Birds are a marvel of nature. They are not shackled to the earth like humans, but instead, have the ability to fly up into the sky. It’s no wonder that for centuries, we have been totally fascinated by them.
There are about ten thousand different species of birds on our little planet, and even more mythical and extinct ones. Different birds inspire different thoughts and emotions, so they symbolize a lot of different ideas.
There’s a lot you can say with a bird tattoo, so in this article, we will examine all the different meanings a bird tattoo can have. We’ll explore what these tattoos mean in general, and then discuss more specific meanings based on the type of bird or the other elements in the tattoo.
- What Do Bird Tattoos Mean in General?
- The Meaning of Bird Tattoos by Species
- Birds and Other Elements
- Take Flight
What Do Bird Tattoos Mean in General?
Bird tattoos can have a wide range of meanings, out of which freedom is by far the most overarching. However, a bird tattoo can be connected to other symbolic concepts, as well, so we’ll explore all of them in this section.
Freedom and Independence
Unlike humans, birds are not restricted to the earth. The entire sky is their domain, which is why bird tattoos often represent freedom, especially if the bird in the tattoo is mid-flight.
Freedom, in itself, is a complex concept that connects with a wide range of ideas. For one person, freedom might mean being an individual who doesn’t have to answer to anyone else, while for others, it can relate to their emancipation from the systemic oppression they suffer.
We can be free to do something, or we can be free from something. In the spiritual sense, it can be the freedom from earthly desires. The beautiful thing about bird tattoos is that they can represent whatever freedom you desire or want to celebrate.
Connection to the Heavens
For those who are more religious or spiritual, a bird tattoo can represent your connection to God or the divine. The symbolism, once again, comes from flight. Birds can walk on the earth and fly in the heavens, so they can act as messengers for God.
This concept of birds as messengers or connecting vessels can be separated from specific religions, so they can also be seen as creatures that connect us to the universe or even with other realities.
Fearlessness and Capability
Flying through the sky is freeing, but to us humans, it’s also terrifying. Going out there all by ourselves, without any safety net should we fall, requires an intense level of bravery and self-assuredness.
That’s why a bird tattoo doesn’t only represent independence, but it also represents the fearlessness and capability a person has to muster in order to venture out into the world freely.
Perspective and Wisdom
A flying bird can examine a situation from every possible angle. For that reason, birds can represent a shift in perspective and the wisdom that comes with it. This is a very cerebral and unique bird tattoo meaning, so while it’s not commonly ascribed, it can be very powerful and profound.
The Meaning of Bird Tattoos by Species
Beyond the basic meanings of bird tattoos, it’s also important to consider the meaning of each individual bird species or type. The following birds are especially popular in tattoo motifs, but each one sends out a slightly different message.
Swallow Tattoo Meaning
The sweet little swallow is a common element in the old-school sailors and navy tattoos. The swallow’s northward migration pattern symbolizes the distance that a sailor has traveled in his life, with each swallow tattoo representing 5000 nautical miles traveled.
Since swallows follow the same migration pattern year after year, they can also represent the return home. These days, we think travelers of all sorts can adopt this lovely bird as a symbol of their wanderlust or homecoming.
Dove Tattoo Meaning
A dove tattoo can have a few meanings that are quite different from each other. First, it can have Biblical connotations, since a dove with an olive branch in its beak was Noah’s signal that the flood was ending. In the New Testament, the dove is also a symbol of the Holy Spirit. Over the years, it has also come to represent peace and pacifism.
Certain dove species mate for life, so dove tattoos can also represent love and fidelity. They’re a lovely choice if you want to commemorate a marriage. This idea is also reinforced by history, since doves were a symbol of the ancient Mesopotamian goddess of love, Inanna. These birds are also associated with innocence, especially if they’re designed as a white tattoo.
Eagle Tattoo Meaning
Since the eagle is a bird of prey, it makes for a very powerful tattoo. It’s a majestic creature that, in addition to freedom, also symbolizes strength and courage. It flies higher than most other birds, which is why it’s considered the creature that’s closest to God by multiple Native American tribes.
The eagle is also a patriotic symbol, and not just for Americans. While the bald eagle is the national bird of the US, countries like Germany, Mexico, the Philippines, Scotland, and others also have eagles (albeit of different species) as their national bird. In other words, if you choose an eagle tattoo, you don’t have to feel like you’re aligning yourself with a specific country.
Raven or Crow Tattoo Meaning
If you love Edgar Allen Poe, then a raven tattoo might be for you. Ravens and crows, because of their black feathers, are usually associated with all things dark and macabre. They can represent loss and death, as well as a connection to the spirit world.
Blackbird Tattoo Meaning
Like the ravens and crows, blackbirds are also sometimes associated with death and darkness, although not as frequently and with a less macabre connotation. Instead, they’re more mysterious and even magical, with a beautiful song that adds to their charm.
For fans of the Beatles, a blackbird tattoo can be related to the message of perseverance in the song Blackbird, which is often tied to the Civil Rights movement.
Phoenix Tattoo Meaning
Despite being entirely fictional, the phoenix is still an extremely popular bird for tattoo aficionados. In mythology, after the phoenix dies (usually by going up in flames), it is reborn again from its own ashes. The phoenix experiences an interesting type of immortality since it goes through the cycle of life again and again.
Phoenix tattoos usually focus on rebirth, representing renewal and transformation. They are meant to mark life events that are so important that they have made the tattoo wearer a brand new person who, like the phoenix, has risen from the ashes of their old self. However, a phoenix tattoo can also represent the cyclical nature of life, resilience, birth, or death.
Crane Tattoo Meaning
Cranes are a popular motif in Japanese mythology and art, so they’re especially common in Japanese tattoos. Traditionally, cranes represent a long-life and good fortune, since the Japanese used to believe the birds could live for 1000 years.
Making origami cranes is a very popular activity in Japan, and there is a myth that the person who folds 1000 paper cranes will receive a wish from a crane. After WWII, paper cranes became a symbol of peace and healing, following the remarkable story of Hiroshima victim Sadako Sasaki, who folded 1000 of them before her death.
Owl Tattoo Meaning
Owls are closely associated with the Greek goddess of wisdom, Athena, which is why they are seen as intelligent and erudite. They are often used to symbolize scholarship, and they have become a popular tattoo choice for avid readers or anyone who values knowledge.
Hummingbird Tattoo Meaning
Small, energetic, and adorable, the hummingbird is a popular bird tattoo for young women. It’s often paired with flowers, which are its source of food, in pretty and colorful tattoo designs.
The hummingbird has the remarkable ability to fly in every direction, but its constant movement takes up a lot of energy, which is why it must drink flower nectar at least 50 times a day. That’s why hummingbird tattoos can have a couple of meanings at once: they can represent joy and happiness as well as perseverance and survival.
Birds and Other Elements
By adding more elements to your bird tattoo, you can refine or change its meaning to tell your most authentic story.
Bird at Flight
A tattoo of a bird at flight is always powerful. It’s a tattoo with movement, and it portrays the bird’s most defining and dramatic ability.
A tattoo of a perching bird will be much more calm and peaceful than a tattoo of a bird in movement, so it can represent the desire for rest and self-care.
Bird and Cage
A bird in a cage is a sad symbol of being constrained and shackled when one wants to be free. It makes for a very beautiful yet melancholy design. On the other hand, a tattoo of a bird flying out of a cage expresses the opposite—it’s a dramatic symbol of emancipation.
Most birds are not solitary creatures. They live, forage, and migrate in groups. They rely on each other for survival, since it’s much harder for predators to attack a whole group of birds than it is to attack a solitary one.
Because of that, a tattoo with multiple birds can represent a connection to other people in your life. The birds can even represent specific people you love, alive or dead.
A Flock of Birds
A tattoo of a flock of birds can make for a very impressive piece, especially as a sleeve or across the shoulders. It doesn’t have to have a specific meaning, but we think it could be a wonderful way of expressing your connection to your community.
Since so many species of birds mate for life (and up to 90% pair bond, even if it’s not for life), a tattoo with two birds usually represents romantic love. Doves are the most common choice for tattoos about love or relationships, but from cranes to puffins, there are many other pair-bonding bird species worth considering.
The number three has immense symbolic significance, and it’s also very aesthetically pleasing, so tattoos of three birds are widespread. You can associate them with the divine, or they can be your reminder that “every little thing is gonna be alright” just like in the Bob Marley song.
Dandelion and Bird Tattoo
The dandelion and bird tattoo motif has become very popular. It’s a fantastical tattoo where a dandelion’s scattered seeds transform into a tiny flock of birds. Since it’s a relatively new combination in tattooing, it doesn’t have a specific meaning, so those who choose to get it done can imbue it with their own symbolism.
Birds are beautiful, fascinating creatures with abilities and habits that can be imbued with a lot of meaning and symbolism. That’s why bird tattoos are so popular! Before getting a bird tattoo, it’s important that you first understand what kind of ideas it may convey to others.
Thankfully, there’s also a lot of room for interpretation, creativity, and personalization with bird tattoos, so you can always end up with a design that expresses a unique meaning that is deep and important for you.