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Bird Symbolism & Meaning (+Totem, Spirit & Omens)

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Birds are something truly special. What other group of animals has such a widespread and beloved hobby dedicated to simply looking at them. There are birds on every continent and just about every human civilization that’s ever existed has grown up in a landscape filled with birds. It is no wonder, then, that so many cultures have assigned a great deal of meaning to various types of birds. (1)

From mythology to art to poetry, birds inspire the mind and lift the heart. Doves are a major symbol within the Bible. Ravens are hugely significant within Norse mythology. One of the chief gods of the Ainu people of Japan is an owl. Countless songs and stories from around the globe pay tribute to the beauty and majesty of birds. (2)

So what is it that makes birds so special? Do we feel uplifted by their incredible power to fly? Are we entranced by their enchanting singing voices? Do their beautiful feathers capture our hearts? Yes, yes, and yes! Birds are so impactful, in fact, that many different cultures around the world see them as messengers from heaven itself.

In this article, we’ll look at some of the general meanings connected with birds as well as some of the more impactful bird-related myths and beliefs from around the world. When it comes to birds, there is simply too much to say than we can cover here, so be sure to check out our article catalog for information about specific types of birds. From chickens to chickadees, we’ve covered all sorts of birds in detail!

Table of contents

Bird Symbolism and Meaning

Birds in general tend to symbolize broad ideas like love and freedom. The bird’s ability to fly is often connected with the limitless heights of imagination and possibility.

Birds are often connected with emotions. Because birds tend to form strong bonds with their mates and devote much attention to raising their young, birds are often symbolic of community, family, parenthood, and romance. Baby birds symbolize innocence and youth whereas parent birds symbolize guardianship and protection. Birds’ nests symbolize the home.

The following table lists some specific birds that tend to be laden with meaning and some of the common meanings connected with them. Most of these birds have been covered on our site, so we’ve included links to those articles for those who want to learn more.

 Bird SpeciesSymbolism, meaning and association
1CranesPeace, blessings, good luck
2EaglesCourage, rebirth, power
3OwlInsight, wisdom, death
4SwanLight, romance, purity
5SparrowProductivity, diligence, creativity
6PeacockSerenity, luxury, vanity
7NightingaleAnticipation, Love, Secrets
8HummingbirdJoy, Love, Healing
9FalconsLongevity, Victory, Nobility
10CardinalFaith, balance, romance
11BluebirdJoy, honesty, harmony
12CrowIntelligence, curiosity, adaption

Because birds are often kept as pets, birds may also symbolize domesticity and demureness. Caged birds might also symbolize status, as historically birds were expensive to own and keep. Birdcages are often connected with freedom and the joys of escaping one’s cage.

There are also a number of idioms and superstitions connected with birds in general as well as specific birds. It is common to use phrases like “killing two birds with one stone,” or “a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.” The meanings of birds in these phrases vary wildly.

Also read12 Tips on How to Attract Birds to Your Yard Fast

Bird Native American Symbolism

Native American mythology and folklore heavily features birds. For tribes from across the Americas, birds play a wide variety of roles with varying levels of significance. Many birds are connected with weather phenomena, and Native American mythology even includes a giant mystical bird known as the “Thunderbird.” The following myth demonstrates a connection between sparrows and weather phenomena.

One myth, for example, describes a beautiful but proud girl whose father was a great warrior. The girl was disinterested in male company and avoided marrying her many suitors by insulting their intelligence. When the loon courted her, the girl called him stupid and vain. When the fox courted her, the girl turned away and ignored him. Finally, the men of the village grew angry and tired of the girl’s insults. They asked the wily trickster Whirlwind to enact their revenge. Whirlwind, who had the magical ability to become invisible, blew over the girl and knocked her down. Enraged, the girl’s father had Whirlwind and his blind brother Rain banished from the village. Before very long, though, the people began to regret vanishing Whirlwind and Rain because the air was stagnant and the land was dry. They sent the bear to sniff out the brothers, but he couldn’t find them. They sent the fox but he failed too. Finally, the village chief sent the sparrow to find Whirlwind and Rain. The sparrow was clever so he tied a feather to a stick and held it. Then he flew in the direction from which the wind blew. After several days he found whirlwind and Rain sleeping in a cave. With great difficulty, the sparrow woke them up and convinced them to return. Flying ahead of Whirlwind, the sparrow went first to the sparrow village to tell them that Whirlwind and Rain would return to the land. The sparrows all celebrated. Then he went to the humans who were grateful and promised never to hunt his kind. So, to this day, the sparrows are not hunted and they are the first to know and celebrate when rainy weather is near. (3)

Another common theme in bird myths is sacrifice. Often, heroic birds are credited with selfless acts that impact the world. One such myth is used to explain how the bunting got its magnificent colors. According to one Native American myth, the Painted Bunting received its beautiful colors from the Great Spirit. This legend states that the Great Spirit was responsible for painting all of the birds in all of their many beautiful colors. He painted the Northern Cardinal bright red and he painted the Blue Jay in shades of brilliant blue. When he had finished there was just one drab gray bird left. Eager to finish, the Great Spirit reached for his paints and found that he did not have enough left to paint this poor little bird. Noticing the sadness on the bird’s face, the Great Spirit told it not to cry because he would make it the most beautiful and colorful bird of all. So, the Great Spirit used all of his remaining paint to give the Painted Bunting splashes of color. Instead of one or two fine colors, the Painted Bunting boasts bright red, blue, and green feathers which rival even the brightest of cardinals or the bluest of Blue Jays. (4)

Different Native American tribes also designate birds as their clan animal. While some clans decide to relate themselves to a specific type of bird, like the raven clan or the eagle clan, others choose to follow a more generalized approach. These clans include the following:

  • The Fusualgi clan or Fuswvlke bird clan also known as the bird clan of the creek
  • The Anijisqua bird clan or Antisiskwa clan also known as the bird clan of the Cherokees
  • The feather clan of the Mi’kmaq tribe (5)

Bird Christianity Symbolism

Birds appear throughout the Bible in a variety of forms. Owls are mentioned on several occasions when a location as described as desolate or wild. Doves are used in Genesis to symbolize peace and hope. A dove retrieves the olive branch that signifies that the floodwaters have receded and Noah and the animals can leave the ark.

“Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds!”

— Luke 12:24 (6)

 “But ask the animals, and they will teach you, or the birds in the sky, and they will tell you; or speak to the earth, and it will teach you, or let the fish in the sea inform you. Which of all these does not know that the hand of the Lord has done this?”

— Job 12:7-9 (7)

Often, Bible verses concerning birds refer to one of two major themes. One being that God is the one who provides food and light and safety to the living creatures of this earth. The other similar theme is that God can be found throughout the beauty of nature. So, birds represent God’s hand in all of creation.

A large number of birds are listed in the Bible as unclean animals which are not fit to be eaten by mankind. Many birds appear only in this capacity.

Bird Celtic Symbolism

Birds in Celtic myths and stories often appear as denizens of the Otherworld. Thus, birds usually represent the supernatural and mysterious. Female characters, especially witches, are very often connected with birds.

The Welsh goddess Rhiannon is said to entertain guests in the Otherworld via her enchanting choir of songbirds. The Welsh hero Lleu Llaw Gyffes was even married to a woman who transformed into an owl. In that particular story, Lleu was cursed to be unable to have a wife out of all of the women in the world. So, his uncle who was the great magician, Gwydion, made a wife for Lleu out of a bunch of flowers. His new wife did not love Lleu and when she fell in love with another man, they conspired to kill Lleu. When Lleu was killed, he transformed into an eagle and was brought back to life by Gwydion. As punishment for her scheming, Blodeuwedd (which means flower-face) was transformed into an owl. (8)

In the Irish story of the Wooing of Etain, the beautiful Etain is coveted by an otherworldly suitor named Midir. She weds Midir but his jealous first wife casts a spell on her transforming her into a puddle of water, a worm, and finally a fly. Etain still loves Midir, but she is blown about by the winds until she is accidentally swallowed by her own mother who gives birth to her once more. In her new life, Etain doesn’t recognize Midir until he finds her and embraces her. At that moment, the two transform into swans and return to the Otherworld. (9)

The Morrigan is a witch-like figure in Irish mythology whop is connected with chaos, magic, victory, and sovereignty. The Morrigan is often depicted alongside crows or ravens.

Birds in Dreams

Birds in dreams can represent a huge variety of ideas or messages depending upon the context, the dreamer, and the type of bird. In general, birds tend to represent the spirit. Dreaming of a bird can be seen as a message from one’s subconscious or as a sign of what one desires most.

Dreaming of birds may also represent hope and freedom.

Bird Encounters and Omens

Treating birds as omens is an incredibly common practice that has occurred since ancient times. This practice is known alternatively as ornithomancy and augury. For ancient Romans, the behavior of birds was often seen as a signal from the gods. Bird augurs would watch for these signals and use them to predict the proper course of action. An eagle flying overhead might signify that the day was favorable for battle. Chickens vigorously eating their feed might indicate that the harvest goddess was pleased and would send a bountiful harvest. (10)

Birds have always been a part of our world. Encountering birds can be a really great reminder to appreciate the nature that surrounds you. Birds are everywhere and have managed to persist even in urban environments. They keep us connected with nature and remind us of our relationship with the natural world.

Bird Mythology and Folklore

There is no shortage of mythological stories, legends, folklore tales, superstitions, and beliefs regarding birds in the rich cultural history of the world. Bird symbolism in literature transcends the boundaries of borders.

The lore of birds is so rich and vast that much of this website is dedicated to it. Obviously, we can only cover so much in one short article. The following are some mythological birds who have a large impact on folklore and fairytales.

1. Phoenix

The phoenix is said to be a bird with 500 year life cycle. Once one life cycle is about to end, the bird spontaneously self-combusts, and from the ashes they are born again to begin their new life. The phoenix may date as far back as ancient Egyptian mythology.

2. Roc

The roc is an Arabic or Middle Eastern mythological bird of enormous size. The tales of One Thousand and One Arabian Nights depict Sinbad encountering one. References to the roc can also be found in the Sanskrit epics Ramayana and Mahabharata.

3. Caladrius

Roman mythology speaks of Caladrius, a snow-white bird that usually resides within the homes of royalty. This pure bird can absorb illness and disease from sick people. The Caladrius flies up into the sun to incinerate the illness. However, if this miraculous bird turns its head away from a sick person, then that is a sure sign of its unavoidable death. 

Also read12 Tips on How to Keep Birds From Eating Grass Seed

Bird Spirit Animal

Having a bird as your spirit animal indicates a great deal of empathy, intelligence, and selflessness. People with bird spirit animals tend to be community-builders who are devoted to their homes and families.

Every bird is different, however bird spirits tend to enjoy creative pursuits and love expressing themselves freely.

People with birds as their spirit animals tend to be dreamers, however they are often quite industrious as well. They set lofty goals and then work hard to achieve them. The bird spirit does not take no for an answer.

Bird Totem Animal

Bird totems are often associated with healing, insight, and enlightenment. A bird totem might be called upon during periods of change in order to help you choose the correct path.

The eagle totem is especially connected with courage, strength, wisdom, and leadership.

Bird Power Animal

The bird power animal is very often connected with perspective. Birds see things that we simply do not. They view the world from a “bird’s eye view” and may have a broader vision of the landscape than we ever will. During decision-making periods, the perspective of the bird power animal can be invaluable.

Birds have an array of unique virtues and talents. To truly understand them all, we would need to look at specific birds in detail. Check out our other symbolism articles where we do just that!

Bird Tattoo Meaning

Birds are popular choices for tattoos. A bird tattoo will have a different meaning depending upon the person, the at style, and the bird. Often, though, bird tattoos represent freedom, growth, transformation, healing, and creativity.

Swallows are a classic tattoo choice amongst sailors because they tend to represent safe passage.

Feather tattoos are often chosen to represent self-actualization, expression, and tranquility.

Also read: 11 Heaviest Flying Birds in the World (Up to 44 lb / 20 kg) 

Conclusion

Birds have a massive impact upon culture throughout the world. Every single continent has birds and every civilization encounters them. These exquisite animals have become inseparable parts of human myths, arts, and stories since ancient times. It is easy to see why so many people devote so much time and attention to appreciating these incredible animals.

20 thoughts on “Bird Symbolism & Meaning (+Totem, Spirit & Omens)”

  1. Hi, this morning I encountered a bird in the break room of where I work. She was near a picture of a close friend we just lost 2 months ago. The bird flew off the table and into the garage. I was excited to think the bird was next to the picture of my friend Joy. As I was looking at the area of the picture I knew the bird was there because there was bird droppings on the table. As I was going to leave the room the bird flew BACK into the room where I was and went next to the
    window near the picture. I tried to catch it and she flew over my shoulder to another window, I realise it was trying to get out but for it to come back in to the room was crazy. I felt it was my friend a Joy making her presence known to me. I left there excited to know it could have been her saying hi, but also find out that after the bird flew out and I left, it came back and actually hit our boss in the head. It was a wren with a yellow line on the side of the face. I make birdhouses of all kinds and I will be making a wren house for her. What are your thoughts?

  2. I called the bird rescue to help with a sparrow trapped in the nearby hospitol. He’s been given food. I gav him water. The rescuers name is peggy, my younger sister’s name..and, her older sis same name is same as mine. This really got to me because i’m learning detach with love. Is releasing the bird this freedom to let go?

  3. Andrea V. Dunn

    Great article. I’m searching for answer for my mom. She has twice saved a bird’s life in two different ways. It’s there a spiritual connection for her? One was in a trash can of water and she just tipped it over. The other was in a drain pipe and that took a lot more work.

  4. Julie O'Donnell

    What does it mean whan a bird comes to my window and gets my attention and then flies over to wing mirror and looks in mirror pecking it

    1. Hailey Brophy

      Birds occasionally mistake their reflections for other birds. During the breeding season especially this can cause them to act territorial or aggressive towards windows or car mirrors. My partner had a towhee friend who was absolutely obsessed with his car mirrors for an entire season once. I suspect that this is what you’ve experienced.

      I hope this helps!
      — Hailey Brophy
      Writer @ World Birds

  5. Greatly…impressed and fulfiiled. When i went through the meaning of bird revelation..my was in a revelation..the bird i saw flying in my living room hit the window curtain and i went and hit it and some her feathers fell off under the three seater cushion…and suddenly the room became dark and i wake up..

  6. While driving not at a stop light, but actually moving about 40mph, a bird landed on the top edge of my driver’s side window!!! I was afraid to turn and look at it😱it was a dark medium size bird I could tell from my perehial vision. It didn’t peck I could hear claws like it wanted to get in Well thats my interpretation from someone who was afraid to look at it😆

  7. First came the Snowy Owl…years ago and as I was relating the encounter to my Mother, her eyes widened and she had a stunned look on her face. I asked her if she was okay, and she told me that my father had an exact experience with a Snowy Owl when he was a child. My father had passed away a few weeks prior to my encounter. I knew Dad had sent the bird as a reminder that He is still with us. Second, a Northern Harrier, flying solo and calling out the saddest cry I’ve ever heard in a bird. Clearly in mourning and sorrowful. I realized immediately that it was a warning of what was to come. Sorrow and pain was in my future. And boy…was it ever! The last few years have been filled with tragedy and heartbreak, devastating losses. This morning, I heard it calling as I step outside my house on my way to work. A Great Egret…in February…in Michigan!!! It turned toward me, then hovered over me for a few seconds before swooping west ward, calling out every few moments in it’s throaty croak. I knew immediately that things are changing for the better. There is wonder and signs all around us, if we only pay attention.

  8. Hi, it was the grey doves first, then the pigeons came and build a nest where I am unable to reach,there was the black and white ones, the black and orange comes and goes, there is now and then the black and grey which leaves when the black and white ones come and vice versa, there were long legged black and white that would face my bedroom window and make noise at midnight, now there are blue shiny birds that are always around together with the brown and white ones, they like walking around my yard and seem to be watching my house. There are these big ones that make so much noise one can’t ignore, they are big birds that should be in the field not on my rooftop or yard eating what I don’t know. My yard is invaded by birds that don’t invade my neighbours. What is the symbol of all this. There are yellow feet ones that gets inside the house and seem to always wants to sneak in my house. I saw it in my kitchen the other day when the door was open,i screened and it flew away. What is the meaning of this? I leave my doors open but always looking out for those yellow legged ones as they always behave like humans, checking if it’s possible to sneak in. At times they sit on the telephone wire and face my open kitchen door as if they are watching us. Mind you, when that happens, it’s all different kinds of them. Something knocks at my door or windows when we are sleeping, I still don’t know what to make of all this.

    1. Howzit gester i really think u need to start to appreciate them for being around you start even buying them food when you home just relax en watch them, listen to their sounds they have warning sounds en happy sounds

  9. Hi :)walking outside my front yard,a flock of black birds(alot)were flying round about across the street near a fielded area. Just looked up meanings of birds flying around or flocks of them near you and having the stupid problems recently I’ve been going thru both w/health&w/home thought to ask.. what is ur take of this? Continue to have ONLY happy days&keep smiling! :)p.s. Look forward to ur response?

  10. Hi. I see a lot of birds in my backyard on the grass every day and sometimes even when it’s raining they would be there. They also seem to be feeding off something in the grass hence I am not certain if they are here to give me a sign or something. This has been happening for 2 weeks or so since I have noticed these birds. If they fly away for whatever reason, they fly and then sit at my neighbor’s top fence but immediately see them back. I am talking about more than 20 birds at a time. I am not sure what type of birds these are but I’m intrigued by the ones which are black and orange as these would always be less than 5 in number. Maybe this means nothing at all but I am interested to know if there is a meaning especially because I have been going through a rough time since the beginning of the year and lost a lot of people closest to me.

  11. Type here..hi I would like to know the spiritual meaning of bird liking to see my face all the time anytime I think about the bird immediately I see it from afar off and instantly it vanished. secondly, the same bird has been keeping an eye on me for more than years to the extent I became afraid of it.

  12. I had a little green bird visit me when I was sitting silently in a forest, fly over head make a circle and sit opposite me on a tree trunk, what is the spiritual meaning? thank you.

  13. I have birds in my yard that seem to be trying to relay a message of sort…I mean its like chirping in a emergency sense or a urgent manner… it happens all the time. Or its a constant repetitious chirp or rant…that gets my attention…all the time. Outside my windows. What does this mean and how can I know what they are trying to tell me cause the high school I went to, didn’t have birdish or birdanese…

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