If you were superstitious, you would probably be very uncomfortable in my home!
Every wall, shelf and window is filled with bird related items from vases stuffed with peacock feathers, skeletons to bird art. Even my favourite hummingbird mug could be considered a bad omen.
Long before airplanes, birds, able to defy gravity, were thought to possess magic.
It was believed that as they flew towards the heavens, home of the spirits, the souls of the dead were being carried with them. For this reason, a bird in the house could indeed be frightening.
If we adhered to these beliefs, our Christmas Bird Counts wouldn’t be for scientific reasons but instead to see what the future held.
For instance, in France, each call from the cuckoo predicted how many years a young girl must wait for marriage, and in Scotland; its call foretold how long you would live.
The wise owl was the bearer of news in India, one hoot meant death, two and your project would be successful, three hoots for an imminent marriage, four spelled trouble and five hoots, a journey.
Native Americans believed the sight of two whip-poor-wills would lead to disappointment.
Observing a hawk seizing its prey led to a loss of money and if you spied a magpie upon embarking on a trip, well you might as well just turn around.
Not all bird sightings were bad omens, in fact a robin nesting near your home was very lucky and finding eggs in her nest was especially auspicious.
Swallows nesting under your eves also brought good fortune, along with a not so fortunate mess!
If a stray pigeon landed on your doorstep, you would be very lucky indeed.
To have a peacock was also lucky but to display its feathers wasn’t. The evil eye depicted in its feathers could cause death to young children and babies. Parents will be pleased to know that their feathers can apparently keep unwanted suitors from their daughters.
Weather was also gauged by the birds. Low flying swallows meant rain, swans nesting on high ground forecasted floods, grouse gathered in flocks would bring snow and if they drummed at night you could expect heavier than normal snowfalls.
Some superstitions are reversible.
The caw of a crow near your house announcing disaster, can be superseded by removing your hat or bowing to the crow.
The death hoots from an owl were reversed by tying a knot in your apron string and wearing it backwards, or by turning a pocket inside out.
You could also keep intruders from your home by tying, with red thread, the feathers from a blackbird’s wing and hanging it outside your door.
Disharmony in your home? Quails are a symbol of peace and if the husband wears the heart of the male around his neck and the wife wears the female’s heart, then you could be sure to agree on everything.
Ancient Greeks and Romans who could tell the future by bird sightings and behaviours were practicing the art of Ornithomancy.
Many people believe in superstitions, and while I can’t fault them for that, I do wonder what they would make of the dead birds in my freezer!
Luckily though, many birds are considered good omens. For instance, if a bluebird nests outside your door you are sure to have good luck, as is seeing a woodpecker near your home.
Doves are considered the only bird evil can not inhabit, and the kingfisher is considered a lucky charm for all. As well, if you make a wish upon the first robin you see in the Spring, it is sure to come true!
Note…possessing wild birds, nests and eggs are considered illegal. “Never” disturb an active nest. Even seemingly abandoned nests might be used the following year and are best left where you found them.
Until next time, Happy Birding!