With more than 10,000 species, there are a lot of birds to inspire us. Some birds, like the Phoenix and Griffin, exist only in mythology, and symbolize the idea of power or struggle. While some, like swallows or hummingbirds, illustrate simplicity or femininity. Meanings attached to bird tattoos vary in different countries, cultures, and communities.
Did You Know?
Ötzi, the 5000-year old mummified iceman, was found in October 1991. He bears the world’s oldest tattoos!
Birds, the mesmerizing creatures of Mother Nature, bring to us a realm of a mystical world. Their ability of flight has intrigued humans for ages. No wonder, when it comes to arts, they are the most chosen muse. Whether it is the famous British painter Francis Barlow or Alfred Hitchcock, no one can deny the influence of birds on them.
It is a pleasant view to watch birds fly into the horizon as the sun sets. Their freedom to roam around and challenge high skies, is enticing. So, when it comes to body art, they are an obvious choice. However, in the ink world, there are few birds that top the charts. Each of them have their own significance and symbolism, and they all represent something unique.
The tiny swallow, often mistaken for the bluebird, holds a different meaning for every individual. It is a popular nautical tattoo design. The occurrence of a swallow, in Native American mythological stories, is very common.
Hope: Swallows represent a change in future, for good. In old times, the sight of a swallow for sailors at sea, meant that land was near.
Loyalty: Swallows are known to mate for life and are a symbol of loyalty towards spouse and family.
New Love: Swallows are depicted singing songs for new love in many Egyptian poems. This makes them very revered tattoos amongst teenagers.
You can get a swallow tattooed for good luck and protection, and also to portray good intention, strength and agility. A single swallow flying out of cage depicts freedom, and is a very popular tattoo.
It is another bird that features mostly in nautical tattoos. When a sailor has traveled 10,000 nautical miles at sea, he has the honor of getting a bluebird tattooed to one side of his chest. An extensively traveled sailor can adorn a pair of bluebirds and command the respect of fellow travelers. It represents experience.
Happiness: The color blue of the bluebird signifies eternal sky, and so the tattoo represents happiness forever.
Prosperity: As per Native American tribes, the bluebird is the first son of the Sun and represents abundance and good health.
Loss of Innocence: A dead bluebird is sometimes used to represent a hazy future, regret, and resentment.
Balance in Nature: A pair of bluebirds, one with devil’s horns and another with an angel’s halo, represent the knowledge and acceptance of the good and bad in one’s nature.
Throughout the world, the dove represents peace and love. It is also considered to be spiritual, as it is mentioned in many Biblical stories.
Victory: A dove holding an olive branch in its beak, represents success in life or relationships.
Family: Doves travel in groups with family. A flock of doves thus represents strong family ties.
New Beginnings: When Noah released a dove in the search of land, it returned marking a new beginning for all humanity, and so is a symbol of new beginnings.
Love: According to ancient Greek myths, the dove is a messenger of Aphrodite. Including a heart in a dove tattoo represents eternal love.
A dove on your heel would mean that you are free spirited. Couples can get doves tattooed on their arms with a little heart, to show their devotion for each other.
A well-known adaptive waterfowl, ducks signify various things. It is believed that if you dream of a duck, a big fortune is waiting for you.
Patience: Ducks are known to float across wide lakes in search of food without getting tired. They are the best symbol to represent patience and serenity.
Comfort: Ducks never seem to be in a hurry, and are always found enjoying the lake water. Thus, they also represent comfort.
Fertility: In China, a duck holding a lotus stem in its beak, means the birth of many sons.
Clarity: A duck tattoo also represents the ability to see through emotions. You can also personify your elegance with a beautiful tattoo of a delicate duck.
A very special bird, known for its vibrant colors and its flying speed, the hummingbird is a very popular choice amongst most girls.
Energy: Because of its high flight speed, hummingbirds depict packs of energy.
Hard Work: As a hummingbird has to maintain its flight speed, it needs to constantly feed itself, which is a hard task.
A hummingbird is symbolic of experiencing hardships and surpassing them. If you believe in living life to the fullest, this is a tattoo meant for you.
A peacock is chosen as the subject for tattoos, merely for its vibrant colors and exotic look. Peacock feathers are popular, than the birds themselves.
Sexuality: Peacocks perform an elaborate dancing ritual to attract mates. So, a peacock tattoo signifies boldness and acceptance of one’s sexuality.
Luxury: Soft feathers of a peacock have, for centuries, glorified a king/queen’s crown. The portrayal of its feathers in your tattoo would mean that you either desire, or are living a luxurious life.
In Hindu mythology, the peacock is the vehicle of goddess Lakshmi (the goddess of money). So, it symbolizes wealth. Nevertheless, a full peacock through the length of your back, would enhance your inner, as well as your outer beauty.
A synonym for knowledge, the owl is a unique bird to feature in a tattoo.
Secretive: Owls, as per Greek mythology, were messengers of Athena, the Goddess of learning. She chose the bird, as an owl could keep secrets. So, if you too can keep a secret, let people know that by your owl tattoo.
As per Greek mythology, the crane represents the dance of joy and life. It was considered to be Apollo’s bird.
Endurance: Cranes have an ability to fly longer distances, and represent tenacity.
Discipline: While flying in packs or hunting, cranes have fixed positions. They behave in a very orderly manner.
Spiritual: Because cranes are tall, in traditional Japanese it is believed, that they are the carriers of the human soul to heaven.
Wisdom: A crane tattoo on your calf would symbolize your belief in wisdom, peace, and your passion towards life.
A graceful bird with its fair share in various myths, the heron is best known as a symbol of perfection with modesty.
Patience: Herons are known to be strategic hunters. They never go near the prey, but wait in ambush for them to come. A heron tattoo is also symbolic of precision and power.
Self-reliance: Though herons travel in groups, they hunt alone. So, a tattoo of a heron would be interpreted as your love for self-dependency and reliance.
Prosperity: Sometimes, a heron tattoo can have two heads. It depicts prosperity.
Purity: White in color, the heron always signifies the good in all things. In many cultures, it stands for purity and innocence.
The heron is an iconic bird in many Biblical stories too. A very famous depiction of the heron as good, and the crow as the mischievous being, is symbolic of yin-yang (good and evil persist together). A heron tattoo would thus mean, that you believe in karma and are pure at heart.
A group of crows is known as a ‘murder’. And in recent times, thanks to movies and TV series, crows are known as ‘bad omens’.
Death: Throughout the world, and in many cultures, the crow is the bearer of bad news and death. A crow tattoo would mean that you accept death as the eternal truth, and are not afraid of it.
If you want to preserve your sense of humor and still add levels of mystery to yourself, a crow tattoo would suit you.
Belonging to the class of birds of prey, the falcon and hawk are the most inked designs. Falcons and hawks are different species with few distinctions, which is why, their symbols or icons look similar.
Success: A falcon with a rabbit in its clutches, symbolizes victory over lust. In Celtic tradition, rabbits represent lust.
Focus: The hawk is known for its hunting skills. With great vision, it can easily focus and concentrate on its prey, to make the kill. It can also represent persistent efforts towards achieving goals.
Spiritual: The hawk, in many cultures, is known as the carrier of corrupt and evil souls. So, it represents your ability to overcome these traits.
Protection: Horus, the Egyptian god of the sky and day, is a falcon/hawk. The bird represents the Egyptian Sun God Ra, who conquered many nations after sighting a hawk over the horizon.
Intelligence: Hawks, along with their wide and focused vision, represent broad perspective. It is, in some traditions, depicted as sitting at a higher place on the tree of knowledge.
A hawk or a falcon also symbolizes magical powers. A falcon or hawk tattoo means that you are aware of your high consciousness and your desire to achieve it.
In the United States of America, the eagle holds a very influential place. It is their national emblem and has patriotic emotions attached to it. So, it is very common to see personnel of security forces in the US, to take on a bald eagle tattoo.
Prominence: The eagle, for ancient Greeks, represented the Sun, the sacred emblem of Zeus (the highest and mighty god).
Freedom: As the lion is the king of the land, the eagle is the king of the sky. Its ability to fly unchallenged, over the top of the mountains, all land, and water, represents free spirit and absolute freedom.
Wisdom: The eagle, being the symbol of the Sun, represents everlasting wisdom and the light of knowledge to have clear vision.
You can get an eagle inked on your chest or upper-arm. It would represent strength, and would give you the support you require to do anything in this world.
Having beautiful colors and gorgeous bodies, it is no doubt that the birds of paradise appear so often in different body arts.
Extravagance: Elaborate feathers in vivid red, green, and blue look spectacular. A tattoo of this bird would thereby mean, that you are adventurous and exuberant.
Angelic: It is believed that these birds are from heaven and have sworn to never land on earth. They symbolize detachment from earthly concerns, in a healthy way.
The feathers of birds of paradise are worn by many African tribes. It personifies the inner warrior. A bird of paradise tattoo would mean that you believe in afterlife, heaven, and you respect life.
A bird of fables, the Phoenix simply represents eternal life. The bird, as per legends, is immortal. After a period of time it burns itself and is again born from its own ashes.
Circle of life: A phoenix tattoo means that life is never-ending. It is striving and challenging, and you are ready to take on any hurdle that life throws at you.
Survival: The phoenix is re-born from its ashes, but first it needs to burn. Thus, a phoenix tattoo means that you have undergone a terrible and tiring time, have transformed and overcome the struggle.
Loyalty: As depicted in the Harry Potter movies, the phoenix is indeed fabled to be very loyal. If you want to assure someone of your loyalty towards them, a beautiful phoenix tattoo would do that for you.
With its magical healing powers and its feminine countenances, a phoenix is one of the most sought after tattoos.
The very idea of a bird is a symbol and a suggestion to the poet. A bird seems to be at the top of the scale, so vehement and intense his life. The beautiful vagabonds, endowed with every grace, masters of all climes, and knowing no bounds — how many human aspirations are realized in their free, holiday-lives — and how many suggestions to the poet in their flight and song! – John Burroughs (1837 – 1921) Birds and Poets, 1887