Birds are widely regarded as symbols of freedom and eternity due to their ability to soar into the skies. Bird symbolism exists all over the world as part of different cultures, religions, and traditions. Every bird is uniquely breathtaking and symbolizes certain aspects of our lives, nature, and the unknown world.
Bird symbolism tends to associate birds with infinite possibilities, renewal, eternity, and the transition between life and death. The sheer number of birds in the world probably explains why these animals are part of virtually every culture on earth.
Common elements of bird symbolism
Here is a look at some fascinating bird meanings in folklore, native cultures, and modern beliefs.
The sparrow is probably one of the most common birds in the world. The two most common species of the bird are the tree sparrow and the house sparrow. These little creatures can be found in Africa, Asia, Europe, Australia, and the Americas.
Here is a look at some of the beliefs associated with sparrows.
- Greek mythology
Symbol of love: In Greek mythology, the sparrow was one of the birds associated with Aphrodite, the goddess of love. The sparrow symbolized the spiritual connection found in true love. Ironically, the sparrow is widely regarded in science as one of the most lustful birds.
- European folklore
In native European folklore, it is a bad omen if a sparrow flies into someone’s house. This is considered a sign of impending death. In Kent, a person who caught a sparrow had to kill it to prevent their parents’ death.
- Egyptian mythology
Ancient Egyptians considered sparrows as soul catchers. The birds were said to carry the souls of deceased people to heaven. It was a common practice for sailors to tattoo themselves with sparrow images to ensure their safe passage to heaven in case they died at sea.
- Indonesian folklore
In Indonesian folklore, a sparrow flying into someone’s home symbolized good luck. If the bird built a nest in the home, it meant that a wedding would happen in the home soon.
Eagles are arguably some of the most commonly used animals in ancient and modern symbolism. The eagle generally represents strength, freedom, and wisdom.
There are ancient artifacts, stone carvings, and sculptures that indicate the power of this animal when it comes to symbolic meaning.
Here is a look at some of the meanings associated with this powerful bird.
- Native America
Native Americans considered eagles to be sacred animals (especially the bald eagle). One of the most common aspects of bald eagle symbolism relates to wisdom, bravery, and a connection to the spiritual realm.
Eagles’ feathers were widely used in certain religious rituals. Today, there are numerous sculptures, statues, and carvings of eagles throughout the Americas.
- Native Celts
In native Celtic culture, eagles were closely associated with three gods. Since the Celts considered trees sacred, any animal that lived in or on trees was equally considered sacred.
- Mayan culture
In Mayan culture, the eagle is one of the Zodiac signs. It represents human beings who value freedom and can never be tied to a single place or person. These people possess limitless creativity and imagination.
- Ancient Egypt
In ancient Egypt, the eagle was a symbol of wisdom because it flew higher than people and was, therefore, able to see the world from a far wider perspective than humans did.
Cranes are graceful, elegant, and beautiful birds, easily recognizable by their long legs and necks. They can be found on all continents except Antarctica and South America.
The birds are widely known for being easily adaptable to different climatic conditions. They are both plant-eaters and carnivores, which adds to their ability to survive in different regions.
The crane’s beauty has often captivated people throughout the world. The bird’s symbolism is particularly prevalent in North America, Korea, China, and Japan.
- Eternal love and loyalty
Cranes are often considered a symbol of everlasting love, youth, happiness, good fortune, and longevity. They are symbols of royalty, grace, and balance.
Additionally, these birds symbolize eternal loyalty. Every crane sticks to a single mate throughout its lifetime, making the species one of the most faithful in the bird world.
Some of the best photographs of cranes involve one or more of them standing on one leg. The birds can strike this pose effortlessly despite their significantly heavy upper bodies.
This habit symbolizes the ability to go through life without rushing into poorly-thought decisions that could endanger one’s balance.
- Focus and spirituality
In some cultures, the crane is associated with the ability to focus on one goal without getting distracted by other issues on the side. It also symbolizes the need to develop one’s spirituality.
4. Blue jay
The blue jay is a little stern bird native to North America. The bird is renowned for its tenacity and determination. It is especially relentless when dealing with its enemies.
Blue jay symbolism
Here are some of the traits associated with the blue jay.
The blue jay is known for its patience and intelligence. It has been claimed that the bird often uses strips of materials like newspaper strips as tools to get food. The blue jay is seen to be in pairs, and when they fly, they keep a great distance from each other, a strategy of decreasing the probability of being targeted by the enemy.
Spiritually, the bird is thought to give knowledge and memories of long-forgotten things and provides intelligence on how to use them to seize opportunities.
This bird is very aggressive as it makes different varieties of loud sound that travels over a long distance. In some cultures, having a blue jay as your totem implies that you are aggressive and, therefore, there is nothing that can stop you from defending what you consider right.
- Flexibility and communication
The blue jay also symbolizes the ability to use any situation to one’s benefit. This comes from the bird’s ability to build nests in any tree or environment that suits it.
In certain cultures, those who have the blue jay as their spirit totem are said to be excellent in communication-related jobs such as law, public speaking, and politics.
Herons are coastal and freshwater birds commonly found all over the world. These birds closely resemble cranes, spoonbills, ibises, and storks. However, herons have distinctive retracted necks while the rest have outstretched ones.
Here is a look at the symbolism involving herons in different cultures.
- Native America
Certain Native American tribes associated herons with good luck. Fishermen believed that the sighting of a heron would bring forth a successful fishing trip.
The bird was also associated with wisdom, determination, and curiosity.
- Native Japanese culture
White and grey herons can be seen in numerous ancient Japanese paintings. Some ancient legends suggest that lovestruck girls would often transform into heron spirits to dance on frozen ponds in winter.
In another popular Japanese legend, a prince died and turned into a white heron. In Japanese culture, the heron is said to represent purity, nobility, and grace. The bird is also widely considered to symbolize divinity.
- Chinese symbolism
Herons appear in numerous Chinese bird symbol paintings representing the ‘upward path.’ In China, the image of a white heron stands for a path to heaven. In the country’s folklore, it was the responsibility of herons to carry the souls of the deceased to heaven.
- Ancient Egypt
In Egypt, the heron was considered God’s messenger, as well as the creator of light. The bird was also a symbol of prosperity, regeneration, spring, dawn, and longevity.
Herons are closely associated with the suffering of Jesus Christ since it is said that the birds can shed tears. The bird is also known to symbolize patience and contentment. It is also termed as unclean, meaning that it is not suitable for consumption.
The common nightingale, simply known as the nightingale, is a small passerine bird best known for its powerful and beautiful song. Nightingales are good at hiding their efforts, making everything they do seem easy, even if, in reality, they took a lot of effort.
Here are some cultures in which the nightingale holds significant meaning.
- Native America
The bird does not appear much in Native American culture. However, where it does, it is depicted as having a sly character. Certain subcultures considered the nightingale as a trickster.
- Celtic culture
Nightingales are grouped with other songbirds whose melodic voices are considered to be vehicles for prayers to reach the celestial planes.
- Nightingales in dreams
In some spiritual practices and beliefs, when a person sees nightingales in their dreams, it means that they need to evaluate their current state.
- Nightingale folklore and mythology
Some myths suggest that in ancient days, eating a nightingale’s head caused one to gain talent and inspiration in the arts. While this is an outdated belief, it still speaks a lot about how nightingales came to personify artistry.
Robins are widely regarded as the quintessential early birds. They are a common sight in North America, often seen pulling earthworms off the ground.
The robin is known for its end-of-winter appearance, cheery songs, and orange-colored breast. While the birds are a common sight in cities and towns, they are also at home in forests and mountains.
Here is a look at the myths, legends, and beliefs associated with robins.
- Ancient Europe
Ancient Europeans considered the robin to be a symbol of divine sacrifice and rebirth. The bird was associated with springtime and the coming of a new year. The robin brought happiness, change, wisdom, and happy songs.
- Ancient Christianity
Several ancient Christian paintings depict the robin as Christ’s helper. It is said that the robin tried to pull off the thorns on Jesus’ Crown of Thorns. However, the bird only ended up getting feathers torn from its body.
- Parenting, care, and growth
The robin is the ultimate symbol of nurturing young ones into adulthood. Robins are widely considered to be some of the best parents among all bird species. Seeing a robin is therefore associated with new growth in some cultures.
In Hinduism, the red color on a robin’s chest is said to symbolize a person’s kundalini (a serpent-like force at the base of a human’s spine). When one experiences inner spiritual growth, their kundalini uncoils and moves upwards as the person’s enlightenment and awareness increase.
8. Cardinal bird
The northern cardinal, commonly known as the cardinal, is a fairly large, long-tailed songbird with a short, very thick bill and a prominent crest. Cardinals often sit with a hunched-over posture and with the tail pointed straight down
Cardinal bird symbolism
Here is a look into the symbolism associated with cardinals.
- Ancient Roman culture
The cardinal was regarded as a spiritual messenger sent by those who died and went to heaven. The word cardinal comes from the Latin word meaning ‘hinge.’ The birds are therefore seen as hinges on the doorway between heaven and earth.
- Native America
Among Native Americans, the cardinal has strong ties to other realms and, as such, acts as a messenger from the ancestors. The southeastern tribesmen associated cardinals with the sun as well as with good fortune.
- Far Eastern cultures
In China and Japan, the cardinal is closely associated with the mythical phoenix (the bird of transformation, fire, and rebirth). The cardinal was associated with honorable rulers coming to power as well as the end of wars.
In China, the cardinal (Red Bird) is said to stand over the southern quarter of creation and defend it from evil influences.
The woodpecker is a small bird renowned for probing for insects on tree barks and chiseling holes to nest inside deadwood. Woodpeckers are fairly common all over the world except in Australia and New Guinea.
Here are some of the cultures, religions, and beliefs in which the woodpecker appears.
The red color on the woodpecker is associated with the root chakra, the prime and protective energy of a human. The bird symbolizes a person’s core impulse and basic beliefs.
- Native North America
Native North Americans recognized the woodpecker’s home-making traits and thus associated the bird with protection. Additionally, the bird’s beak-drumming was taken to symbolize the beginning of ceremonies, processions, and in some cases, war.
- Roman mythology
In Roman mythology, the woodpecker is associated with Mars, the planet of energy, and initiative. The zodiac sign of Aries is also closely associated with the woodpecker as a totem animal because of its association with planet Mars.
The woodpecker is said to have befriended Remus and Romulus, the two founders of Rome. Legend has it that a woodpecker and a wolf fed the young twins whose father was Mars, the god of war.
Albatrosses are fascinating birds known for their large wingspans and the ability to ride winds for hours without flapping their feathers. The albatross has a rich mythological and cultural history which persists to the modern-day.
Here are several beliefs associated with the albatross.
- Ancient sailors
Sailors all over the world viewed sightings of an albatross as good luck. Its injury, capture, or death was seen as a terrible omen to those at sea.
Additionally, the albatross symbolized grace. It was said to guide humans on the use of their bodies to move fluidly through life, even in conditions that often seemed treacherous to their wellbeing.
What do birds symbolize in the Bible?
What do birds symbolize in Christianity? Different birds symbolize different things in the Bible. Here is a look at some of the birds mentioned in the Holy Book and what they symbolize.
- Dove: Which bird symbolizes hope? The answer is the dove. It has been used in the Bible to symbolize the Holy Spirit and hope for humanity.
- Blackbird: The blackbird symbolizes temptation and sin and is even attributed to the devil’s workings.
- Falcon: The falcon in the Bible carries a message of duality. On the one hand, the falcon represents evil thoughts. Other times in the Bible, the falcon represents turning to Christianity.
- Lark: In the Bible, the lark is used as a symbol of humility and modesty.
- Partridge: The partridge is another bird in the Bible that symbolizes a duality.
Bird symbolism is undoubtedly a fascinating aspect of various cultures and religions. Which bird did you find most interesting?