Any significant or unusual natural event is generally followed by tales of strange animal behaviour. This shouldn't really come as any big surprise. Wild animals are extremely sensitive to their environment and must always be on the look-out for predators. Any changes to the world around them are bound to influence their behaviour.
However, much of what we think we know about animal behaviour is based on anecdotal evidence. As we are rarely aware that an unusual event such as an earthquake is about to happen, there are no scientists busying themselves looking at animal behaviour before and during the event. But things are a little different when it comes to solar eclipses because we do know when they are going to occur.
When Darkness Falls
People have long been reporting that animals, including birds, behave strangely during an eclipse. Birds are often reported to have fallen silent as if it was night. If anecdotal evidence is to be believed, birds cannot distinguish between nightfall and a solar eclipse. Given that we know when eclipses are going to happen, it might seem a little surprising that bird behaviour has not been the subject of in-depth research. However, The California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco recently decided to undertake an eclipse project called Life Responds. The project team felt that the subject was worthy of investigation and that anecdotal evidence did not constitute proof of animal behaviour.
The 2017 Totality
The project was initiated due to the solar eclipse which was experienced across the USA in August 2017. This was an eclipse known as totality which means that the sun was entirely concealed by the moon in some parts of the country. The team conducting the Life responds project wanted to collect reports from volunteers across the nation. They anticipated being able to gain more conclusive evidence of animal behaviour than ever before because people now have smartphones and could record footage of exactly what happens when the sun disappeared.
The researchers were particularly interested in recruiting volunteers who lived directly in the path of the totality but were also happy to receive footage from anyone in the continental United States. By analysing the footage from all over the country and studying the animal's behaviour, they hope to discover whether a partial eclipse affects wildlife in the same way as a totality. They may be able to deduce what degree of darkness sparks changes in behaviour. Birds were always likely to provide the most compelling evidence. Bird song and the moment at which it ceases can be recorded in the dark. Most animals don't regularly vocalise and their other behaviours are hard to see in the dark!It will be interesting to discover what the researchers conclude after reviewing the footage from the volunteers. Having experienced a solar eclipse myself during which all of the birds around me fell silent, I think I can guess what the smartphone recordings will show!