Thursday, February 9, 2012

Jeudi: Weather-Wise

Birds were the village wise person’s first weather indicator in times gone by.  Neither past events, the shapes and colors of clouds, the stars nor even the calendar date were as trustworthy as animals, and particularly birds, when it came to day to day forecasts.  Animals on the ground, especially the familiar rodents that hibernate in winter, were excellent harbingers of the seasons.  It was the birds, though, that told an old wife whether or not she could hang out laundry, walk down to the village or thatch her roof tomorrow.

Particularly in cold climates in the Northern Hemisphere, the beautiful birds known as Bohemian wax wings were a harbinger of either bitter cold or relief from same; usually the former, unfortunately.  These birds wing their way across the sky in large flocks, darting, swooping and changing directions with abandon and precision that would make the Blue Angels jealous.  In North America they currently range over most of Canada and the northern U.S. and they are listed as “permanent residents” in South Central Alaska and Pacific coastal Canada.

An average group of wax wings, which can range from 20 to 50 birds, massing on a tree, flying off and then returning is said to be a sign of snow within 24 hours.  Large numbers of more than 50, perhaps two or three flocks together, huddled in rows on the branches of trees, the roofs of barns or the tops of fences are said to signify very harsh weather and unusual cold. 

In colonial times, this sign also foretold more illness than usual in both men and domestic beasts.  Some even imagined it as a portend of the end of the world.  Old wives would advise that people safeguard their health and that of their children.  Animals should be brought into barns and not left out to pasture as well, and the next spring’s seed stock should be checked frequently for mildew and rodents to prevent future famine.

While I’ve yet to witness apocalyptic occurrences after odd behavior in wax wings, they surely have a way of showing up and then leaving.  The next day, almost without fail, the snowfall will arrive.  Some old weather “superstitions” are still worth paying attention to.  Bonne chance ~

Header: Alaskan Bohemian wax wings, photo by the talented Clark James Mishler from his website; this photo also appeared in Anchorage Daily News


Timmy! said...

I haven't seen any odd behavior in wax wings lately, but maybe you have, Pauline?

Hopefully, we won't witness any apocalyptic occurrences, regardless of what the wax wings do...

Pauline said...

They're funny birds, and they're afraid of our Saint, which is even funnier.