Albatross: This great seabird is symbolic of lengthy ocean journeys. In western cultures, it is unlucky to kill on. The albatross is also considered to possess a dead sailor’s soul.
Blackbird: For some reason this bird represents sexual temptation in Christian religions.
Crane: A multi-symbolic bird! In Asian cultures, the bird is symbolic of diplomacy. Egyptian myths believe it heralds wealth.
Dodo: Missing in action since the 17th century, this extinct bird represents the obsolete and dead.
Dove: All cultures are in agreement! The biblical bird found in Noah’s story symbolizes the Holy Spirit, peace, the soul, God’s forgiveness, baptism, and love
Crow: Lots of different symbolism for the bird most believe represents bad luck and all things nasty. American Indians, however, see the bird as representing the creative.
Cuckoo: This bird lays its eggs in another bird’s nest ( which is where we get the word cuckold from), so it’s no surprise the bird is symbolic of infidelity and selfishness.
Eagle: A bird of power, authority, victory, high status, and prowess. A divine messenger. A double-headed eagle graced a Roman Emperor’s coat of arms to signify the sovereignty of both its eastern and western empires.
Falcon: This swift flyer is symbolic of masculinity and spiritual freedom. In Egypt it was a symbol of kings. The falcon is a messenger employed by the ancestors of Native Americans.
Flamingo: A symbol of illusion and shape-shifting, the flamingo was revered as the personification of Ra, the Egyptian sun god.
Goldfinch: With its red face and penchant for hanging out in the thorns, the little bird came to symbolize the passion of Christ. It also represented protection from the plague.
Goose: Geese are associated with family, loyalty, and gossip. Their migration is symbolic of personal freedom.
Hawk: A bird linked to prophesy and divination, the hawk symbolizes, power, royalty, and wisdom.
Hen: A thousand years have passed and the iconic image of the overly protective mother is still going strong. The hen is also symbolic of divine intervention.
Heron: Ancient Egyptians believed the bird was a symbol of regeneration.
Ibis: An avatar of Thoth, the god of writing & scribes, the bird was considered symbolic of wisdom.
Jay: This nest-stealing, mischievous loud mouth is connected to trickery and bad luck. On the good side, it is viewed as an enemy-warning guardian to Native Americans.
Kingfisher: Linked to sexual bliss, speed, and grace (um…that’s an interesting trio).
Magpie:In Europe, If you see only one magpie, bad luck is coming. If you live in China, the bird denotes love and good fortune.
Nightingale: The melodic song of this bird has made it a symbol of yearning, love, and death.
- A little bird told me.
- I wanna fly like an eagle.
- The falcon cannot hear the falconer.
- He’s a chicken.
- He dresses like peacock.
- They’re acting like vultures!
- Twitter & tweets!!
Ostrich: To Babylonians this bird was considered evil incarnate. Zoroastrians deemed it divine. Its feather symbolized truth to Ancients Egyptians.
Owl: This night-flying bird of prey is associated with wisdom, witchcraft, and death.
Parrot: Polly wanna symbol? This tropical bird represents mimicry and love. Natives believes the bird carries prayers and delivers omens.
Peacock: The plumage of the male bird inspired an eyeful of symbolism. The strutting bird suggests beauty, love, vanity, and royalty.
Pelican: Myths contend that its young suckle blood from mama pelican’s breast–making the bird a symbol of charity and love.
Raven: Quoth the raven, “Nevermore.” Symbolic of dark and evil omens, the bird ( 2 of them, actually) hung out with Odin, the hunky Nordic god of war. Native Americans see this bird as a trickster.
Robin: Like most birds with red plumage, the robin is a symbol of the blood that flowed from Christ’s thorny crown.
Rooster: It’s too obvious, the fighting cock is symbolic of masculinity, dominance, and courage. Its image is ubiquitous on Shinto prayer drums. The rooster was a sacred bird to both Greeks and Romans.
Quail: A bird of many symbols, a caged quail symbolizes a trapped soul. It is the bird of eroticism, and the courageous fighting bird of the Romans.
Sparrow: The bird of St. Francis, the sparrow represents one’s lowly station in life.
Stork: This is the sacred bird of the Greek goddess of childbirth, Hera. It’s no surprise then where the old “stork brought the baby” story got its start.
Swallow: It is the bird of death and resurrection, the bird that heralds springtime, the bird of departure and return (It’s a migratory thing).
Swan: Yes, the ancient relief is disturbing, but we all know the Greek myth. Zeus morphs into a swan and ravages the lovely Leda. Have no idea then why the swan symbolizes beauty and purity. The one-mate-for-life swan also symbolizes fidelity.
Vulture: A bird that feasts on carrion should symbolize death–and it does. But the scavenger also represents purification. Those in Tibet viewed the birds as transporters of the dead’s souls.
Wren: This wee tiny bird is symbolic of spirit, and known ironically as The King of Birds.
Note: I teach literary analysis ( must pay the bills) and remind my students to look closely at the symbolism in a novel. Why did the author include that fruit? Or name the character Neil? Why is the protagonist sitting under a pear tree? Why is her dress blue? Before jumping to any symbolic conclusions however, we look at the symbol in context of setting, history, and culture.
Related Links: Rock Your Writing; Symbolism & more symbols;