone to drive 5 hours to witness "the fallout" and they get there to find a couple paltry mixed flocks, there will be hell to pay...

Little instills more fear and loathing in the heart of the experienced birder than reading about a fallout that features...Yellow-rumped Warblers. Yellow-rumps possess the special ability to either be horrifically abundant or not present at all. If you are tempted to brag about a "fallout" that mostly consists of this species, you may want to reconsider. All photos today are from South Padre Island, Texas.


  1. Wonderfull birds and fotos
    Have a Nice sunday Easter

    ♥♥♥V♥ (¯`:´¯)░~~♥☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
    ░░(¯ `•.\|/.•´¯)░)(░░░)
    (░(¯ `•.(█).•´¯)░♥♥(¯`:´¯)░)
    (░░(_.•´/|\`•._)(¯ `•.\|/.•´)░)
    ░░░(_.:._).(░(¯ `•.(█).•´¯)░)

  2. Bravo, and well said.

    Further, i would suggest that any weather interrupted migration event away from the Gulf Coast be given another name. Like, "Weather Forced Concentration" or "Cold Front Pileup".

    When flying trans-gulf the birds HAVE to make it to land or perish. If on their way north they run into a Great Plains thunderstorm they can, and do, put down and take cover before getting pounded into the ground. It just isn't the same thing.

    greg haworth
    portland oregon