Augury: How to Read Birds and Their Flight Patterns

Updated on October 7, 2017
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Kitty has been following a pagan spiritual path for seventeen years. Because of this, she encourages others to follow their own paths.

Augury is an ancient practice that is still alive today. Learn how to read birds and their flight patterns to divine here.
Augury is an ancient practice that is still alive today. Learn how to read birds and their flight patterns to divine here. | Source

A Brief History of Augury

Augury is the act of reading birds and their flight patterns to tell the past, present, and future. It is one of the most ancient forms of divination known to have been used in Ancient Greece, Rome, the Celtic Empire, and Egypt (among other ancient civilizations). It is also known as reading the auspices and ornithomancy. Birds were special creatures in that they could bridge the gap between man and heaven or the spirit world. Birds were messengers from the gods, but also thought of as psychopomps in various cultures, with the ability to guide the dead to the other realms.

The Romans called it augury, the Greeks called it ornithomancy, but it was essentially the same thing - reading the type, number, flight patterns, and behaviors of birds to acquire messages from the gods or spirits. The Romans and Greeks treated people who could read auspices with high regard. They considered these augurs sacred spiritual leaders and sought them for advice on all matters of importance. It is thought that the ancient Celtic priests, the Druids, were also able to read birds and their flight patterns.

There is mention of augury in numerous ancient texts, and paintings of augures can be seen on ancient relics from the Etruscan empire dating back to the five-hundreds B.C. Agagamemnon, a popular figure from Greek mythology, was said to have had a bird diviner at his side to give him guidance from the gods. There were other forms of augury, including reading animal omens and weather patterns, but reading birds and their flight patterns was the most popular in ancient Greece and Rome.

In addition to being found in the ancient European civilizations, we can see augury being used by indigenous tribes of the Americas. The Native Americans held a deep reverence with nature, including wildlife like birds. Birds were often thought of as messengers from the spirit world, and many were taken up as totems or guardians of particular tribes. Legends of birds penetrate much of the Native American mythology and talk of birds as being advisors, tricksters, heroes, and more.

In Egypt, certain birds were considered sacred and connected with specific gods. The ibis was the bird associated with the god Thoth. Thoth was often depicted as a man with the head of an ibis. The god Horus was a god with the head of a falcon. Nekhbet was the vulture-headed goddess of Upper Egypt. And, the Great Mother Goddess of ancient Egypt, Isis, while not depicted as a bird, was the goddess of the sky and thought to have wings. Birds were sacred to the Egyptians, and proof of this comes from the discovery of mummified birds at ancient temple sites.

Truly man's relationship and awe of birds, the feathered creatures that fly, continue in modern times. This is why we have "official" birds to represent countries, states, sports teams, and the like. We can learn much from birds, and if you'd like to learn how to read birds and their flight patterns, read on.

Nekhbet was the vulture goddess of ancient egypt. Vultures were sacred to the ancient egyptians.
Nekhbet was the vulture goddess of ancient egypt. Vultures were sacred to the ancient egyptians. | Source

3 Elements of Augury

There are 3 key elements to augury: observation, intuition, and symbolism.

How to Read the Type and Number of Birds

If you want to learn how to divine reading birds, you must know that the first step is to allow the birds to show themselves to you. You can go out and seek the birds in the wild, but augury seems to work best when the birds are coming to you with a message. It is a divine thing, after all.

First you must observe the type of bird that is presenting itself to you. Ask yourself these questions: is it a native bird? Do I see this bird on a daily basis? What kind of bird is it?

The importance behind what kind of bird you're seeing is that species of birds have their own symbolism aside from augury; however, this should be taken into account when reading auspices. For example, if you keep seeing a murder of 5 crows in your yard you would know it is time for mystery and renewal, if you see a cardinal in your yard it is a sign of joy and growth, etc. Learning the basic symbolism of birds in your area is of the utmost importance. Keep a journal of your studies of birds. Learn how to identify them.

Next, take into account the number of birds presenting themselves to you. Is there one bird? Two that are interacting? Ten? Dozens? Hundreds? Numerology will also come into play when reading birds and their flight patterns. A basic understanding of numerology is helpful, but not completely necessary. For instance, if you encounter a pair of cardinals, this often indicates a message concerning a romantic relationship. The same with mourning doves, which often travel in pairs. Is there one crow that seems to follow you? Solitary birds can indicate a need for the individual to be alone to recharge or learn a lesson on their own. Use your intuition when it comes to the number of birds, but you can also use numerology to deepen your understanding and skill.

Reading birds' flight patterns to divine the past/present/future is a practice from ancient times.
Reading birds' flight patterns to divine the past/present/future is a practice from ancient times. | Source

How to Read Bird Behavior

Another important aspect of augury, maybe the most important, is to observe the behavior of the birds.

First, are the birds calling to one another? Calling to you? Are they making sounds they normally would or is it a sign of distress? This was a crucial part of ancient Roman augury, and often one augur would spend his or her life learning and interpreting the calls of the different sacred birds.

Next, the birds' actual behavior is an important consideration. For example, is the bird(s) acting normal? Are they fighting one another? Are they flying away from a predator or going after prey? Are they looking for food or a mate? Are they guarding a nest? When you learn how certain birds typically act, you'll notice right away when they are acting abnormal. For example, when large storms are coming, birds will begin to act "strange". They may seek shelter in places they don't normally. Right before Hurricane Irma hit Florida, many hawks were seen trying to seek shelter near or in people's homes. This is an obvious sign that something is about to go wrong. Birds can give us spiritual messages, but they can also warn us of impending danger.

If a bird flies into your window, into your house, into your car, etc. this behavior signifies an intense or urgent message. Watch what the bird does carefully. Observe its movements and sounds. Is it trying to escape? Is it comfortable in its environment? All of these behaviors could play into the message.

A large part of divination is tapping into one's intuition.

— Nicole Canfield

How to Read Bird Flight Patterns

The Ancient Romans had a very specific way of reading birds' flight patterns. They set up a system in which the sky was divided into certain sections. Depending on which section the birds entered or exited gave specific messages to the augur. You can read the birds' flight patterns in this way, by designating sections of the sky to mean bring certain messages.

The 4 directions (north, south, east, west) play a key part. Depending on which direction in which the birds are flying will tell you certain things. In the mundane, birds that are flying south for the winter are obviously going somewhere to keep warm. This can be interpreted in your own way, spiritually, as well. The South is representative of passion, fire, motivation, etc.

In addition to where the birds are flying, you will observe the way in which they are flying. This means any shape or symbol they might form in flight, such as flying in a circle, flying in a V-shape, flying in uniform lines, spirals, etc. Each shape and symbol means something different; base your message off intuition but also what you know what that shape and symbol. For example, if a murder of crows is flying towards the north and tend to make odd spiral-patterns in the air, this could be interpreted as a message of death in a spiritual aspect then rebirth to a new way of life (spirals and the north direction as symbols of death/rebirth cycle). The crows are spiritual mystery bringers and encourage one to dive deep and reflect upon his/her spirituality, they are also considered psychopomps in various cultures.

When birds fly in a uniform V or other uniform pattern, it is indicative of future success.
When birds fly in a uniform V or other uniform pattern, it is indicative of future success. | Source

Using Your Intuition

Often you'll find that in interpreting birds' behaviors and flight patterns, the messages aren't always cut and dry. A large part of divination is tapping into one's intuition. This means to allow the divine to speak to you through whatever chosen method. This could be through random flashing images in your mind. You might see an actual vision. This could be a sound from the bird that reminds you of a specific word. Maybe you see a specific bird and it reminds you of a specific person. Learning how to tap into your intuition will help you be successful in bird divination/augury.

You can apply these same ideas and principles of augury to nearly any other form of divination. Divination takes observation, using one's intuition, and a decent knowledge of symbolism. Mix these three together and you have a recipe for success in tapping into the divine to acquire encouraging and life-altering messages for yourself or others.

Try these same concepts with reading other things in nature: clouds, animals, trees/plants, etc. You will find you can read many things in nature and otherwise that others might not ever think to use. Have fun with it. Write down your experiences. And always remember - the future is not set in stone, but sometimes we are given a message that our future could go in one direction if we make certain decisions to lead us there. We create our own destinies.

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© 2017 Nicole Canfield


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  • heidithorne profile image

    Heidi Thorne 2 months ago from Chicago Area

    Of course, with the colder weather coming, the Canadian Geese are coming back to our area. Always great to see their V-pattern in the sky.

    Also, recently, there we observed a very strange congregation of small birds, maybe starlings--lots of them!--through our backyard. Noisy, too! And then they were gone, going eastward if I remember right. It was just interesting to watch.

    Nice to know what to look for! Thanks for sharing, as always!

  • threekeys profile image

    Threekeys 2 months ago from Australia

    Loved your article! I belueve in this. I do talk to aninals as if they understand. And they look at me as if they understand. Love to learn more about the flight patterns and the direction messages.

  • profile image

    S Maree 2 months ago from North/Central Indiana

    Hello again! I believe the wise Providence that created us gives us signs to help us navigate through life. Nature is in tune with imminent changes through survival instincts.

    My faith expects Man to make his own decisions dependent upon his wisdom. And clearly, being tuned into nature and thoughtfully auguring its signs is wisdom.

    We have much we need to relearn from our avian friends, and the earth and water creatures as well. I believe they're trying to tell us important things that we're ignoring!

  • kittythedreamer profile image

    Nicole Canfield 2 months ago from the Ether

    S Maree - Absolutely! Bird flight patterns and behavior aren't just for spiritual concern but also for the physical and tangible.

  • profile image

    S Maree 2 months ago from North/Central Indiana

    I remember that Laura Ingalls Wilder's father noticed the pattern of bird migrations had altered drastically the seasons before the Hard Winter. He used that information to protect his family from starving and freezing to death.

    Knowing how to read those patterns can literally determine survival. Well done!