Original art courtesy Mollie Holton
Sometimes the weirdest things happen and coincidence comes into play in the darndest ways. I was in the middle of researching this blog on birds when my husband texted me a video of a bird retrieving a little piece of food that was elaborately locked in, what seemed like, an impenetrable container. But the bird easily opens each lever and bolt and eats the food. Moral of the story? Birds are smart! So much for “bird brains!”
They are also very symbolic. You’ve probably heard the belief that “Cardinals appear where angels are near” and what better symbol of anything anywhere than the proud American Bald Eagle? I learned from worldbirds.com that from mythology to art to poetry to literature to religion, birds have always been a part of our world, every single continent has birds, and every civilization encounters them. What other group of animals has such a widespread devotion that watching them is a popular hobby? Think about it, countless songs are about birds and countless stories are dedicated to them.
My mamma loves birds. Growing up we had several yellow canaries that were so beautiful and sang divinely. She also always has a hummingbird feeder and several bird houses. My husband recently became a novice bird watcher. He’s bought a bird feeder, has a bird identification book, and sits outside watching and naming them. He’s become quite the “eagle eye!”
This kinda all started for me when last week, one of my favorite bloggers, authors, and happiness expert, Gretchen Rubin, informed her readers that the bluebird is a symbol for happiness, and when you think about it, it makes perfect sense.
What comes to mind when you think of the color blue? The endless sky and calming oceans, right? Blue is often connected to serenity, calmness, and gentleness. All of those things make us happy so how fitting that the bluebird is connected to joy and optimism. Bluebirds are also considered the quintessential songbird and their cheerful singing just adds even more joy and happiness to their brilliant blue plumage and pedigree. What’s equally interesting is that the bluebird as we know it is found only in North America.
Then there is that famous cardinal. Considered to represent a loved one who has passed, when you see one it said to mean that loved one is visiting you. Kinda magical; kinda creepy. It’s what I call the “daddy cardinal” that this pertains to, as the males are the pretty red ones. Not fair, right? This is also the case with peacocks. Those beautiful fanned out tails? They belong only to male peacocks. Interestingly, peacocks don’t really sing; they let out a wail that sounds like a cat’s meow.
On that note…have you ever had a bird that incessantly bangs up against a window? If it’s a cardinal (and maybe other types), it’s probably a male as they fiercely defend their breeding territory and when they see their reflection on a glass surface, they will spend hours fighting the imaginary intruder. This is taking “take someone under your wing” to a whole new level! We’ve experienced this in a previous house and it’s maddening. I’ve never learned how you can avoid this either.
If I had to choose, I’d say my favorite bird is a sandpiper. Found on beaches and usually in groups, I love how the little birds walk so quickly along the sand and can watch them all day long. They are very busy birds and collect food as they move along the water and sand, where they prefer to be. They don’t fly very high and not only are they adorable, I discovered they are a symbol for problem-solving and achieving goals. I’m all in!
I also have an affinity for flamingos and I’m not entirely sure why other than I love their bright pink color, stately stature, and the fact that if I’m seeing them, I’m most likely at a tropical destination; especially considering that I’m not a zoo person. In true “ugly duckling” fashion though, their pink color, which they don’t sport at birth, takes years to appear. For this reason, flamingos symbolize potential as well as balance, fun, and flamboyancy. All make perfect sense, right? They have forever inspired the hearts and minds of artists, photographers, and writers and are found in tropical and subtropical regions on every continent except Australia and Antarctica. They have intense courtship and parenting rituals and are often found in large flocks. So uncomfortable with solitude and small groupings are they that zoos often hang mirrors in their areas to give the impression of a large flock.
So, what is it about birds that we love so much? Not only are so many of them God’s glorious colorful creations, as the above photo shows, but maybe it’s also the fact that they can fly, symbolizing freedom, imagination, and possibility. Or maybe we just love their occasional fragility and enchanting singing? As I wrote earlier, birds have been significantly relevant throughout the ages. Ravens were very significant in Norse mythology and the crane is seen as a symbol of happiness and eternal youth in Japanese culture. We’ve all seen those elegant paper cranes, but did you know paper and non-paper ones are often given as gifts to newlywed or elderly couples as it’s believed they will bring good luck to recipients. Two other areas where birds are extremely significant are with Native Americans and in scripture.
When you buy something made by a Native American, there’s a good chance a bird will be somewhere on or in it. They are highly revered by tribes and pueblos and many are connected with weather. Others represent power and confidence. The giant mystical Thunderbird has a legend all its own and according to myth, the Painted Bunting was given its beautiful colors by the Great Spirit.
Speaking of spirit, the Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus in the form of a dove.
“And the Holy Spirit descended upon Him in bodily form like a dove, and a voice came out of heaven saying ‘You are My beloved Son and in You I am well-pleased.” Luke 3:22
Birds appear throughout the Bible and in various forms and function, starting with Genesis where “every winged bird according to its kind” were created. To this day, a dove is almost a universal symbol of peace and hope and it all started in that same first book of the Bible. A dove also signaled to Noah that it was safe to leave the arch and eagles way back then symbolized hope and strength.
“But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary; they will walk and not be faint. Isaiah 40:31
In fact, “God feeds all the birds every day and not one millionaire could do so for even one day.”
You’ve heard the saying “Birds of a feather flock together” and it’s true! Birds symbolize community, family, parenthood, and even romance as they tend to form strong bonds with their mates. We’ve all seen a famous V-shaped group of birds all flying in perfect unity and formation. Think of a bird nest too. So fragile yet so important. It’s no surprise we call being comfortable in our homes “nesting.” No one loves nesting more than me and I love to feather my nest!
There is literally no shortage of stories and legends regarding birds. Dreaming about a bird is seen as a message from your subconscious or as a sign of what you desire most. Then there’s the beloved yet mythical Phoenix that emboldens us to overcome a seemingly insurmountable setback. This born again bird may date back as far back as ancient Egypt. And idioms? I’ve incorporated several in this blog, but what about “as the crow flies,” “early bird,” “night owl,” and even the old “chicken crossed the road” joke?
So, the next time someone calls you a “bird brain,” thank them and remind them that by “killing two birds with one stone” you were able to do two things instead of just one and that “a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush” reminds you that what you already have is more valuable than forever longing for something more. By doing all of this, you will have a “bird’s eye view” of life and may just sour like an eagle.
Fun Fact About Birds
Birds are animals with feathers.
All birds have feathers.
Birds are the only animals that have feathers.
All birds hatch eggs.
Birds don’t have teeth.
All birds have two wings and two legs.
Birds have hallow bones, which helps them fly.
Not all birds can fly, including ostriches and penguins.
There are more than 9,000 kinds of birds.
The largest bird is the ostrich.
The smallest bird is the hummingbird, which can fly backwards.
Scientists a long time ago built airplanes by studying how birds fly.
Bird Symbolism and Association
Cranes: peace, blessings, good luck
Eagles: courage, rebirth, power
Owls: insight, wisdom, death
Swans: romance, purity
Sparrows: productivity, diligence, creativity
Peacocks: serenity, luxury, vanity
Nightingale: anticipation, love, secrets
Hummingbirds: joy, love, healing
Falcons: longevity, victory, nobility
Crows: intelligence, curiosity, adaption
Cardinals: faith, balance, romance
Bluebird: joy, honesty, harmony