The Symbolism Of Birds

Birdwatching in itself is a beautiful hobby. Their grace and beauty in flight is endlessly fascinating to watch, and their songs are a pleasure to hear. From the most primitive cultures to the modern world, birds have come to be symbolic representations of particular attributes and even harbingers of the future. Here are some of the most commonly held symbolic beliefs about different types of birds.

Five Birds and Their Hidden Symbolism


Throughout different cultures and countries, people have come to respect owls for their hunting skills and majestic appearance. The Greeks associated the owl with Athena, the Goddess of Wisdom and Warfare, and over time the bird gained much reverence as a symbol of great wisdom and protection. However, in Britain, the owl’s hunting prowess meant people viewed the bird as a sign of death and destruction. Many Native American legends echoed such negative connotations. 


Doves have shown up as symbols of optimism connected explicitly with peace, purity, love, and safety in various societies and at multiple times in history. There are many instances that reinforce such connections: the dove returning to Noah with an olive branch in its beak, the bird’s association with Aphrodite, the goddess of love, and the shared beliefs of both Native Americans and Chinese who came to see doves as a symbol of longevity, partnership, and purity

Black Swan

While most swans are white, black swans do exist. Although the term ‘black swan event’ has come to describe any rare occurrence with a strong and lasting effect, there are other, more profound meanings as well. While white swans often represent grace and beauty, black swans tend to have more negative symbolism. European legends of the 1700s claim that black swans were sent to Earth by the devil himself. Aboriginals believe that black swans received their black feathers from crows after eagles plucked the swans’ white feathers as punishment for stealing the knowledge of boomerang-making from women. Others see black swans as signs of preparation, rarity, and persistence. 


Asian societies tend to revere cranes. In ancient Japan, people thought cranes could live for a thousand years, turning the birds into symbols of longevity, prosperity, and good luck. Many Asian cultures once believed that by folding 1000 origami cranes, a person would receive good luck or get their deepest desire. Chinese myths mention cranes as messengers of the gods, and while ancient Greeks may not have seen the birds as divine, they were representations of vigilance. 


Crows have a rather negative reputation for thieving and other annoyances. Many people tended to see them as a bit sinister, and multiple cultures view them as an omen of bad things to come and even symbols of death. Still, other societies, like the Vikings, recognized the crow’s natural intelligence and problem-solving skills and saw them as a symbol of creativity. Aboriginals also see crows as clever but with a rather naughty streak. Aboriginals have many stories of crows tricking other animals and even causing trouble by attacking the souls of the dead. 

It is fascinating to consider that people from very different places and times often share the same symbolism for a particular bird. Is it just a coincidence, or is there a real connection that is undeniable?