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4 Ways Animals Can Warn Of Approaching Danger

birds danger animals weatherAnimal behavior can give you some serious clues about changes in the weather – and even about danger.

Activity patterns shift in anticipation of coming storms, and the magnitude of the shifts can tell you something about what the animals are thinking about the length and severity of the weather. We all know that animal behavior changes with the seasons. Certain creatures hibernate and are absent through the winter, some creatures migrate, and these patterns can tell us a lot about the timing of seasonal changes. If the winter or spring is coming early, animals know it before meteorologists do, and they time their activities accordingly.

But they also know about the smaller changes within the seasons, such as coming storms and unseasonal warm-ups. The key to recognizing changes in behavior, however, is to recognize the normal patterns, so you are going to have to get yourself out in the woods in order to learn the norms and note the changes. These things are hard to teach, and are best suited to experiential learning. You might have to force yourself to pick up a squirrel rifle from time to time and get out in the woods to hear what the wildlife wants to tell you.

In general, watch migratory birds for clues to the timing of the seasons. If birds show up or leave early for the winter, hold on! If birds return early for spring, spring is coming early. Keeping a few bird feeders will allow you to more easily monitor this, and to track daily activity patterns for clues to more short-term weather trends. Watch the foraging patterns of squirrels and chipmunks for clues to both long- and short-term weather trends.

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Animals are also great indicators of approaching danger. The big thing to remember here is that, as far as the critters are concerned, you are an approaching danger. Remember all those movies where the point man raises his hand and then clenches his fist to get everyone behind him to stop? Immediately, some forest or jungle creature does something to let him know that the bad guys are crouched behind THAT bush in ambush? It seldom works that way in the real woods. The trouble is, all the critters in your immediate area are on alert for you. To get a good read on the critters around you, you are going to have to stop, stand still, and blend in until they forget you are there. This can take 10 or 15 minutes, and you will know it is working when the small animals and birds start moving and calling near you. It is amazing what you will hear and see with a bit of stillness and patience, and this is what you can use as a baseline for the “no danger woods. What you see and hear when you are on the move is a cautious or even frightened woods.

Reading the woods is another skill that only comes through experience; better get that squirrel rifle out again. There are some rules of thumb however that can get you started:

1. Crows, ravens, and blue jays are trouble-makers. These noisy birds love nothing better than to announce the coming of any creature that is trying to be stealthy. They also enjoy perching above any critter that is trying to hide, squawking their brains out. Jays have elevated this to an art-form, and they have messed up more than one hunt for me, but they have also told me when something was coming.

2. Squirrels like to chatter and scold. Not all the time, but when they are feeling cocky. They can alert you to a hider, if you have been still long enough to know they aren’t scolding you.

3. Any birds breaking cover and taking flight suddenly have probably been startled by something. Small game taking off on the run has probably been scared as well. Again, if you have been still and watching for some minutes before noticing something like this there is probably something other than you bothering the wildlife.

4. Your domestic animals can give you clues to approaching dangers, as well. Dogs aren’t the only good watch dogs. My horses often let me know if something or someone is nearby, and they even let me know the direction of approach by squaring their whole body up to it and pointing their eyes directly at it. They aren’t noisy about it, but if you watch your horses they can tell you a lot. Turkeys and guineas are also great for alerting you to the presence of just about anything.

If you learn the rhythms of the wildlife around you, they can tell you a lot. From the weather to the approach of a hit squad, the critters can clue you in if you take the time to learn their “language.” Get some bird feeders and then get yourself out in the woods, take the time to just sit quietly and pay attention, because if you don’t recognize normal animal behavior you won’t be able to recognize and interpret the changes.

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  1. Good article. I’ve always been a student of what we can learn from the indicators the animals give us out in the wild. Here’s one you didn’t mention that is very reliable. Ants always build up their mounds prior to a big rain. Sometines a day or 2 before a rain you’ll notice the mounds getting built up. You see that, it’s going to rain.
    Also dogs really are noble creatures. They can keep you from getting lost or help you find your way back if you do get lost. Their bravery and loyalty are constant and amazing. They can even sense you might be getting sick even before you know it….
    Thanks for an interesting lesson here…

  2. Whats it mean when a cat stares at a wall? Is there a ghost? Whatever it means it freaks me out!

    • They either saw a bug and are looking for it, or there’s a small spot that fascinates them. Or maybe, they do it for fun because they know it freaks you out. Mine like to stare at “nothing” too.

    • probably means the cat knows it freaks you out and it is playing games in your head. Cats are like that.

  3. My cats always know when someone is approaching the house. They don’t like strangers and will run if someone approaches. They also know the sound of my husband’s truck and will run to greet him. However, when the earthquake hit Virginia a couple of years ago, the waves rocked my house and my cats slept through that one.

    • it’s as if they’re saying ? it’s not even a 4 pointer, go back to sleep”. My 2 cats are the same. My dog barks at anything that moves outside. I can tell if the issue is going by or in the yard by the bark .love it…

  4. I’ve noticed that when one of my horses pays attention to something, whether it is a coyote or me, they do squarely face the threat as the author says, but additionally, my other horses will fall in line and look the same direction, as if on cue from the first horse. . . . Also, Donkeys are just super at this. . . They stand guard and watch for things and scan the wood line for predators. . . If they see something, they let out a hee-haw that can be heard a mile away. . . I guess that’s why wild horses let wild donkeys hang out with them as they make excellent sentries.

  5. I have a book called Nature’s Weather Watch which is about forecasting the weather by watching animals and plants. It is an Australian book (I am in Australia) and so is about Australian animals but it is very informative, maybe you can find a similar thing where you are.

    It covers domestic animals, cats and chooks, and wild ones including insects, crocodiles, kookaburras, emus and snakes. Are we going to have an extra wet wet season? Is there a change in the weather coming? ARe we going to have a dry period or will there be flooding?

    It is a good book, though these things are never exact it can’t hurt to take notice of what is going on around us 🙂

  6. My brother-in-law (who lives in Montana) was working in the yard and saw a huge flock of birds of all kinds flying together. He watched them as they flew over and was thinking how odd it was to see all the different birds flocking together. About 5 minutes later the heavens opened up with baseball size hail. Lesson learned….

  7. Geese and donkeys are great at sounding the alarm. Donkeys seem to adopt their herd/flock well, regardless of species, and appoint themselves as guard. I haven’t met a goose that actually liked me, so that can be noisy at feeding time… until the feed is given.

  8. Years ago during a severe thunderstorm watch, our black lab suddenly froze & “pointed” north, barking ferociously. The sky was eerie black, but near the horizon turned a bright lemon yellow. Because of the forest in that direction, I could not see details, but when hail began falling, I grabbed the children & ran into the cellar. Later on the radio we heard that a small tornado had touched down about 4 miles north of the woods, but dissipated in a field before doing any damage! The dog knew and tried to warn us.

    • Dogs are the best friend we can have in a survival sit-rep. The only problem with my dog is she Uh” cleans up after herself. It’s really disgusting so I have to be watchful when she does her business. I’ve asked vets and other so-called experts and the prevailing wisdom is be watchful and get to it before she does… 🙂 That being said, she is the best watch dog I have ever had… My 2 cats mostly run and hide or roll over and go back to sleep…

  9. Most migratory birds do so because of the shortening or lengthening of the day, not because they are intuitive about coming weather conditions. Ducks and geese can survive bitter cold weather. Robins begin to show-up around my house in early March, and may have to put up with more than a couple of days of bad weather.
    If I were to get lost with my dogs we would all freeze or starve to death. When I stop walking they lie down, so no following them back home. I guess they would wait me out, gather some strength by cleaning my bones, then head for home.

  10. Charles Giltner (@halfwitt)

    Surprised there is nomention of animals predicting earthquakes or like in Indonesian tsunami 2004, the critters headed for high ground early. Many lives were saved by heeding their warning. We can attune our awareness and sensitivity to environmental indicators if we challenge ourselves regularly. As a child I would go as long as I could though the day blindfolded or with my ears plugged to challenge my other senses.(much to my parents dismay) But this exercise not only made me more compassionate to those who have lost senses, but increased my ability to expand my senses beyond the everyday. You’d be amazed at what your nose or skin can tell you when your eyes aren’t talking.

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