Some cats and dogs have been observed to yawn and start to bed down for the night during a daytime solar eclipse. Credit: Erik-Jan Leusink

The solar eclipse is coming — and so is the possibility of seeing odd behavior in animals.

Most accounts of animals acting weirdly take place in the path of totality — and New York City isn’t. But some experts say there’s a chance to spot some of this odd behavior even when the moon obscures about 90% of the sun at the peak of the eclipse, like NYC (at 89%) will. If you travel Upstate with your pets, you might be even more likely to see some behavioral changes. Epicenter spoke with animal behavior experts to learn more.

Behavioral changes in dogs: 

“Dogs are smart enough not to look at the sun,” said Nate Bickford, department chair of natural sciences at the Oregon Institute of Technology. “So they don’t really need glasses. But they will get ramped up.”

Bickford was part of a study, conducted at the University of Nebraska Kearney, that tracked animal behavior during the 2017 solar eclipse. Research showed some dogs that were afraid of storms also acted strangely when they saw the fast-approaching darkness of the eclipse. “There’s a chance that they could start acting scared and go into a closet and things like that,” he said. 

Dogs might get “ramped up,” or start yawning, during a solar eclipse. Credit: Karsten Winegeart 

Changes in cats:

Indoor cats might not have much of a reaction, unless they’re responding to their owners’ excitement about the eclipse, animal behavior experts say. 

Cats are closer to their wild ancestors in terms of their behavior, says David Lahti, an associate professor at Queens College, which means they’re going to care less about what we do.

But their day-night rhythms might be affected, independently of what their owners do.

“Cats and dogs will start yawning during an eclipse and bedding down a little bit,” Lahti says.

Changes in rodents:

Rodents that are active during the day, like squirrels, may climb up trees and start heading towards their nests, Lahti said.  

Meanwhile, bright light is an ecological danger sign for nocturnal animals, who are more vulnerable to predators then. 

In NYC, that means raccoons and opossums might start to emerge during the partial solar eclipse, he says.

Raccoons and opossums might be more comfortable emerging during the day’s partial solar eclipse in NYC. Credit: Overture Creations 

What about our classic rodents? There’s little known about NYC rats’ behavior during partial eclipses. 

But a 2023 study that looked at lab rats in Indonesia in an open outdoor setting showed they were more active than normal during that partial eclipse in 2016. The rats acted as if they were in the dark cycle during that morning of the partial eclipse: they traveled a longer distance and rested less. 

Changes in zoo animals:

You might also see odd behavior at the zoo. 

In one study at the Riverbanks Zoo in Columbia, South Carolina, giraffes at a water hole ran around or huddled together during the 2017 total solar eclipse. They then returned to graze on trees. Animal behavior experts have found giraffes and other animals from the African plains are hardwired to respond to fast-moving storms, which the eclipse mimics.

Giraffes have been observed to behave oddly during a total solar eclipse. Credit: sutirta budiman 

Bickford says zoo goers may also see primates exhibit weird behavior, including looking up at the sky. If you can’t make it to the zoo but want to check these things out, many of these species have cameras in their zoo enclosures. 

During a total solar eclipse, insects like fireflies and crickets might start their nighttime routine. Credit: Tony Phan 

Changes in insects:

With the sudden darkness, grasshoppers might start calling, spiders start clipping off old webs and weaving new webs.

But these behavior changes are generally for outside insects. To Epicenter NYC’s relief, experts don’t expect roaches hidden in homes to become more active, as per an anecdote during the 1932 solar eclipse. 

Bird changes:

The team at the University of Nebraska Kearney saw some of the most dramatic changes in behavior among birds during the last eclipse, Bickford says. Even in the city’s partial eclipse, bird watchers might see similar behavior.

He says raptors, like red-tailed hawks, will quickly go to their nest sites or trees, and get under cover. “So if you’re in the park, you’ll definitely see birds going in the trees,” he said.  

Some raptors might swoop into trees or their nests for cover if they perceive the sudden darkness. Credit: Diane Baker

There will also be changes in songbirds, which will stop singing during this “artificial dusk.” There’s a reason we have a “dawn chorus,” Lahti said: each bird species has a different threshold for the light they need for them to be motivated to sing. 

“You can imagine that an eclipse is kind of going backwards,” Lahti said. “So the ones with the highest thresholds will stop singing first, the house finches and the song sparrows and chipping sparrows. So it’s going to be eerily still in some places that you would expect to be kind of loud.”

“If you have bird feeders, you’ll see the birds just vacate out,” he said. 

Songbirds might go to roost — and stop singing — during a solar eclipse. Credit: Lasse Nystedt 

There might also be changes in birds that are nocturnal migrants.  

“So as the sun goes out, they might decide, ‘Oh, my God, it’s time to fly!’” said Mark Hauber, a professor of comparative psychology at the Graduate Center of the City of New York who studies avian behavior. “And they might leave the food sources behind and start moving again.”

Then again, they might just continue feeding, because they’re driven by hunger as well as daytime and nighttime differences, he says. 

Hauber advises other curious New Yorkers to see if the partial eclipse makes a difference. 

“Remember, we need to have our eyes open to see the light,” Hauber said. “Birds literally have a third eye, and the light gets through their skulls to sense light. So they are even more sensitive to light levels than we are.”

Good thing birds, like dogs, are too smart to need solar eclipse glasses.

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