Before we had weather apps, Doppler radar, or the National Weather Service, people paid close attention to what was happening in nature—everything from the thickness of onion skins to the shape of clouds in the sky—to predict the type of weather to come so they could prepare. They also looked, more specifically, to animals and their behavior. For example, early settlers would observe the thickness of animals’ coats and their nesting habits to determine how rough or mild the upcoming winter would be. Of these animals, birds and what they were up to was very telling, and produced a flock of folklore sayings. Check it out!
Around the farm, roosters and hens gave clues into the weather:
If the rooster crows on going to bed,
You may rise with a watery head.
Also written as,
If a rooster crows at night, there will be rain by morning.
People have observed that an approaching storm makes birds restless. And it was believed when a rooster can’t rest, he tends to crow more.
There are other observations about wild bird behavior:
If birds fly low, expect rain and a blow.
Or If birds fly low, then rain we shall know.
A drop in air pressure causes air to become “heavier,” making it difficult for birds to fly at higher altitudes. When birds fly low in the sky, you can be certain a weather system is approaching. This is because bad weather is associated with low pressure. The arrival of low pressure can also cause certain birds to hunt for insects that are flying lower to the ground for the same “heavy air” reason. This proverb doesn’t only apply to heavy precipitation and wind – oncoming winter weather can also cause birds to fly low.
Birds on a telephone wire predict the coming of rain.
This old saying is often disputed. While birds in migration will often “stop over” in an area to wait out a bad storm in their path, there’s no real evidence that birds just resting on a wire indicate any sort of bad weather approaching. But if you notice a sudden increase in the number of birds in your town — whether they’re on telephone wires or not — it could mean that a downpour is on the way.
More Feathered Forecasters
Below are some additional observations about feathered forecasters:
- One crow flying alone is a sign of foul weather; but if crows fly in pairs, expect fine weather.
- If crows fly south, a severe winter may be expected; if they fly north, the reverse.
- When chickens pick up small stones and pebbles and are more noisy than usual, expect rain.
- Roosters are said to clap their wings in an unusual manner, and hens rub in the dust and seem very uneasy when rain is coming.
- During rain if chickens pay no attention to it, you may expect a continued rain; if they run to shelter, it won’t last long. (You would think the opposite is true!)
- When fowls collect together and pick or straighten their feathers, expect a change of weather.
- The severity of winter is determined by how far down the feathers have grown on a partridge’s legs.
- Barred owls calling late into the fall signal a rough winter.
While many of us in the 21st century may think weather lore is more whimsical than wise, it’s hard to discount all of these “natural forecasters,” especially when most of them are based on years of observation.