chickens

Here we go again. Another hurricane season is upon us. There are people still suffering from Irma and Maria and the devastating blow to these islands almost two years ago.

There are houses without roofs that still need to be repaired, trees needing to be replanted, emotions needing to be healed, loved ones needing to be found among our people, and the Earth still healing from the retribution of the storms.

But, you know, nature is powerful, the only university that can fully get humankind’s attention. You see, we have relied so much on our technology that we are far from the school of nature. Don’t get me wrong, technology has its part to play in human lives, but hear me out for a moment.

Look at the ants. Are we better than they are? They work together, build together, and shelter themselves from storms together. The Bible says they are one of the smartest creatures on Earth. Sure, we can learn from them. King Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived, described in the 10th century B.C. four little creatures on Earth that are exceedingly wise. Believe me, before we had apps or Doppler radar or the National Weather Service to predict the atmospheric weather conditions and the possible impact of storms on the environment, Solomon’s wisdom assured us human beings that we can learn from the smallest creatures on the planet to predict with accuracy the signs of the time.

Solomon noted in Proverbs 30:25-28, “The ants are a people not strong, yet they prepare their food in the summer; The badgers are but a feeble folk, yet make they their houses in the rocks; The locusts have no king, yet go they forth all of them by bands; The spider taketh hold with her hands, and is in kings’ palaces.”

Wisdom comes to those who are willing to learn from their mistakes and the environment that surrounds them. An old Crucian farmer, now deceased, once told me a story about his cattle when a storm was approaching the island of St. Croix in the 1950s.

He was fearful for his animals in the pasture, which was on the coastal shore of Estate Carlton. That night, he said the sky opened up with rain and thunder as lightning flashed across the heavens. He was terrified for his cows out in the pasture, with the roaring of the sea and the crashing of falling roofs surrounding him. Before daybreak, he crawled out of his bed to see how his animals made out in the storm. To his surprise, the small calves were between the adult cows. He said all of his animals’ behinds (backsides) were facing the angry sea.

Out of 100 cows, the farmer lost none. The adult cows protected their calves by having them stand between them. Who taught the cows to protect their calves during a violent storm?

Over the years, I have received hundreds of notes and questions from readers regarding my articles appearing in local newspapers. One recent question I received was, “Where do chickens go before the storm?” First, when I read the note, I laughed because I thought it funny. Chickens are smarter than we think. They are not stupid. They are social creatures with an awareness of their environment.

Scientists now are realizing, as they study animal behavior in relationship to climate change, that animals can pick up sounds in the atmosphere where we humans can’t. Scientists theorize, for example, that birds are tipped off by infrasound. It is a type of low frequency noise produced by storms. Although we humans can’t hear the infrasound, birds can. They detect the destructive forces of nature and make it their business to get out of an approaching weather system. It shows that birds can do more than we give them credit for.

One scientist’s data, through research on birds and climate change, has revealed to us that birds took off to another state several days in advance of a large severe thunderstorm system heading across the Great Plains of the United States. Scientists also found out through research that a drop in air pressure causes air to become heavier, making it difficult for birds to fly at higher altitudes. When you see birds flying low in the sky, you can rest assured a weather system is approaching.

We know now that bad weather is associated with low pressure. Thus, the arrival of low pressure can also cause certain species of birds to hunt for insects that are flying lower to the ground for the same reason. So when chickens disappear a few days before a storm approaches, they are picking up the low frequency of the storm and heading for safety.

Chickens can’t fly like birds that can travel for thousands of miles to get away from approaching storms. Instead, they will fly up into trees and ride out the storm. Believe me, they know which trees offer the best protection. On the other hand, chickens might find shelter above-ground where they can’t be swept away by flooding water. A few days, or hours, later, depending on the storm’s intensity, the chickens appear again, going about their merry way looking for food.

In the old days, Virgin Islanders would pay close attention to what was happening in nature, from disappearing chickens to the falling leaves of trees.

In days gone by, raising chickens in the Virgin Islands was very common. My parents raised fowl for fresh eggs. Back then, older Virgin Islanders would look specifically to animals and their behavior to predict changing weather systems. Chicken in “fowl pan” would stay close together if there was a weather system approaching the islands, since they can’t escape to the wild. However, roosters particularly are good watchdogs for their flock. Thus, the lessons of chickens and other wildlife is to be aware of approaching weather systems.

This old Crucian proverb notes, “Cock crow a door mout a sign stranger a come.” This means, “The rooster has the attributes of a watchdog. He will announce the appearance of a stranger.”

— Olasee Davis, St. Croix, is an ecologist at the University of the Virgin Islands. He is active in Virgin Islands historical, cultural and environmental preservation, and he leads the St. Croix Hiking Association’s hikes focused on those topics.