Weather Folklore: Animal Prognosticators

Weather Folklore: Animal Prognosticators
Yellow-billed cuckoos

Some weather-related folklore depends on animals to predict the weather. You are probably already familiar with the groundhog and the woolly bear caterpillar, but there are quite a few more animal prognosticators out there!

Can we rely on animals for an accurate forecast? Let’s find out.

  • If the groundhog sees its shadow on February 2, six more weeks of winter remain. If it does not see its shadow, spring has arrived.
    Fiction. The National Climatic Data Center estimates Punxsutawney Phil’s accuracy at 39%.
  • Hawks flying high means a clear sky. When they fly low, prepare for a blow.
    Fact. Birds tend to fly higher in dry, clear, high-pressure weather and lower in humid, cloudy, low-pressure weather.
  • When cows are lying down in a field, rain is on its way.
    Fiction. Sometimes cows lie down just to chew their cuds and rest their legs a little.
  • Chickens cackle and owls howl just before rain.
    Fiction. Chickens cackle whenever they lay eggs, and owls seem to hoot on most cool evenings.
  • Cats and dogs eat grass before a rain.
    Fiction. Cats and dogs will eat grass anytime they have upset stomachs.
  • The rain crow calls before a storm.
    Fact. A rain crow is a cuckoo, typically a yellow-billed cuckoo. These birds make a resonant ow ow ow ow on hot, muggy days, the kind that tends to breed thunderstorms.
  • Squirrels gathering nuts in a flurry, will cause snow to gather in a hurry.
    Uncertain. Many scientists discount this bit of folk wisdom, saying that the squirrel is just enjoying an unusually bountiful harvest thanks to favorable weather in the spring and summer. Others, however, claim to have used this adage with success.
  • A narrow brown band on a woolly bear means a harsh winter. A wide brown band means a mild winter.
    Uncertain. Modern scientists typically agree that the woolly bear’s band is not affected by coming weather. The width of the brown band on a woolly bear is primarily determined by genetics and developmental stage. Incidentally, the number of developmental stages that an insect goes through depends on temperature and humidity.
Weather Folklore: Animal Prognosticators
Woolly bear caterpillar

So are animals reliable prognosticators? Sometimes, sometimes not.

Those who are familiar with weather folklore observe that a forecast based on only one saying is rarely accurate. When several phenomena pointing toward the same forecast are observed, however, the folk sayings can be extremely reliable.

Perhaps we would all be better forecasters if we were better observers of nature.

Helpful Resource

The Old Farmer's Almanac Weather Notebook

The Old Farmer’s Almanac Weather Notebook
A good way to track the accuracy of weather sayings. Includes a daily dose of folklore. Read our full review.

Complete Series

Weather Folklore

Weather Folklore

By hsotr

Pulling from nearly 20 years of experience, Michelle Lindsey started Homestead on the Range to help Kansans and others around flyover country achieve an abundant country lifestyle. Michelle is the author of four country living books. She is also a serious student of history, specializing in Kansas, agriculture, and the American West. When not gardening or pursuing hobbies ranging from music to cooking to birdwatching, she can usually be found researching or writing about her many interests.