Bird tattoos are tied to some of the most profound meanings in the tattoo world. Since the dawn of time, and almost universally across all cultures worldwide, the bird has symbolized the human spirit or soul, and is frequently connected to the divine.
In ancient lore, birds often accompanied Heroes on their quests to defeat villains, monsters, and dragons. The bird could fly on ahead and forewarn the hero of impending danger (giving rise to the popular phrase, "a little bird told me".)
Birds are frequently associated with magic, the supernatural, or with religion. Images of birds have been found everywhere, from hovering over mummies in Egyptian crypts to adorning Arapaho Indian Ghost Dance costumes. It is no surprise that our Judeo-Christian depictions of angels and cherubs include bird-like wings. With rare exceptions, the image of the bird is a positive and uplifting symbol.
In tattoo designs, two birds are often portrayed together. Generally, one is dark, the other light (or one in color, one in black-and-white, etc.). This symbolizes the duality of nature (happiness/sadness, light/dark). Sometimes this duality is depicted with the bird and another animal, e.g. fighting a snake to represent good versus evil. Birds are often included with other tattoo images, e.g. they are often added to the branches of a Tree of Life tattoo design .
Granted, there are some other interpretations for birds, but they may be a stretch for tattoo meanings. For example, there may be sexual connotations. In China, the word for bird "niao" also means penis, and the dual meaning/image of "cock" as rooster or penis traces back to ancient Rome.
Birds can also be associated (usually negatively) with the mind, e.g. "bird-brain" is an insult in many Western cultures, and in Germany to "have a bird" is to not be quite sane. Generally, though, if you get a bird tattoo, people will not associate these less frequent meanings with it unless you tell them.
Bird of Paradise tattoos
Birds of Prey tattoos (includes Falcons, Hawks, Owls, Vultures)
Eagle tattoos (includes Bald Eagle)
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Japanese Phoenix Tattoo
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