Myths about Birds

Illustration from :The Princess Who Made Friends of the Owls by Gilbert James Del libro ' Mitos y leyendas México y Perú ' de Lewis Spence, editor Boston : David D. Nickerson 1913

There are all kinds of myths about birds, coming from all manner of cultures and locations. Some are just anti-scientific like the ones about birds singing because they are happy, birds abandoning their nest if it's touched by a human, or hummingbirds catching a ride on the backs of geese. Or the myths that come from religion or some other part of culture like the Kooman Bird, a kind of owl, is considered a bearer of bad luck and death; according to South Indian mythology that this type of owl brings bad luck to an entire family.

And, according to Greek mythology, birds were created from the feathers that fell from the wings of the primordial goddess Eris, the goddess of strife and discord.

And then there is the Roc.

The Roc  is a mythical creature that originated in Persian mythology. It is described as a giant bird of prey, with a wingspan large enough to carry an elephant in its talons. 

The Roc is important in mythological stories and legends. According to the famous myth from the Arabian Nights,  Sinbad the Sailor was stranded on an island with his companions, where they found a large egg. The egg hatched, and a giant roc emerged, carrying the sailors back to civilization.

Keep reading for more stories  below.


There's an old myth about the migration of swallows that makes for interesting reading:

In The History of Animals, Aristotle made a number of astute observations about birds: they all lay eggs, most build nests, and the hard-shelled eggs have yellow and white parts inside. This information was easy to obtain by diligent observation. But he also made incorrect assumptions; for example, he thought that females were hatched from pointed eggs and males from rounder ones. What he based his information on is unknown, but the conclusion was clearly wrong.

One of his most noteworthy incorrect observations had a major effect on bird science for many years. About 350 B.C. Aristotle observed swallows appearing in the spring and disappearing as winter approached. He also watched them dipping into the surface of lakes and ponds, and sitting on emergent vegetation. Without any other evidence, he decided that swallows burrowed into a lake or pond bottom to spend the winter. Hundreds of years later a 13th century legend depicts the Christ child playing in mud and forming birds. In medieval Europe there were reported observations of so many swallows sitting on vegetation above the water that the vegetation dipped over into the water, taking the swallows with it. In the mid-1500s Olaus Magnus, the Archbishop of Upsala, published a book containing a woodcut of swallows being fished out of the bottom of a pond. He claimed that if you brought them into a warm room, they would begin to fly around.  Even in the 18th century, swallows were thought to hibernate in the mud, in tree cavities or between rocks.

In the late 19th century, a famous ornithologist and founder of the American Ornithologist’s Union, Eliot Coues, cited numerous past studies to give credence to this hibernating in the mud theory. Coues said that some reptiles and mammals hibernate, so why would one not accept the idea that swallows also would? The most fascinating part of this story is that Aristotle’s total speculation was taken as fact for nearly two millennia. The consequence of inadequate scientific method and the vast unknown of the early natural world was society’s willingness to believe all manner of unalloyed nonsense.


The Golden Eagle has been associated with Zeus, the supreme Greek god, since the late Homeric period. According to one myth this eagle was once a mortal king named Periphas who was considered a god because he was so virtuous and beloved. Zeus became jealous and wished to destroy him. Through the intervention of a fellow god Apollon, Periphas instead was turned into a Golden Eagle and became a companion to Zeus. In this story Periphas’s wife asked that she too be made into a bird, so Zeus transformed her into a vulture. Both now reside in the constellation Aquila, the eagle.
In another version of the myth the Golden Eagle was the creation of Gaia, the personification of earth, Mother Nature. He appeared to Zeus as he was preparing to go to war with the Titans. Zeus took this as a good omen of his victory and had its image carved on his standard. He also adopted the eagle as a pet and messenger. When the Titan Prometheus was tied to a rock as punishment for bringing fire to mortals, for example, Zeus sent his eagle every day to feed on Prometheus’s liver, which grew back so the ritual could be carried out again the next day.
One recurring image of the eagle is the bird carrying Zeus’s thunderbolts in its talons and retrieving them after they have been hurled at the offending party. The eagle was later sent by Zeus to carry the young Ganymede to heaven to become the gods’ cupbearer.


There are numerous myths about Ravens. In Norse myth, the two ravens of Odin flew throughout the world each dawn, then perched on the raven-god's shoulder to whisper news into his ears. An ancient Greek myth said that when the raven returned with the bad news that Coronis had been unfaithful to him, Apollo, in his anger, charred the bird’s feathers, turning them black, hence, ravens or crows, are associated with bad news, bad fortune and disaster.


The companion owl of the Goddess of Wisdom is another common myth. As the symbol of Athena, the Owl was a protector, accompanying Greek armies to war, and providing ornamental inspiration for their daily lives. If an Owl flew over Greek Soldiers before a battle, they took it as a sign of victory. In early Rome a dead Owl nailed to the door of a house averted all evil that it supposedly had earlier caused. To hear the hoot of an Owl presaged imminent death. The deaths of Julius Caesar, Augustus, Commodus Aurelius, and Agrippa were apparently all predicted by an Owl.