Can you bird watch in the rain?

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When we think of bird watchers, we usually envision people walking around watching birds on a sunny, and clear day. However, the weather is not always so pleasant, so the question is if bird watchers also go out in inclement conditions.

You can bird watch in the rain if you want to, but you need to make sure your binoculars or spotting scopes are waterproof. How many birds you see may depend on how heavy the rain is and if it is windy as well, because these factors impact bird flight.

Read on to learn more about bird watching in the rain and other conditions.

Can you bird watch in the rain?
Can you bird watch in the rain?

TIP: If you want to check out the best pair of binoculars for bird watching, we recommend a pair of waterproof and fog-proof 8 x 42 binoculars like the Celestron – Outland X 8×42 Binoculars (Amazon link).

Can you bird watch in the rain?

You can bird watch in rainy conditions, but some birds may be less active. Smaller birds may stay perched and avoid flying. You may also find that some birds will remain hidden and be less inclined to venture out.

This is especially the case if the rainfall is heavy, and if it is storming. Hail and flooding can have a very detrimental impact on bird populations in an area, with many birds unable to survive.

Light rainfall that occurs intermittently may not present as much of a challenge for small land birds, which still could fly around. It might even be a benefit.

The reason is that such rainfall can trigger insects to emerge. In spring, light rainfall often triggers termite alates and other insects to emerge en masse from nests underground. 

This provides a very rich source of food for birds, so you could see a lot of birds becoming active as insects start flying around. You may see mixed flocks of birds congregating around where insects are emerging out of the ground. 

TIP: Check out my recommended products if you are looking for the best and trusted equipment for birdwatching in the wild or on your backyard (Amazon link):

The effect of rain on the bird watcher

Even if birds are present and active, wet conditions can still make birding rather miserable. This is because you have to walk through muddy fields and you can expect to get drenched even if you are wearing rain gear. It might not be what you want to experience as a birder. 

You should not go out bird watching if the rain is accompanied by stormy conditions. This is because there will be lightning, which is dangerous, and even, possibly a hail storm. Consider also, how easy access and driving is in inclement conditions.

For example, ask yourself if you will be driving down a muddy road and if there is a risk your car could get stuck in the mud because of the rain.

In general, before embarking on a birding trip always check weather forecasts paying particular attention to any warnings that are issued. Warnings of severe thunderstorms and flash flooding are an indicator that it is not wise to go out bird watching. Birds mostly won’t be active in severe conditions. 

You should also not venture out if there is a tornado watch, which happens often in the southern United States, in particular in spring and summer.

A tornado watch doesn’t necessarily mean there will be a tornado, but that conditions are favorable for such to happen. It is best to not travel and go bird watching during those times.

Windy, warm conditions and bird activity

Birds may be less active in windy conditions because it can take more energy for them to stay aloft. However, this depends largely on the type of bird.

Windy conditions on warm days are actually conducive to increased activity of the raptors. Eagles, hawks, and buzzards take advantage of thermal updrafts. This means, that wind can actually help the birds fly, especially if added to hot conditions.

You are likely to see more Turkey Vultures and Black Vultures flying when its windy and warm. Unlike most bird species, it is often better to look for flying hawks and vultures at the hottest time of the day, after lunch time. This is when the thermals will be optimal and raptors may be more active.

Inclement weather and bird migration

Bad weather, like thunderstorms, can ground birds that are actively on migration. This is when you can have a “fallout”. This is when the migrating birds drop down into the vegetation to avoid the severe weather conditions.

It is not unusual to find exhausted birds resting in the vegetation of a known migration hotspot the day after a big storm has gone through an area. 


You can bird watch in rainy weather but it is best if the rain is light and intermittent. Heavy downpours will make the experience miserable for you and bird activity will be minimal.

Drizzle and light rain, though, may trigger insects to emerge, which then increases avian activity, so you may have a better chance of seeing quite a few birds. This is true if it is warm, with light rain.

TIP: Bird feeders and baths are great for attracting birds to your backyard. But what about bird houses? They will help you not only track but also keep them in your yard! Check out my picks on different bird houses below (Amazon links):
Cedar Viewing House
Wood Bird House with Pole
Hanging Bird House

Rae Osborn

Rae Osborn is an avid bird watcher and holds a doctorate in Biology. Her interests in birds began as a child growing up in South Africa. She has continued to study birds and has bird watched in the United States and South Africa.

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