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Tattoo designs - B >> Birds

Bird Tattoo Design Meanings - Birds, real and fabled, have long been among the most popular of all the tattoo designs and symbols for over a hundred years. It is difficult to imagine American tattooing without the Eagle or Japanese tattooing without the Phoenix. Birds are powerful metaphors for our moods and phases of life. All over the world, birds have been chosen to represent the widest range of human emotions and every country and culture has stories and myths were birds play central roles. In the Iban and Dayak culture of Borneo, the Argus Pheasant is renowned for having the very first tattoo, until copied by men of course - so that they too could be as beautiful as the Argus Pheasant.

The gentle Dove provokes feelings of devotion, human and divine, while the flirtatious Partridge and the proud Cockerel have become symbols of amorous gentlemen. The symbol of the Rooster is synonymous with the proud heritage of France. Geese choose mates for life and are popular symbols for conjugal bliss.  The little Mexican parrot, so affectionate it snuggles up close to its partner, has been called Lovebird, and is now officially referred to as such, and is a favourite family pet. 

Argus Pheasant

Bird tattoo designsParrots are prominently featured in Nautical Tattooing, symbolic as they are of exotic and far-off foreign ports of call. Swallows and Bluebirds are also closely associated with sailors and a life at sea. It is no accident that Johhny Depp as Captain Jack Sparrow in Pirates of the Caribbean has a tattooed outline of a swallow on his forearm!

With their beaks and feathers -- and most of all their wings -- birds have provided the human imagination with signs and symbols that tell the story of the human journey from birth right up until the moment the soul leaves the earthly realm on its flight to the great Beyond.

The Egyptian god, Atum, chose a bird to appear at the very moment of creation.  This was the stork-like 'Benu'. For the Vikings and Goths, birds of prey were symbols of victorious conquests.  Odin and other Norse Gods were often accompanied by Ravens who were seen as particularly wise and clever birds.  In North America, both Ravens and Crows are seen as tricksters and shape-shifters among First Nations people. They are birds often associated with Shamans and Medicine Men.  Among the Haida of the Pacific Northwest, the people identify themselves as belonging to either the Eagle or the Raven Clan. And for the Haida, Raven was the creator of the world, stealing the sun from where it was hidden in a box and allowing it to shine. Among the peoples of the Iroquoi Federation, there are both Heron and Snipe Clans.

The Bible refers to 'the courtesy of the Rooster' for its habit of calling his flock to eat before he takes his turn. And in China, the elegant Crane is considered the bird of happiness. The Swallow, often referred to as the Bluebird, is everywhere a good omen, and its appearance in spring promises hope. For sailors at sea, the swallow was a sure sign that land was close.

Birds are more commonly associated with the feminine.  In parts of rural Africa, 'Hen' refers to a motherly woman, while 'Dove' is the young girl. In Britain, 'Chick' and 'Bird' are synonyms for girlfriend, while 'old Crow' refers to the nagging old woman. This rule begs to be broken, and 'Vulture' comes to mind, an extremely masculine symbol of the guy who pursues all these girls.

Indeed, not all cultures agree on a bird's symbology.  The Raven, with its lustrous black feathers, is a sacred bird in many Native American myths. It is both a trickster and a hero.  Not in the Bible, however, where this carrion creature is a symbol of evil. To the Arabs, too, the Raven is a bad omen. The English fear that if the Raven flies away from the famous Tower of London, the historical structure will fall.  Crow, a cousin to the Raven, is attributed with many symbols ranging from the sublime - an emblem of the Virgin Mary, motherly love and spiritual strength - to bad luck and death. When two crows sit together (in Egypt) they are the emblem of monogamy.

The Owl is a feared night hunter by man and prey alike, and because of its unique ability to fly silently and see and hear well in the dark, the owl has often been associated with all things magical and mysterious. It was thought that the Owl was a confident of Wizards and Witches alike, and as such is featured in many fables, Harry Potter being only the latest!

The most revered aspect of the Bird is its ability to fly (apologies to Ostrich, Emu, and Penguin). Throughout the ages, flight is the symbol of the soul's journey to the Hereafter. A bird in flight also stands for the light of the spirit, for beauty, transcendence, and hope.

Carmine Bee Eater - a beautiful bird that inspires tattoo designs

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See also: Nautical Tattoo Designs, Bird Tattoo Index

Tattoo designs - B >> Birds

Tattoo Symbol Index - A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z

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