Phenology refers to the periodic appearance of life-cycle events and currently receives abundant attention as the effects of global change on phenology are so apparent. Phenology as a discipline observes these events and relates their annual variation to variation in climate. But phenology is also studied in other disciplines, each with their own perspective. Evolutionary ecologists study variation in seasonal timing and its fitness consequences, whereas chronobiologists emphasize the periodic nature of life-cycle stages and their underlying timing programmes (e.g. circannual rhythms). The (neuro-) endocrine processes underlying these life-cycle events are studied by physiologists and need to be linked to genes that are explored by molecular geneticists. In order to fully understand variation in phenology, we need to integrate these different perspectives, in particular by combining evolutionary and mechanistic approaches. We use avian research to characterize different perspectives and to highlight integration that has already been achieved. Building on this work, we outline a route towards uniting the different disciplines in a single framework, which may be used to better understand and, more importantly, to forecast climate change impacts on phenology.