Augury & Feather Divination: The Spiritual Meaning of Birds

No matter where you live in the world, birds are most likely a part of the outdoors. Whether city, town, or countryside, birds can make their home just about anywhere. There’s nothing like opening your windows to let the fresh springtime air in and hearing birds cheerily chirping. So divination with birds and feathers is for everyone!

Birds in Mythology

You probably know someone who enjoys bird-watching as a hobby, or maybe yourself. Augury is a bit different, though it also involves watching birds. This divination practice is done by observing the behavior of birds, such as calls and flight patterns. This type of divination dates back to ancient Roman times which is unsurprising when you think of all the pagan symbolism including birds. Many deities are depicted with various types of birds and there are legends of hybrid birds that are half-human, or even the griffin, which has a lion’s body and the head and wings of an eagle. Plus, let's not forget about the ever-so-famous phoenix who combusts into ashes and rises renewed, and other giant birds such as the caladrius and the roc.

The Mystery of Migration

As we know from bird behaviors such as migration, birds have instincts closely connected with the cycles of nature, making the understanding of birds important to earth-based spirituality. Birds may also have ancestral wisdom, remembering things that happened before their lifetime. As we look to birds to tell us about the world, it may also help us remember things about ourselves during a time when we as humans were also connected with the earth. Migratory birds instinctually know where home is and how to get there even if they have never been on the journey before, so connecting with the spirit of the bird can help you tune in to your wise inner voice.

Reading the Signs and Omens

Here’s where your bird-watching skills will come in handy. It helps to be able to identify which birds you see in order to interpret the signs and omens according to folklore. There are countless superstitions involving birds and these are only a few. If you’re interested in more, try asking a grandparent or elder figure in your life and they will probably know of at least one! 

First, here are some old sayings about predicting the weather according to the almanac. Try your hand at some forecasting without consulting the weather channel!

  • Hawks flying high means a clear sky. When they fly low, prepare for a blow.
  • Geese fly higher in fair weather than in foul.
  • When seagulls fly inland, expect a storm.
  • When fowl roost in daytime, expect rain.
  • Petrels gathering under the stern of a ship indicates bad weather.
  • Birds singing in the rain indicates fair weather approaching.
  • If crows fly in pairs, expect fine weather; a crow flying alone is a sign of foul weather.
  • In the fall, drumming partridges mean a mild and open winter.
  • When domestic geese walk east and fly west, expect cold weather.
  • If birds in the autumn grow tame, the winter will be too cold for game.
  • When the rooster goes crowing to bed, he will rise with a watery head.
  • When the swallow’s nest is high, the summer is very dry. When the swallow buildeth low, you can safely reap and sow.

Secondly, certain types of birds are said to be able to foretell the future depending on their actions or the number of them that you see. Write down what kind of bird you saw, what they were doing, and how many there were, and record the date and time you saw them so you can go back and see if the prediction came true. As always with divination, it is important to also record your first thoughts and feelings. Divination is highly personal depending on what you are going through at the moment and your unique experience and history with certain types of birds. Your own understanding of numerology may factor into your interpretation more than what the following superstitions can tell you.

Bird Superstitions & Beliefs

  • Believe it or not, a bird pooping on you brings good luck! It may not seem like it when you’re cleaning it out of your hair, but bird droppings are a blessing and signify brighter days ahead.
  • Robins are like the bird version of the golden rule: whatever you do to a robin will eventually happen to you! So naturally, killing a robin is very bad luck.
  • Seeing a cardinal is a good sign, and close to my heart since it is my home state’s bird. If you see a cardinal, it could mean a deceased loved one has come to visit. Related, if any bird taps on your window, a deceased loved one is trying to get your attention.
  • Depending on your beliefs and culture, a bird flying into your window can either be very good luck or very bad luck. This probably stems from the meaning that change is on the way, so it all depends on how you look at it.
  • Peacock feathers also have conflicting meanings depending on where you’re from: in the west they are bad luck but in the east, peacocks are sacred birds and their feathers represent positive things.
  • As creatures of the night, owls can have mixed meanings. Nighttime and death are often linked because of the fear of the unknown. Some legends state an owl means there will be a death, or that seeing an owl during the day is bad luck. On the other hand, I’ve had quite a history with owls and I am a witch who works with the goddess Hecate. Like her, owls are considered underworld guides and there are tales of owls shapeshifting into witches. So for me personally, owls are a sign I’m on the right path.
  • There are a few legends related to sparrows that are similar. Some believe sparrows carry the souls of the recent dead and others believe they are friends of the fae folk. Either way, it is bad luck to mistreat them!

Counting Crows

The origin of this rhyme is hundreds of years old and has changed over time, but this is the most commonly accepted version. You might have heard or come across an extended version, or have seen this apply to other types of corvids such as magpies or ravens. It is said that if you greet the corvid in a polite and formal way (tip your hat if you’re wearing one), this will prevent the bird from passing the fortune onto you.

One for sorrow,

Two for joy,

Three for a girl,

Four for a boy,

Five for silver,

Six for gold,

Seven for a secret never to be told.

What About Feathers?

Many people believe that seeing feathers on the ground is a sign angels are near, but no matter what you believe, it is a sign of being divinely guided and you are exactly where you need to be. Seeing different colors can carry more specific messages that you can interpret according to your situation.

However, if you are in the United States, when you come across a feather, it is better to look and receive the message but don’t touch or take the feather home with you. Being in possession of feathers from certain types of birds is illegal. The Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 is a law that is still in effect and protects birds from being killed for their feathers. Taking a feather from the ground may seem like a harmless act but because you can’t prove how you got the feather, it is safer to just leave it be.

Even though it isn’t wise to collect feathers, they can still be used in nature for divination. If you come across a feather you can identify which bird it came from, look into the spiritual meaning of that bird for clarity on your message. For more information on what specific types of birds symbolize, here's a book recommendation for you:

The Hidden Meaning of Birds--A Spiritual Field Guide: Explore the Symbology and Significance of These Divine Winged Messengers by Arin Murphy-Hiscock.

If you don’t know how to identify the bird, use the color meanings to help you interpret the message. 

Feather Color Meanings

  • Gray - A time of peace is arriving
  • White - Focus on your spirituality
  • Black - You are protected
  • Brown - Strength and courage
  • Red - Find and use your spiritual gifts
  • Orange - You will be successful
  • Yellow - You are on the right path
  • Green - Healing is coming
  • Blue - Use your voice
  • Purple - Expand your psychic abilities
  • Pink - Love, romance, or pregnancy
  • Striped - Change will happen soon
  • Spotted - Release the past

Which bird related superstitions are you familiar with? Comment below any you know that are not listed.

Written By: Sarah Esmae Wolfe @sarahesmaewolfe

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