How to Read Birds as Omens and Signs

Updated on April 4, 2019
EditorAnna profile image

In 2010, I started befriending the crows in my neighborhood. Every year, there's at least one new baby crow to introduce myself to.

I saw a black bird. Is it an omen? What does it mean?
I saw a black bird. Is it an omen? What does it mean? | Source

The Long History of Reading Birds as Omens & Signs

Since ancient times, people have looked to the heavens for signs, and since birds fly, it makes sense that people would perceive birds as messengers of the gods or fates. After all, a bird's-eye-view is significantly more omniscient than an earthbound perspective. Birds know what the world looks like from 30,000 feet high, they have seen the insides of clouds, so looking to birds for perspective makes an odd kind of sense.

Augury—the art of interpreting birds as omens—has been around since before the ancient Romans. An "auspice" is a Latin term for the messages birds might convey. An "augur" (a word that means both omen and one who sees an omen) would "take the auspices" by looking at "aves" (birds) and "reading" their appearance and behavior. Those auspices (bird-signs) were sometimes auspicious (lucky) and sometimes inauspicious.

If you say the words "auspices" and "auspicious" aloud, you can hear their relationship. Language emphasizes the long history of the belief that birds and luck are linked and that one might look to birds for guidance for knowing which steps to take in life.

But it wasn't just the ancient Romans who "read" birds. Ornithomancy, a modern term for augury, has been practiced all around the world, from the earliest recorded times. It's alluded to in many stories and legends of the indigenous people of the Americas and mentioned in the bible's old testament. Countless cultures have myths about clever, wise birds who talk to gods and deliver insight to humans.

Anyway, people have been reading birds for a very, very long time. If you'd like to begin practicing the ancient art of augury, this article will help you get started.

According to the ancient Egyptians, sparrows caught the souls of the recently deceased and carried them to heaven.
According to the ancient Egyptians, sparrows caught the souls of the recently deceased and carried them to heaven. | Source

What Does It Mean If a Bird...

What does it mean if a bird taps at my window?

Birds do this all the time: They see their reflection and freak out, assuming it's some rival bird encroaching on their territory. Usually its the territorial types that do it, and usually in springtime when they're feeling really frisky, but a tapping on the window is hard to ignore. Its easy to believe that the bird is trying to get your attention.

A bird pecking on a window is definitely an opportunity to stop and pay attention. What have you forgotten or neglected to attend to? What neglected duties need doing? Which loose ends need tying? Take this as an opportunity to sit down and pick your brain to figure out what or whom you've overlooked.

What does it mean if a bird poops on me... or my car?

Most of us would be upset if a bird pooped on us. It's hard not to take this kind of thing personally, especially if you have to clean it up (that's what I call adding insult to injury). You may wonder if this particular bird has a vendetta against you or an angry message from above. Maybe you've insulted the universe in some way and this is its revenge. Maybe its an angry ancestor trying to express their unhappiness about some mess you're making in life.

On the other hand, you might choose to agree with all the happy optimists who insist that bird poop a lucky sign. This is probably the healthiest interpretation, since after all, s*** happens.

What if a bird smashes into my window?

The awful thud of a bird hitting your window is a sign you just can't ignore. What it might mean:

  • Perhaps you're going to encounter an obstacle of some kind: emotional, mental, or physical.
  • Maybe it's a sign that you're headed in the wrong direction in some aspect of your life: personal, professional, or interpersonal.
  • Maybe you're moving too fast or too rashly and you need to slow down.
  • It could be a reminder of the obstacles you face and a reminder that not all options are open, or that timing is everything.
  • It might represent a rough transition, a trap, or a hidden pitfall.
  • It could represent the end of one reality, relationship, or belief system, and the start of something new.
  • Or it might just mean that the poor bird didn't see the glass. Consider putting up tape strips so it doesn't happen again.

What does it mean if a bird flies into my house?

Most cultures have superstitious beliefs that if a bird in your house, it is a message from above: God, fate, the universe, or your dead ancestors are trying to tell you something. Many believe that it is a bad omen, but many more believe that it is just a reminder to keep your eyes open.

The other day, a blue jay flew into my house looking for food... and then forgot how to get out. It caused a terrifying ruckus flapping around and banging its head into the glass, trying to escape. I grabbed a towel, threw it over the bird, then brought it back outside again. I felt sorry for it because I know how it feels to stumble headlong, unwittingly into a trap you don't know how to escape from, like a dead-end job, a toxic relationship, or some other mistake. You think you're headed towards something great and then all of a sudden, you find yourself in a very wrong situation you can't back out of. I took this situation as a timely object lesson and was grateful for the reminder.

Auspices: Bird Signs and What They Might Mean

In ancient Italy, not all birds in the sky were viewed as meaningful signs or messages from gods. They observed two kinds of birds: oscines and alites.

  • Oscines (ravens, crows, owls, and chickens), whose birdsongs conveyed larger meanings, could be interpreted as either favorable (lucky) or not, depending on where they sang from in relation to the augur.
  • Alites (eagles, vultures, and others) were those whose actions and flight patterns were interpreted meaningfully.

Depending on what time of year the bird was heard or observed, every sound and movement made by these birds had a different interpretation.

Ex tripudiis — the dances of feeding birds— were often read to help guide military expeditions. The troops brought chickens with them to war just for this purpose and would sprinkle food on the ground and release the birds from their cages when guidance was needed. If the chickens didn't come out to eat, crowed, flapped, or flew off, these were seen as bad omens, but if even one came out and dropped some food on the ground, this was a very lucky sign.

So what does this mean for you?

Let the ancient Romans guide you. When reading the skies for omens, consider all of the following:

  • What sounds does the bird make? Would you characterize the sound as mournful, happy, peeved, insistent, scared, sad, or haunting? What emotion or memory is evoked by that sound?
  • What is the bird doing? Is it flying, strutting, watching, flapping, swimming, hunting, or sleeping, and what meaning can you make from this action?
  • What type of bird is it? Is it a waterbird, songbird, predatory bird, or scavenger? What significance can you derive from the type, and does it hold any special meaning for you?
  • What color is the bird? Consult the table of color significance below.
  • How many birds are there? Is it a flock, a family, or an individual bird? Again, what significance can you ascribe to this number?

Many believe that the number of birds you see has special significance.
Many believe that the number of birds you see has special significance. | Source

Is Seeing a Black Bird Bad Luck?

Black creatures get a bad rap. Black sheep, black cats, and black birds (mainly crows and ravens) all have negative associations. Although many people assume black is bad, this consensus is no proof that these things are intrinsically malevolent or dangerous. Rather, the belief that black things are always bad is proof that people are lazy and want easy answers for things.

It would be very nice—and handy!— if all we had to do to find answers and guidance in life were to walk outside, look up at the sky, and "read" the birds flying overhead, especially if black meant always bad and white always meant good (and take a moment to notice the inherent racism of that remark). But of course, nothing is that simplistic.

Seeing a bird is not going to give you a clear answer. It's no magic 8-ball (and who thinks those are really magic?). A bird's color doesn't necessarily make any meaningful difference whatsoever. However, just as reading Tarot cards, studying astrology, and taking personality tests all give people ways to understand themselves more deeply, looking at nature can, too. Think of augury as just one more means of introspection and reflection.

With that in mind and from that angle, maybe a bird's color could be meaningful. Below you'll find a chart of different ways to interpret a bird's color.

What Could the Color of a Bird Symbolize?

White Birds
Black Birds
Red Birds
Blue Birds
Yellow Birds
peace, death, innocence, purity, kindness, forgiveness
The Shadow, secrets, dreams, the unconscious, death
passion, blood, danger, heat, a warning
happiness, sadness, truth, clarity, the unknown
happiness, a warning, joy, freedom (or lack of it)
As with the action and type of bird, the color of the bird you see might have significance. The seer's personal associations with a particular color should always be taken into account, as well.
If I see a white bird, what does it mean?
If I see a white bird, what does it mean? | Source

Questions to Ask to Discover a Bird's Significance

There are two kinds of bird signs: impetrative (sought after, asked for, or requested) and oblative (unasked for; coming out of the blue like a bolt of lightning!). So ask yourself: Is the bird bringing you an unasked-for message from the universe? Or is it answering a question you asked—explicitly or implicitly?

What the Type of Bird You See Might Signify

Type of Bird
Associations to Consider
Historical or Cultural Context
Black birds (crows, ravens, blackbirds)
Black birds are most often associated with death. They are often believed to bring messages from our dead loved ones.
Odin, a Norse God, had two ravens who flew all over the world then returned to whisper what they'd seen into his ears.
White birds (doves, egrets, etc.)
Like black birds, white birds are often associated with ghosts, holy spirits, and the afterlife.
Doves are seen by many as symbols of peace or faith.
Owls
Owls are often associated with wisdom, knowledge, and insight. They're also sometimes associated with female power and fertility.
Athena, the Greek goddess of wisdom, was always pictured with an owl.
Predatory birds (hawks, falcons, owls, eagles, etc.)
Victory, strength, power, domination, perspective.
Many cultures associate predatory birds with war.
Scavengers (vultures, crows, etc.)
Tenacity, patience, observation, timing.
Most people know that scavengers linger near dead bodies.
Songbirds (finches, sparrows, starlings, etc.)
Domesticity, imprisonment, freedom, cheerfulness.
Miners used to take canaries down into mine shafts as an early warning system for lack of oxygen.
Hummingbirds
Lightheartedness, diligence, the importance of small things.
Aztecs saw them as messengers from the gods and ancestors. They were good luck symbols.
A flock of starlings in a murmuration: What does it mean? These flying patterns are more akin to physics than biology, but scientists still don't know how the birds can do it!
A flock of starlings in a murmuration: What does it mean? These flying patterns are more akin to physics than biology, but scientists still don't know how the birds can do it!

Questions & Answers

What kind of bird did you see? What was it doing, and what do you think it means?

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    • profile image

      Nonkululeko 

      5 hours ago

      Little grey bird hopping from my bedroom then flew out leaving droppings

    • profile image

      house wren 

      12 hours ago

      Was insude my house perched on my window blind very still

    • profile image

      Annmarie Christopher 

      40 hours ago

      My husband and I with a few family members and a friend were sitting in a beautiful courtyard, I think it was. Finch, dark body with a bright breast ——not usual to the area I live in flew and land on my husbands head. The bird and my husband were not scared. It was very calm—- as I tried to remove him the bird slowly walked down to his back then flew into a nearby bush and just happily stayed there.

      I love birds and I look for features so to me this bird was a sign of an angel.

      What do you think?

    • profile image

      Iris 

      4 days ago

      There’s was a black brewers bird sitting on top of my pillow and it just stared at me ... I couldn’t help it but I yelled sooo loud. I was so frightened. (I know it’s just a bird) what can this mean?

    • profile image

      Yellow bird 

      4 days ago

      Keep landing on my car window

    • profile image

      Zens 

      5 days ago

      Two small brownish birds. With small sqeek

    • profile image

      Susan 

      6 days ago

      A male baltimore orial pecking and flying ul and dksn my bedroom windowfor a couple days off and on one fay for over one hour i eatcbed him frlm a distance and right ul close. There is a small tree it would lerch kn with.branches touching house also a feme was with him but she just sat back and did nothing

    • profile image

      Kenneth french 

      6 days ago

      Yes im sitting on my back porch and a small black bird with a blueius blak head come keep droping little white feathers in my water filled pool....now my son had passed and i know he wants to tell me something im sure of it

    • profile image

      James 

      7 days ago

      A sparrow fell from the sky and blood splattered all over my car windshield and hood and especially my driveway. A Raven ripped its heart out and flew around a tree near the street and came back and crooked it’s head back and swallowed it. Then flew to the roof puffing it’s chest and stretching it’s legs. 2 other sparrows hovered around him and they seemed to engage the raven in some very animated discussion and then left and he glided back down to pick the entrails clean then he left the are. I went and looked and there were several undigested little red berries from the trees inside it’s broken rib cage.

    • profile image

      Pigeons 

      7 days ago

      I see two pigeons on my back balcony everyday whats that mean

    • profile image

      David 

      9 days ago

      A brown bird hit the top of a glass door just as I was approaching. It fell and twitched and fluttered several times on the ground and died on its back at my feet. I work at a school, so there were many people around and I am disconcerted it happened right in front of me. I went to my office and felt like crying. I hate when things like this happen to me.

    • profile image

      Woe 

      10 days ago

      A birds egg fell into my path .

      I didnt know what it was at first .

    • profile image

      M. Helena V. Collins 

      13 days ago

      For the last few months I have become amazed with some strange experiences. Recently "I've been visited" by strange birds in the following circumstances: (1) white doves have been registered countless times, especially during the night, by my side and front cameras, (2) yesterday I was waiting for one of my patients who was late to session, and decided to take a walk around of the building. Out of the blue a dark color bird came and almost did hit me, and then dropped down on the side walk very near to me. I then tried to approach it, send it a kiss, and asked for God to heal the little creature which appeared to have been hurt somewhere; then out of the blue it did fly away to a short distance from me as IF it had not been hurt. Last night exactly at 9:33PM 3-4 owls started "singing" producing loud scare noises near the window of my bedroom; it last about 4-5 minutes. I finally got upset, jumped form the bed and went outside in the darkness of the night. Then I did hear noises of them flying and hiding in the big toll trees in my back yard. I do fell that through all the above a message appears to be sent to me. WHAT DOES IT MEAN is the unanswered question for me.

    • profile image

      Naomi 

      2 weeks ago

      Last night at around 10 pm a light colour bird seemed to have flown out of nowhere and headed in an easterly direction. Can you please tell me the meaning if seeing birds flying at night? Thanks

    • profile image

      Joelle 

      2 weeks ago

      A cardinal has been showing up near me everyday no matter where I am. What does this mean?

    • profile image

      Jack R 

      4 weeks ago

      A black bird with yellow beak and feet, flew into my lounge, then dropped two droppings before flying out the same door!

    • profile image

      Ashley 

      4 weeks ago

      So last yr i got fired from sams club lol. I worked midnights. A black crow smacks my front windsheld on the passenger side. I screamed and jump. I know it was damon salvatore ut yes this did happen to me and i still dont know what it means

    • profile image

      Bless-me sylva 

      4 weeks ago

      Dark brown bird nesting on top of a pillar my font door

    • profile image

      Lisa 

      6 weeks ago

      I am sitting on my patio, dinner time. I heard crows. A murder of 6 came into my yard. Squabbling in the treetops. Quietly disappearing, then returning. I’ve not seen many in my rural yard before. One crow seems to be the target/ boss? They get physical then disperse, only to return. Early spring maybe mating. I’m currently lonely and wishing for a date/mate.?

    • profile image

      Michelle 

      6 weeks ago

      American Robin bird kept packing on my daughters bedroom window trying to get in the house that Robbyn kept packing even after he saw me watching it.

      I was just getting home and I heard a noise, I went upstairs where the bedrooms are and tracked the noise to my 30 year old daughters room. She has been staying with my mother for the past year with my 3 grandchildren and also her current boyfriend for about 1year and a few months. My 3 grandchildren are from a previous relationship. The father of my 3 grandchildren is incarcerated and has been in and out of jail for the majority of my grandchildren’s lives and will be released in about a year. My daughter and I parted ways because her and I do not get along very well living together. She came back for a little over a month to stay along with my grandchildren and her current boyfriend at my house. I do not like her current boyfriend because he is the nephew of my deceased boyfriend who passed away last December 2017. They got together against my wishes after my boyfriend of 13 years passed away. My daughter is now 21 weeks pregnant with her current boyfriend’s baby. She’s traveled tremendously with the decision of whether or not to abort her baby because she still has feelings for my grandchildren‘s father and also feelings for her current boyfriend. His family has been extremely mean to her and I never got along with them over the years either. My daughter was told that she could not continue to live and with my elderly grandmother by bringing another child into this world and would have to get a place of her own because it was just too much and my mother. My mother and I are very upset that she has gotten pregnant again and neither one of us like his family. The new boyfriend never offers any rent, money, or any help to my elderly mother and doesn’t even offer to take out the trash. He stays there for free, eats the food that was intended for my daughter and grandchildren. He has worked off and in for the past year. My daughter made a decision to follow through with the pregnancy but is still very unhappy. I don’t know what to do. I was just wondering if there was some sort of message or warning from the Robin that kept pecking on my daughters bedroom window? There are two bedrooms on the back of the house with the exact same window. Please can anyone tell me what does it mean? Help

    • profile image

      American robin 

      6 weeks ago

      It was singing chirping & watching me

    • Ellison Hartley profile image

      Ellison Hartley 

      6 weeks ago from Maryland, USA

      I enjoyed this article! I have heard stories or superstitions about seeing certain birds, but never really knew any of the background of it. Cool article!

    • profile image

      itgautam.wbn@gmail.com 

      8 weeks ago

      Thank you for sharing!!

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