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Plenty of folklore has been associated with birds

Recently, I had a conversation with a friend, who told me news (more like gossip) he recently heard, and I asked him where he got his information. After saying he did not want to divulge the source, he said, “A little bird told me.” I’m sure everyone has heard this saying,

The ruby-throated hummingbird is one of the smallest and has the widest range of North America’s hummingbirds. In folklore, from the Biloxi Indian Tribe, we learned about a small bird (the ruby-throated hummingbird) that talked and always told the truth.

Much folklore is associated with birds. In earlier times, man was influenced by their mysterious comings and goings. The disappearance of the birds into the sky suggested to early man the birds were either in touch with, or were emissaries, of powers in the heavens. Early man likened the movements of birds to the departure from earth of human souls.

Black species of birds, such as the raven and crow, were associated with the devil. Although the raven was considered a super-natural bird (mostly evil), some Alaskan and Canadian tribes believed that the raven bestowed wisdom and power.

There were some Southern cotton plantation workers who regarded the blue jay as a bird of Satan. They also believed if a blue jay was seen on a Friday while carrying sticks, it was carrying news of the world of men to the devil below. After completing its work for Satan, the blue jay returned to earth by Saturday. Then, it was said, the blue jay would be unusually gay and noisy, suggesting that it was happy to be a free bird for another week.

Owls were seen as mysterious, which aroused fear and dread. However, in some places, the owl was held in high esteem. In Macbeth, Shakespeare wrote, “I have not done the deed. Didn’t thou not hear a noise and his lady say, It was the owl that shriek’d the fatal bellman.”

Then, in 1934, W.J. Brown wrote this comment made of an old man’s death, “It weren’t any more nor I expected. I came by his house one night and there was a screech owl on his roost screeching something horrible. I always recon to take notice of them things.”

Superstitions passed down from generation to generation became folklore, such as if a bird flew into a house, it was a sign important news would occur. However, if the bird could not fly out of the house, it was a sign of death. A woodpecker tapping on a house brought bad news. The callings of a whip-poor-will, screech owl or a horned owl were considered either a sign of death or bad luck and a crow that croaked three times as it flew over a house meant that someone in the house would die.

There were also good luck signs, such as a wren building a nest near a house was a sign of good luck; bluebirds, doves and robins were considered to be lucky signs, particularly in the spring; an ancient belief was that the sun was borne aloft every morning by an eagle, which was seen as a symbol of strength, swiftness and majesty; hearing the first whip-poor-will of spring assured one of being in the same place, doing the same thing on the same day, of the following year, and if a wish was made when hearing the calling of the first whip-poor-will, the wish would come true.

A rooster crowing outside a house announced that company was coming; however, if a rooster crowed at the wrong time of the night, it was said to announce an imminent death.

According to early folklore in the United States, it was bad luck to have designs of birds or bird decorations on wedding presents, as the happiness of the wedded couple would all the sooner fly away.

The following birds were used as weather prophets: In Scotland, the red throated loon was called the rain goose because of being especially noisy before bad weather; the Indians of British Columbia believed that the calling of the common loon not only predicted rain but also brought it; in some parts of North America, the spotted sandpiper’s calling on a hot, sultry day was supposedly a call for rain; on the ocean, during windy weather, the sudden appearance of petrels was a sign to sailors that a storm was coming, and lastly, an osprey circling high in the sky and then diving downward indicated a change in the weather and a thunderstorm within a few hours.

In 1893, Richard Inward wrote this about birds and weather:

“If the birds be silent, expect thunder

If fowls roll in the sand, rain is at hand.

If the wild geese gang out to sea, good weather there surely will be.

If larks fly high and sing long, expect fine weather.

When men-of-war hawks fly high, it is a sign of clear sky.

When thy fly low, prepare for a blow.”

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