US scientists say tracking data shows that five golden-winged warblers “evacuated” their nesting site one day before the April 2014 tornado outbreak.
Geolocators showed the birds left the Appalachians and flew 700km (400 miles) south to the Gulf of Mexico.
The next day, devastating storms swept across the south and central US.
Writing in the journal Current Biology, ecologists suggest these birds – and others – may sense such extreme events with their keen low-frequency hearing.
Remarkably, the warblers had completed their seasonal migration just days earlier, settling down to nest after a 5,000km (3,100 mile) journey from Colombia.
Dr Henry Streby, from the University of California, Berkeley, said he initially set out to see if tracking the warblers was even possible.
“This was just a pilot season for a larger study that we’re about to start,” Dr Streby told the BBC.
“These are very tiny songbirds – they weigh about nine grams.
“The fact that they came back with the geolocators was supposed to be the great success of this season. Then this happened!”
Working with colleagues from the Universities of Tennessee and Minnesota, Dr Streby tagged 20 golden-winged warblers in May 2013, in the Cumberland Mountains of north-eastern Tennessee.
The birds are often seen around the Great Lakes and the Appalachian Mountains, where they nest and breed every summer.