Folklore and mythology are full of references to birds. Some are said to bring good luck and fortune, while others are said to bring the opposite. Whether you believe these superstitions is up to you, but for most of them, they are based on folklore and traditions of days gone by
There are many different superstitions, so we’ll look at some and try to explain how they came to be.
- 1 Albatross
- 2 Cardinals
- 3 Owls
- 4 Magpies
- 5 European Robin
- 6 Woodpeckers
- 7 House Sparrow
- 8 Cuckoos
- 9 Chickadee
- 10 Chickens
- 11 General superstitions
The albatross is a large seabird which can be found in northern states such as Hawaii, California and Alaska. Their wingspan can be as large as 11 feet and they can weigh up to 22 pounds. In the wild, they live for up to 50 years, but even their size doesn’t stop them from being prey to some aquatic predators.1
It’s bad luck to kill an albatross.
This superstition is said to come from the Rime of the Ancient Mariner, which is a poem by Samuel Taylor Coleridge.
In the poem, the narrator kills an albatross and is then forced to wear it around his neck, so he had to carry a burden for the rest of his life. Sailors believe that if you kill an albatross at sea, you will have bad luck or your ship will run in to difficulty.2
Seeing an albatross at sea is a good omen.
Sailors believed that an albatross carries the soul of a dead mariner. While this might not sound like a good omen, they considered this a sign that the soul within the albatross has come to look after them and protect them and their voyage from harm.
Cardinals are small birds, which have plenty of colour. They only grow to 9 inches and weigh just 1.5 ounces. They are found in Eastern states, such as Maine and Minnesota, through to Texas, and also in parts of South America.3
If you see a cardinal, a loved one who has passed has come to visit.
This is generally considered a good omen as it means they are there to look out for you. According to the superstition, they will often visit when you are in need of help and support, to let you know you are not alone. They can also make an appearance during a celebration, just to show they are with you.4
If you see a cardinal, you will have good luck
This goes back to Native American lore. They believed that if you saw a cardinal, you would have good luck within 12 days.
Owls are birds of prey and they can be seen throughout the country. From Snowy Owls, which prefer northern regions, such as Canada and Alaska, to the barn owl, which can be found throughout the country. Their size varies, but they are nocturnal birds with incredible eyesight.5
Seeing an owl during the day signifies death
In many cultures, owls are seen as a symbol of wisdom, and for many this comes with a feeling of unease.
In Ancient Rome, owls were said to have foretold the deaths of many emperors, while the Greeks believed owls could shapeshift in to witches.
Many cultures fear owls. They are often associated with medicine men, and while these tried to help people, many believed that the owls were evil and instead of helping to cure people, they spread disease and death.
Magpies are members of the crow family and have a distinctive pied plumage. They can be seen throughout the US and often visit gardens and parks.6
It is bad luck to see a magpie
There are may reasons why this superstition may have come about. In the Christian religion, magpies were the only birds which did not console Jesus on the cross, while Scottish lore says that these birds contain a drop of the devil’s blood.
There is also a popular rhyme which states that if you see a lone magpie, it signifies ‘one for sorrow’. This rhyme is well known, and is often the first thing people think of when they see a magpie. In the same rhyme, seeing 13 means the devil is present.7
Magpies bring good luck.
It’s odd to have two opposing superstitions for one bird, but magpies do.
The same rhyme which tells us that one magpie is unlucky, goes on to tell us that they also bring good fortune. 2 magpies together signify joy, seeing 4 or 5 together mean silver or gold, so good fortune and 11 and 12 mean you will be healthy and wealthy.
These wonderful and colorful birds are found in northern parts of the country and they often visit gardens. They are just 12-14 cm in size and weigh up to 22g.8
What you do to a robin, will happen to you
If you harm a robin, or destroy its nest, superstition says that the same will happen to you. There is no indication why this superstition started, but it could be down to the friendly nature of the bird.
If you are eating outside, they will often come and take food, so they will eat with you, and they have been known to follow gardeners around the garden as they dig. Once the soil is turned, the robins will then also dig for worms.9
A robin in the house signifies death
Some people take this superstition to seriously, that they won’t even have pictures or greetings cards with robins on in the house. No one is quite sure where this originated but it is believed to come from Christianity. When Jesus lay dying on good Friday, it was a robin which pulled out his thorns. This didn’t save his life, though, and so the superstition began.
Woodpeckers are popular birds, if noisy. They build their nests in trees and poles and while fun to watch, they can be very annoying.10
If you hear a woodpecker tapping on a tree in your neighborhood, you will receive a visitor.
There is no known cause for this superstition, but it is rather a nice one. So, if you hear a woodpecker tapping, get the coffee pot on, just in case.
The house sparrow is not native to the US but it is still a fascinating little bird which can be seen in many states. It is only about 6 inches in length, and weighs just 1- 1.4 ounces.11
It is unlucky to kill a sparrow
While it’s not very fortunate to kill any bird, sparrows are said to carry the souls of the dead, so if you kill one, you upset the spirits and bring bad fortune upon yourself. Some cultures also believe that sparrows are friends with fairies.
There are 3 species of cuckoo in North and South America. They are parasite birds as they lay their eggs in other birds’ nests for them to incubate them. They grow to about 6 inches long and weigh just 1.4 pounds, but is it their distinctive call which they are known for.12
A cuckoo’s call can bring good fortune
Not everyone is lucky enough to hear a cuckoo, so if you do, that automatically makes you lucky. The first time you hear the cuckoo’s call every year, make sure you jingle your money, or turn it over. It’s a sign that you’ll be financially solvent at least until you hear him again.
Chickadees are native to north America and can be seen throughout the country. They are small birds, and grow to a maximum of 5.5 inches. Their name comes from the call they make when they are in danger.13
If a chickadee is chirping, good weather is on the way
This may be based more on fact than superstition. Birds are very good at detecting changes in air pressure, and they will know if a storm is on the way. If a chickadee is chirping, it may simply be that it knows the weather poses no danger and is happily singing.
Chickens are found throughout the US, both as farm and domestic birds. They are unusual in that they cannot fly, and they happily live around other animals too.14
A rooster crowing at night means a storm is on the way.
In fact, pay attention to where and when the rooster crows, as it has more than one meaning. As well as predicting storms:
- If the rooster crows at your door, good news is on its way
- If the rooster crows early in the morning the weather will be nice that day.
So, if you want to know the weather, ask a rooster.15
It is a bad omen if a chicken lays an even number of eggs
The origin of this superstition is unclear, but it may come from Romany lore. If the number of eggs is even, the rest of the hens will stop laying. The simple solution, is to take one away.
There are also many general superstitions surrounding birds.
- A bird pooping on you is good luck. For many of us, this doesn’t feel lucky but there is a nice idea behind this. There are so many birds in the sky, that the odds of being pooped on are very small. For this reason, you have been singled out as someone special, and can expect some good luck.
- A bird tapping the window signifies a loved one is trying to get in touch. Many cultures believe birds to be the souls of dead loved ones, so if they tap on the window, they are trying to get your attention.
- If a bird flies in to and hits your window, you will hit obstacles in your life. If the bird dies, then someone in the house will die.
- A dark bird on your sill will bring good luck.
- If a bird flies in to your home, this is supposed to indicate the death of someone in the house. Some people are so superstitious, that they have nothing in the house which has a bird pattern on it.
As you can see, there are many superstitions around birds. Some are specific to the species but many apply to other birds too.
There are myths and stories about all birds and any of them were the symbols of Gods, and this is where many superstitions started. Whether you believe these superstitions or not, we know you’ll still enjoy watching them and welcoming them to your yard.