Bird symbolism is found across all cultures and dates to the most ancient of civilizations. Here is a spin-off from yesterday’s post asking what your first bird sighting of the year was, with a look at some of the interesting history and symbolism of those sightings.
10 Facts about Bird Symbolism
#1. Ancient Rome
People often refer to a sighting as auspicious or inauspicious and the meaning of the word has an interesting origin. Ancient Romans practiced augury, which was the practice of interpreting omens from the observed behavior of birds. An individual, known as the Augur, interpreted these signs. This was referred to as “taking the auspices”. The auspices from the gods could be favorable or unfavorable (auspicious or inauspicious).
#2. Using the meanings of flight and song
There were two classes of birds used by the Romans to divine meaning. Oscines, who gave auspices via their singing included birds such as ravens, crows, owls and hens. Alites gave auspices according to their flight pattern and included eagles and vultures. No important political or military decisions were made without first consulting the augures. A form of augury was also practiced in China, Tibet and India.
In Native American mythology, finches are an oracle of celebration. The feathers of the American Goldfinch (and other birds with yellow feathers), can be said to be symbolic of the power of the sun and energy, joy, mental alertness and fertility which is associated with the color yellow.
#4. Blue jay
Among the Chinook people, the Blue Jay is seen as a creator god, as well as a protector of humans. He is also seen as highly mischievous, the clown of the gods. It’s chattering was considered to be warning of approaching enemies.
The Chickadee features in Native North American culture and is associated with truth and bravery. In Cherokee culture it is believed that a person with a Chickadee “totem” can not tell a lie.
Crows have symbolic cultural significance throughout the world. While the dark aspect of their symbolism is familiar, it is interesting the in ancient Egypt they were seen as symbolic of faithful love. In some cultures it’s intelligence leads to its portrayal as a trickster. It is also seen as the creator in a number of North American Native cultures. In Japan the Crow is a symbol of family love.
While generally referring to the House Sparrow, it is a Christian symbol of humbleness. There are references in the bible to sparrows and St.Francis of Assisi was depicted holding a sparrow. It also represents fertility. In Japan is seen as a symbol of loyalty. Sparrows are also known as the birds of cupid.
The Thrush is associated with writers, singers and poets dating back to the time of Homer. They have been seen as signs of devotion, fertility, peace and abundance. The American Robin is generally seen as a sign of spring so by extension as a sign of change and renewal. The Tlingit people of the Pacific Northwest coast have a strong association with birds in general and are divided into two kinship groups, the Raven and the Crow. As part of their mythology they believe that the Crow created the Robin so that it can please people with its song.
#9. Wild Turkey
The Turkey was called the Earth-Eagle by some tribes and had a strong association to “Mother Earth” as well as being seen as a strong symbol of sacrifice. It is also seen as a sign of motherhood and fertility. The Toltec Indians revered the bird and reserved it as food for festivals and rituals. Nothing was wasted, the feathers were used in adornments and the bones used to make musical instruments. The Pueblo also revered it but only kept it for its feathers not food.
Woodpeckers are associated with powers of sorcery and clairvoyance. Its pecking has associated it with thunder and lightning. The Pueblo saw its drumming as forecasting rain. Some Native cultures saw woodpeckers as able to avert lightning and used its feathers in rituals and ceremonies because of this power. Some tribes saw it as having brought fire to mankind.