From BiblePortal Wikipedia

Holman Bible Dictionary [1]

General Terminology Several general terms for birds occur in the Bible. In the Old Testament the Hebrew term oph , the most general term for birds, is used collectively to refer to flying creatures or fowl, as well as to winged insects. The term oph occurs repeatedly in the creation narrative of   Genesis 1:1 and   Genesis 2:1 (  Genesis 1:20-21 ,  Genesis 1:22 ,  Genesis 1:26 ,  Genesis 1:28 ,  Genesis 1:30;  Genesis 2:19-20 ).  Genesis 6:20 notes the division of birds into species.   Leviticus 20:25 categorizes them as clean or unclean.   Leviticus 11:13-19 and   Deuteronomy 14:12-18 list the specific birds which the Hebrews regarded as unclean and therefore not to be eaten. All birds of prey, including eagles, vultures, hawks, and falcons, were classified as unclean.

A second general term used for birds in the Old Testament is tsippor . Like oph , tsippor may refer to birds of every kind (  Genesis 7:14;  Deuteronomy 4:17 ), but it usually denotes game birds ( Psalm 124:7;  Proverbs 6:5 ) or the perching birds (passerines,  Psalm 102:7;  Daniel 4:12 ). From the term tsippor the name of Moses' wife (Zipporah) is derived.

In the New Testament the Greek term peteinon is used for birds in general (  Matthew 6:26;  Matthew 8:20;  Matthew 13:4;  Luke 9:58;  Luke 12:24;  Acts 10:12;  Acts 11:6;  Romans 1:23 ). The term orneon is used in Revelation to describe the completeness of Babylon's destruction (  Revelation 18:2 ) and to refer to flesh-eating fowl ( Revelation 19:17 ,  Revelation 19:21 ).

Specific Birds Named in the Bible Apart from the general terminology, the Bible mentions a great number of birds by name. Translators use different English equivalents to refer to the various birds. Among the birds specifically named in the RSV translation of the Bible are: cock ( Proverbs 30:31;  Matthew 26:34 ,Matthew 26:34, 26:74-75;  Mark 14:30 ,Mark 14:30, 14:72;  Luke 22:34 ,Luke 22:34, 22:60-61;  John 13:38;  John 18:27 ), carrion vulture ( Leviticus 11:18;  Deuteronomy 14:17 ), crane ( Isaiah 38:14;  Jeremiah 8:7 ), dove/turtledove ( Genesis 8:8-12;  Isaiah 38:14;  Isaiah 59:11;  Matthew 3:16;  Matthew 10:16;  Luke 2:24;  John 1:32 ), eagle ( Exodus 19:4;  Leviticus 11:13;  Deuteronomy 14:12;  Deuteronomy 32:11;  Job 9:26;  Job 39:27-30;  Psalm 103:5;  Proverbs 30:19;  Jeremiah 4:13;  Jeremiah 49:16 ,Jeremiah 49:16, 49:22 ), falcon ( Leviticus 11:14;  Job 28:7 ), hawk ( Leviticus 11:16;  Deuteronomy 14:15;  Job 39:26 ), hen ( Matthew 23:37;  Luke 13:34 ), heron ( Leviticus 11:19;  Deuteronomy 14:18 ), kite ( Leviticus 11:14;  Deuteronomy 14:13 ), osprey ( Leviticus 11:13;  Deuteronomy 14:12 ), ostrich ( Leviticus 11:16;  Deuteronomy 14:15;  Job 30:29;  Job 39:13-18;  Isaiah 13:21;  Isaiah 34:13;  Isaiah 43:20;  Jeremiah 50:39;  Lamentations 4:3;  Micah 1:8 ), owl ( Leviticus 11:17;  Deuteronomy 14:16 ), partridge ( 1 Samuel 26:20;  Jeremiah 17:11 ), peacock ( 1 Kings 10:22;  2 Chronicles 9:21 ), pelican ( Leviticus 11:18;  Deuteronomy 14:17 ), pigeon ( Genesis 15:9;  Leviticus 1:14;  Leviticus 5:7;  Leviticus 12:8;  Leviticus 14:22;  Luke 2:24;  John 2:14 ), quail ( Exodus 16:13;  Numbers 11:31-32;  Psalm 105:40 ), raven ( Genesis 8:7;  Leviticus 11:15;  Deuteronomy 14:14;  1 Kings 17:4-6;  Proverbs 30:17;  Luke 12:24 ), sea gull ( Leviticus 11:16;  Deuteronomy 14:15 ), sparrow ( Psalm 84:3;  Matthew 10:29 ,Matthew 10:29, 10:31;  Luke 12:6-7 ), stork ( Leviticus 11:19;  Psalm 104:17;  Jeremiah 8:7 ), swallow ( Psalm 84:3;  Isaiah 38:14;  Jeremiah 8:7 ), vulture ( Leviticus 11:13;  Deuteronomy 14:12 ), and water hen ( Leviticus 11:18;  Deuteronomy 14:16 ). Ten of the more commonly known birds from this list will be discussed below.

Cock The crowing of the cock is probably the most well-known bird sound in the Bible. All of the New Testament references to the cock (except the mention of “cockcrow” in  Mark 13:35 ) relate to Peter's denial of Christ. Jesus warned Peter that before the cock crowed twice, Peter would deny Him three times ( Mark 14:30 ). Roosters first crowed about midnight and a second time around three o'clock in the morning. Their crowing occurred so punctually that the Romans relied on this bird sound to signal the time to change the guard.

Dove/Turtledove The term “dove” is applied rather loosely to many of the smaller species of pigeon. The first mention of the dove in the Bible occurs in  Genesis 8:8-12 . Noah released a dove from the ark to determine if the flood waters had subsided from the earth.

The moaning of the dove sometimes functions metaphorically ( Isaiah 38:14;  Isaiah 59:11;  Ezekiel 7:16 ).  Psalm 55:6 notes the dove's powers of flight;   Jeremiah 48:28 describes its nesting habits;   Psalm 68:13 indicates its rich colors. Because of the gentleness of the dove and because of its faithfulness to its mate, this bird is used as a descriptive title of one's beloved in the Song of Solomon (Song of   Song of Solomon 2:14; Song of  Song of Solomon 5:2; Song of  Song of Solomon 6:9 ). In  Matthew 10:16 the dove symbolizes innocence.

All four Gospels describe the Spirit of God descending like a dove upon Jesus after His baptism ( Matthew 3:1;Matthew 3:1; 16:1;  Mark 1:10;  Luke 3:22;  John 1:32 ). This familiar bird with all its rich associations was chosen to symbolize God's Spirit.

The term “turtledove” also is applied to any of the smaller varieties of pigeon. The turtledove played a significant sacrificial role in the Bible ( Genesis 15:9;  Leviticus 1:14;  Leviticus 5:7 ,Leviticus 5:7, 5:11;  Leviticus 12:6;  Leviticus 14:22 ,  Leviticus 14:30;  Leviticus 15:14;  Luke 2:24 ). For those who could not afford a lamb, the law prescribed that two turtledoves or pigeons be offered for the sacrifice of purification after childbearing. Mary brought such an offering after the birth of Christ ( Leviticus 12:8;  Luke 2:24 ). The turtledove also signified the arrival of spring (Song of  Song of Solomon 2:12;  Jeremiah 8:7 ).

Eagle The term “eagle” refers to several large birds of prey active in the daytime rather than at night. The Hebrew term translated “eagle” ( nesher ) also sometimes is translated “vulture.” The eagle, the largest flying bird of Palestine, may reach a wingspread of eight feet or more. The Palestinian eagle builds great nests of sticks on rocky crags in the mountains ( Job 39:27-28;  Jeremiah 49:16 ). As one of the most majestic birds, it occupies a prominent role in the Bible. The eagle appears in the lists of unclean birds ( Leviticus 11:13;  Deuteronomy 14:12 ). Old Testament writers noted the eagle's swift movement ( Deuteronomy 28:49;  2 Samuel 1:23;  Jeremiah 4:13 ), the sweep and power of its flight ( Proverbs 23:5;  Isaiah 40:31 ), and the eagle's concern for its young ( Exodus 19:4;  Deuteronomy 32:11 ).

In the ancient world the eagle or vulture often was associated with deity. The prophets and apocalyptists chose this bird to play a figurative or symbolic role in their writings ( Ezekiel 1:10;  Ezekiel 10:14;  Daniel 7:4;  Revelation 4:7;  Revelation 8:13 ).

In  Exodus 19:4 and   Deuteronomy 32:11 the eagle is used figuratively of God's protection and care. In these passages God is pictured as a loving parent who redeems and protects His people even as the parent eagle cares for its young. The dove and the eagle are two of the most frequently mentioned birds of the Scriptures. They symbolize two basic aspects of the Bible's message. The dove symbolizes God's activity in the world through His Spirit, while the eagle represents God's care for His people.

Hen The Greek word translated “hen” can refer to the female of any bird, not just the domesticated fowl. Only two references to the hen occur in the Scriptures ( Matthew 23:37;  Luke 13:34 ). In both instances the term is used figuratively of God's care for His people. The hen stands as a figure of the self-sacrifice and tender motherliness of God revealed in Christ.

Ostrich The ostrich, the largest of birds, is a swift, flightless fowl. One passage in Job ( Job 39:13-18 ) describes some of the characteristic habits of the ostrich. The female lays her eggs in the sand. The male does most of the incubating, mainly at night. Unhatched eggs serve as food for the young. Although the parent bird leaves the nest when it senses danger, this diversionary tactic actually is a protective measure. However, such habits may have created the impression that the ostrich was indifferent to its young ( Lamentations 4:3 ). The ostrich is listed as unclean ( Leviticus 11:16;  Deuteronomy 14:15 ), probably because of its eating habits.

Pigeon “Pigeon” is a general term referring to any of a widely distributed subfamily of fowl ( Columbinae ). The term “pigeon” basically is employed when referring to the use of these birds for sacrificial offerings. In Leviticus pigeons serve as burnt offerings and as sin offerings ( Leviticus 1:14;  Leviticus 5:7 ,Leviticus 5:7, 5:11 ). They also play a role in the rituals for purification following childbirth ( Leviticus 12:6 ,Leviticus 12:6, 12:8 ) and for the cleansing of a healed leper ( Leviticus 14:22 ,Leviticus 14:22, 14:30 ). Along with turtledoves, pigeons are the least expensive animal offerings. Mary offered a pigeon and two turtledoves after Jesus' birth ( Luke 2:24 ).

Quail The Hebrew term translated “quail” in the Old Testament is found only in connection with God's provision of food for Israel in the wilderness ( Exodus 16:13;  Numbers 11:31-32;  Psalm 105:40 ). Probably the quails which visited the Hebrew camp were a migrating flock. Enormous numbers of quails migrate north during the spring after wintering in Africa. When the fatigued birds stop to rest, they can be caught easily. In God's timing the birds came to provide for the needs of His people.

The quails mentioned in the Old Testament differ from the North American bobwhite quails. Besides being migratory, the quails of the Bible are mottled brown in color and are smaller than the bobwhite quails. The quails mentioned in the Old Testament have short wings and weak powers of flight.

Raven The raven, conspicuous because of its black color (Song of  Song of Solomon 5:11 ), is a member of the crow family. The raven acts as a scavenger and is listed among the unclean birds ( Leviticus 11:1;Leviticus 11:1; 15:1;  Deuteronomy 14:14 ). Biblical writers cite the raven as an example of God's care for His creation ( Job 38:41;  Psalm 147:9;  Luke 12:24 ).

The raven was the first bird Noah sent forth from the ark following the flood ( Genesis 8:7 ). He may have selected the raven for several reasons. It can fly without rest for long spans of time. Also the raven makes its home in the rocky crags, and thus it would scout out mountain peaks emerging from the flooded earth. Finally, the raven is a resourceful bird with a remarkable memory.

God sent ravens to sustain Elijah by the brook Cherith ( 1 Kings 17:4-6 ). Ravens often store surplus food beneath leaves or in rocky crevices. Although ravens often have been viewed as birds of evil omen, in the Elijah story they serve as symbols of God's love for His servant and of His mighty sovereignty over nature.

Sparrow The sparrow belongs to the finch family. In the Old Testament the Hebrew term translated “sparrow” ( tsippor ) also carries the general meaning “bird.” The translation “sparrow” occurs in the Revised Standard Version text in  Psalm 84:3 and in   Proverbs 26:2 . The King James Version also translates tsippor “sparrow” in   Psalm 102:7 .

 Psalm 84:3 refers to the nesting habits of the sparrow at the altars of the Lord. The altars of the Lord may be a general reference to various structures in the Temple area which would be attractive to small, nesting birds.

In  Psalm 102:7 , the translation “sparrow” may be inappropriate because the verse refers to a bird “alone upon the house top,” and the most common sparrows always appeared in flocks. On the other hand, the psalmist may have intended this contradiction to emphasize the depth of loneliness and utter desolation which he was experiencing.

Two passages in the New Testament refer to the sparrow ( Matthew 10:29-31;  Luke 12:6-7 ). In these parallel passages Jesus taught His disciples to have confidence in God's love. The God who cares for all of His creation, even the insignificant sparrow, certainly cares for people.

Vulture Both carrion vulture and vulture are listed separately in the unclean bird lists ( Leviticus 11:13-19;  Deuteronomy 14:12-18 RSV). The term “vulture” refers to several different birds of prey. The English word “vulture” is used to translate several different Hebrew terms.

The Bible does not permit a positive identification of the types of vultures known during the biblical period. In contrast to eagles and hawks, which usually kill living prey, vultures feed on dead animals.

The Hebrew term nesher , sometimes translated “eagle,” is translated “vulture” in Hosea's threat to Israel ( Deuteronomy 8:1 ). Lack of a proper burial was viewed as a great horror in biblical times. The common belief was that as long as a body remained unburied, the person could not be gathered to the fathers and experience rest in Sheol. Goliath and David threatened one another with this fate (1Samuel 17:44, 1 Samuel 17:46 ). The curses in Deuteronomy warned the disobedient of this horrible consequence ( Deuteronomy 28:26 ). Ultimately the author of Revelation used the image of the birds of prey to picture the defeat of evil before the reign of Christ ( Revelation 19:17-21; compare  Ezekiel 29:5;  Ezekiel 32:4;  Ezekiel 39:4 ,  Ezekiel 39:17-20 ).

Role of Birds in the Bible As the above discussion indicates, birds play a variety of roles in the Bible. Besides providing basic food needs (for example, the quails in the wilderness), birds function as messengers. Examples of this latter role include the dove and the raven in the flood story and the ravens who provided food in the Elijah narratives.

Birds played an important role in the sacrificial offerings. Examples of this function include Abraham's offering in  Genesis 15:1 , laws about sacrifices in Leviticus, and Mary's offering in  Luke 2:24 . Pigeons and turtledoves served as alternative offerings for those who could not afford a lamb.

Perhaps the most important function of birds in the Bible is their symbolic or figurative role. The dove may symbolize innocence ( Matthew 10:16 ) or God's activity in the world through His Spirit ( Matthew 3:16 ). The eagle or vulture played a figurative or symbolic role in the writings of the prophets and the apocalyptists. The image of birds of prey is used in Revelation to picture the final defeat of evil.

A number of passages refer to birds as symbols of God's protection and care. In  Exodus 19:4 and   Deuteronomy 32:11 , God is revealed as the loving Parent who redeems and protects His people just as the parent eagle cares for its young. Jesus used the example of the hen gathering her chicks under her wing as a figure of His sacrificial love for man ( Matthew 23:37;  Luke 13:34 ). In the Elijah story, ravens symbolize God's love for His servant as well as His sovereignty over nature.

By reference to the insignificant sparrow ( Matthew 10:1 :  29-31;  Luke 12:6-7 ), Jesus taught His disciples to have confidence in God's love. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus summarized one of the greatest lessons we can learn from the birds of the air.

“Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body more than raiment? Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they?” ( Matthew 6:25-26 ).

Janice Meier

Bridgeway Bible Dictionary [2]

Many of the birds mentioned in the Bible were large birds of prey, of which there were many species in Palestine. They fed on small animals that they killed themselves and on the carcasses of larger animals that had either died or been killed by wild beasts. They even fed on the bodies of dead soldiers that lay scattered over the battlefield after war. Among these birds were vultures, eagles, hawks, falcons, ravens, owls and kites. The law of Moses did not allow Israelites to use any of these birds as food ( Leviticus 11:13-19;  Job 9:26;  Job 28:7;  Job 39:26;  Psalms 79:2;  Isaiah 34:15;  Jeremiah 49:16;  Ezekiel 39:4;  Matthew 24:28). The ostrich, though not a bird of prey, was considered a wild and fearsome bird, living in desolate or deserted places ( Isaiah 13:21;  Isaiah 34:13;  Jeremiah 50:39).

There were many migratory birds in Palestine, and almost every month some departed and others arrived. The most common among these birds were the cormorant, ibis, crane, pelican, stork, seagull and heron. Israelite law again prohibited the use of these as food ( Leviticus 11:13-19;  Jeremiah 8:7). It did not prohibit the eating of quails ( Exodus 16:13;  Numbers 11:31-32;  Psalms 105:40).

Birds that were commonly seen around towns and villages were sparrows, swallows, doves and pigeons. Since these were allowable as food, people often caught them in traps, and then cooked and sold them ( Leviticus 5:7;  Psalms 84:3;  Psalms 91:3;  Proverbs 26:2;  Ecclesiastes 9:12;  Amos 3:5;  Matthew 10:29). Israelites also kept chickens, both for their meat and for their eggs ( 1 Kings 4:23;  Matthew 23:37;  Matthew 26:34).

American Tract Society Bible Dictionary [3]

Birds, like other animals, were divided by Moses into clean and unclean; the former might be eaten, the latter not. The general ground of distinction is, that those which feed on grain or seeds are clean; while those which devour flesh, fish, or carrion, are unclean. Turtledoves, young pigeons, and perhaps some other kinds of birds, were prescribed in the Mosaic law as offerings,  Leviticus 5:7-10   14:4-7   Luke 2:24 .

There is great difficulty in accurately determining the different species of birds prohibited in  Leviticus 11:13-19   Deuteronomy 14:11-20 , and the proper version of the Hebrew names. The information we have respecting them may be found under the names by which they are translated in our Bible.

Moses, to inculcate humanity on the Israelites, ordered them, if they found a bird's nest, not to take the dam with the young, but to suffer the old one to fly away, and to take the young only,  Deuteronomy 22:6,7 .

Cages for singing birds are alluded to in  Jeremiah 5:27; and snares in  Proverbs 7:23   Ecclesiastes 9:12 . Birds of prey are emblems of destroying hosts,  Isaiah 46:11   Jeremiah 12:9   Ezekiel 32:4   Revelation 19:17-19; and the Lord comes to the defense of his people with the swiftness of the eagle,  Isaiah 31:5 .

Morrish Bible Dictionary [4]

These are employed as symbols of evil agents: as, in the dream of Pharaoh's baker, the birds ate the bakemeats he was carrying on his head,  Genesis 40:17; and in the parable of the Sower the fowls or birds which devoured the seed by the wayside are interpreted by Christ to signify 'the wicked one.'  Matthew 13:4,19 . In the parable of the Mustard Seed the kingdom of heaven becomes a great system with roots in the earth, under the protection of which the birds of the air find shelter.  Matthew 13:31,32 . The Greek is πετεινόν,the same in the two parables.

Smith's Bible Dictionary [5]

Birds. See Sparrow .

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia [6]

bûrds ( עיט , ‛ayiṭ  ; Greek variously τὰ πετεινά , tá peteiná ( Matthew 13:4 ) τὰ ὄρνεα τοῦ οὐρανοῦ , tá órnea toú ouranoú ( Revelation 19:17 ) ὄρνις , órnis ( Matthew 23:37;  Luke 13:34 ) Latin, avis  ; Old English "brid"):

I. Meaning of the Word

All authorities agree that the exact origin of the word bird, as we apply it to feathered creatures, is unknown.

1. In Early Hebrew

The Hebrew ‛ayiṭ means to "tear and scratch the face," and in its original form undoubtedly applied to birds of prey. It is probable that no spot of equal size on the face of the globe ever collected such numbers of vultures, eagles and hawks as ancient Palestine. The land was so luxuriant that flocks and herds fed from the face of Nature. In cities, villages, and among tent-dwellers incessant slaughter went on for food, while the heavens must almost have been obscured by the ascending smoke from the burning of sacrificed animals and birds, required by law of every man and woman. From all these slain creatures the offal was thrown to the birds. There were no guns; the arrows of bowmen or "throw sticks" were the only protection against them, and these arms made no noise to frighten feathered creatures, and did small damage. So it easily can be seen that the birds would increase in large numbers and become so bold that men were often in actual conflict with them, and no doubt their faces and hands were torn and scratched.

2. In Later Usage

Later, as birds of song and those useful for food came into their lives, the word was stretched to cover all feathered creatures. In the King James Version ‛ayiṭ is translated "fowl," and occurs several times: "And when the fowls came down upon the carcasses, Abram drove them away" ( Genesis 15:11 ). "They shall be left together unto the fowls of the mountains, and to the beasts of the earth; and the fowls shall summer upon them, and all the beasts of the earth shall winter upon them" ( Isaiah 18:6 ). "There is a path which no fowl knoweth, and which the vulture's eye hath not seen" ( Job 28:7 ). The American Standard Revised Version changes these and all other references to feathered creatures to "birds," making a long list. The Hebrew ‛ayiṭ in its final acceptance was used in Palestine as "bird" is with us.

3. In Old English

Our earliest known form of the word is the Old English "brid," but they applied the term to the young of any creature. Later its meaning was narrowed to young produced from eggs, and the form changed to "bird."

II. Natural History of Birds

The first known traces of birds appear in the formation of the Triassic period, and are found in the shape of footprints on the red sandstone of the Connecticut valley.

1. Earliest Traces and Specimens

This must have been an ancient sea bed over which stalked large birds, leaving deeply imprinted impressions of their feet. These impressions baked in the sun, and were drifted full of fine wind-driven sand before the return of the tide. Thus were preserved to us the traces of 33 species of birds all of which are proven by their footprints to have been much larger than our birds of today. The largest impressions ever found measured 15 inches in length by 10 in width, and were set from 4 to 6 ft. apart. This evidence would form the basis for an estimate of a bird at least four times as large as an ostrich. That a bird of this size ever existed was not given credence until the finding of the remains of the dinornis in New Zealand. The largest specimen of this bird stood 10 1/2 ft. in height. The first complete skeleton of a bird was found in the limestone of the Jurassic period in Solenhofen, Bavaria. This bird had 13 teeth above and 3 below, each set in a separate socket, wings ending in three-fingered claws much longer than the claws of the feet, and a tail of 20 vertebrae, as long as the body, having a row of long feathers down each side of it, the specimen close to the size of a crow. The first preserved likeness of a bird was found frescoed on the inside of a tomb of Maydoon, and is supposed to antedate the time of Moses 3,000 years. It is now carefully preserved in the museum of Cairo. The painting represents six geese, four of which can be recognized readily as the ancestors of two species known today. Scientists now admit that Moses was right in assigning the origin of birds to the water, as their structure is closer reptilian than mammalian, and they reproduce by eggs. To us it seems a long stretch between the reptile with a frame most nearly bird-like and a feathered creature, but there is a possibility that forms making closer connection yet will be found.

2. Structural Formation

The trunk of a bird is compact and in almost all instances boat-shaped. Without doubt prehistoric man conceived his idea of navigation and fashioned his vessel from the body of a water bird, and then noticed that a soaring bird steered its course with its tail and so added the rudder. The structural formation of a bird is so arranged as to give powerful flight and perfect respiration. In the case of a few birds that do not fly, the wings are beaten to assist in attaining speed in running, as the ostrich, or to help in swimming under the water, as the auk. The skull of a young bird is made up of parts, as is that of man or animal; but with age these parts join so evenly that they appear in a seamless formation. The jaws extend beyond the face, forming a bill that varies in length and shape with species, and it is used in securing food, in defense, feather dressing, nest building - in fact it is a combination of the mouth and hand of man. The spine is practically immovable, because of the ribs attached to the upper half and the bony structure supporting the pelvic joints of the lower. In sharp contrast with this the neck is formed of from 10 to 23 vertebrae, and is so flexible that a bird can turn its head completely around, a thing impossible to man or beast. The breast bone is large, strong, and provided with a ridge in the middle, largest in birds of strong flight, smallest in swimmers, and lacking only in birds that do not fly, as the ostrich. The wings correspond to the arms of man, and are now used in flight and swimming only. Such skeletons as the Archeopteryx prove that the bones now combined in the tip of the wing were once claws. This shows that as birds spread over land and developed wing power in searching longer distances for food or when driven by varying conditions of climate, the wings were used more in flight, and the claws gradually joined in a tip and were given covering that grew feathers, while the bill became the instrument for taking food and for defense. At the same time the long tail proving an encumbrance, it gradually wore away and contracted to the present form. Studied in detail of bony structure, muscle, and complicated arrangement of feathers of differing sizes, the wing of a bird proves one of Nature's marvels. The legs are used in walking or swimming, the thigh joint being so enveloped in the body that the true leg is often mistaken for it. This makes the knee of a man correspond to the heel of a bird, and in young birds of prey especially, the shank or tarsus is used in walking, until the bones harden and the birds are enabled to bear their weight on the feet and straighten the shank. The toes vary with species. Pliny classified birds by them: "The first and principal difference and distinction in birds is taken from their feet; for they have either hooked talons, as Hawkes, or long round claws as Hens, or else they be broad, flat and whole-footed as Geese." Flight is only possible to a bird when both wings are so nearly full-feathered that it balances perfectly. In sleep almost every bird places its head under its wing and stands on one foot. The arrangement by which this is accomplished, without tiring the bird in the least, is little short of miraculous and can be the result only of slow ages of evolution. In the most finished degree this provision for the comfort of the bird is found among cranes and other long-legged water birds. The bone of one part of the leg fits into the bone of the part above, so that it is practically locked into place with no exertion on the part of the bird. At the same time the muscles that work the claws, cross the joints of the leg so that they are stretched by the weight of the bird, and with no effort, it stands on earth or perches on a branch. This explains the question so frequently asked as to why the feet of a perching bird do not become so cramped and tired that it falls.

3. Birds' Food, Blood, Etc.

Birds feed according to their nature, some on prey taken alive, some on the carrion of dead bodies, some on fish and vegetable products of the water, some on fruit seed, insects and worms of the land. Almost every bird indulges in a combination of differing foods. Their blood is from 12 degrees to 16 degrees warmer than that of the rest of the animal kingdom, and they exhibit a corresponding exhilaration of spirits. Some indulge in hours of sailing and soaring, some in bubbling notes of song, while others dart near earth in playful dashes of flight. Birds are supposed to be rather deficient in the senses of taste and touch, and to have unusually keen vision. They reproduce by eggs that they deposit in a previously selected and prepared spot, and brood for a length of time varying with the species. The young of birds of prey, song birds, and some water birds, remain in the nests for differing lengths of time and are fed by the old birds; while others of the water birds and most of the game birds leave the nest as soon as the down is dry, and find food as they are taught by their elders, being sheltered at night so long as needful.

III. Birds of the Bible

The birds of the Bible were the same species and form as exist in Palestine today. Because of their wonderful coloring, powerful flight, joyous song, and their similarity to humanity in home-making and the business of raising their young, birds have been given much attention, and have held conspicuous place since the dawn of history. When the brain of man was young and more credulous than today he saw omens, signs and miracles in the characteristic acts of birds, and attributed to them various marvelous powers: some were considered of good omen and a blessing, and some were bad and a curse.

1. Earliest Mention

The historians of the Bible frequently used birds in comparison, simile, and metaphor. They are first mentioned in  Genesis 7:14 ,  Genesis 7:15 , "They, and every beast after its kind, and all the cattle after their kind, and every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth after its kind, and every bird after its kind, every bird of every sort." This is the enumeration of the feathered creatures taken into the ark to be preserved for the perpetuation of species after the flood abated. They are next found in the description of the sacrifice of Abram, where it was specified that he was to use, with the animals slaughtered, a turtle dove and a young pigeon, the birds not to be divided. It is also recorded that the birds of prey were attracted by the carcasses as described in  Genesis 15:9-11 , "And he said unto him, Take me a heifer three years old, and a she-goat three years old, and a ram three years old, and a turtle-dove, and a young pigeon. And he took him all these, and divided them in the midst, and laid each half over against the other: but the birds divided he not. And the birds of prey came down upon the carcasses, and Abram drove them away." Palestine abounded in several varieties of "doves" (which see) and their devotion to each other, and tender, gentle characteristics had marked them as a loved possession of the land; while the clay cotes of pigeons were reckoned in establishing an estimate of a man's wealth.

2. Used in Sacrifice

In an abandon of gratitude to God these people offered of their best-loved and most prized possessions as sacrifice; and so it is not surprising to find the history of burnt offerings frequently mentioning these birds which were loved and prized above all others. Their use is first commanded in  Leviticus 1:14-17 , "And if his oblation to Yahweh be a burnt-offering of birds, then he shall offer his oblation of turtle-doves, or of young pigeons. And the priest shall bring it unto the altar, and wring off its head , and burn it on the altar; and the blood thereof shall be drained out on the side of the altar; and he shall take away its crop with the filth thereof, and cast it beside the altar on the east part, in the place of the ashes." Again in  Leviticus 5:7-10 , we read: "And if his means suffice not for a lamb, then he shall bring his trespass-offering for that wherein he hath sinned, two turtle-doves, or two young pigeons, unto Yahweh; one for a sin-offering, and the other for a burnt-offering." Throughout the Bible these birds figure in the history of sacrifice ( Leviticus 12:8;  Leviticus 14:4-8;  Numbers 6:10 , etc.).

3. Other References

The custom of weaving cages of willow wands, in which to confine birds for pets, seems to be referred to when Job asks ( Job 41:5 ): "Wilt thou play with him as with a bird? Or wilt thou bind him for thy maidens?"

See  Job 12:7 : "But ask now the beasts, and they shall teach thee; And the birds of the heavens, and they shall tell thee."

David was thinking of the swift homeward flight of an eagle when he wrote: "In Yahweh do I take refuge: How say ye to my soul, Flee as a bird to your mountain?" ( Psalm 11:1 ).

His early days guarding the flocks of his father no doubt suggested to him the statement found in  Psalm 50:11 : "I know all the birds of the mountains; And the wild beasts of the field are mine" (the Revised Version margin, "in my mind").

In describing Lebanon, the Psalmist wrote of its waters: "By them the birds of the heavens have their habitation; They sing among the branches" ( Psalm 104:12 ).

He mentioned its trees: "Where the birds make their nests: As for the stork, the fir-trees are her house" ( Psalm 104:17 ).

See also  Psalm 78:27;  Psalm 148:10 .

The origin of the oft-quoted phrase, "A little bird told me," can be found in  Ecclesiastes 10:20 : "Revile not the king, no, not in thy thought; and revile not the rich in thy bedchamber: for a bird of the heavens shall carry the voice, and that which hath wings shall tell the matter." In a poetical description of spring in the Song of Solomon, we read: "The flowers appear on the earth; The time of the singing of birds is come, And the voice of the turtle-dove is heard in our land" (  Song of Solomon 2:12 ).

In his prophecy concerning Ethiopia, Isaiah wrote, "They shall be left together unto the ravenous birds of the mountains, and to the beasts of the earth; and the ravenous birds shall summer upon them, and all the beasts of the earth shall winter upon them" ( Isaiah 18:6 ). In foretelling God's judgment upon Babylon, Isaiah ( Isaiah 46:11 ) refers to Cyrus as "a ravenous bird (called) from the east, the man of my counsel from a far country"; "probably in allusion to the fact that the griffon was the emblem of Persia; and embroidered on its standard" ( HDB , I, 632); (see Eagle ).  Jeremiah 4:25 describes the habit of birds, which invariably seek shelter before an approaching storm. In His denunciation of Israel, Yahweh questions, in   Jeremiah 12:9 , "Is my heritage unto me as a speckled bird of prey? are the birds of prey against her round about?" When Jeremiah threatened the destruction of Jerusalem, he wrote that Yahweh would "cause them to fall by the sword before their enemies, and by the hand of them that seek their life: and their dead bodies will I give to be food for the birds of the heavens" ( Jeremiah 19:7 ): that is, He would leave them for the carrion eaters. Ezekiel threatens the same fate to the inhabitants of Gog ( Ezekiel 39:4 ,  Ezekiel 39:17 ). Hosea ( Hosea 9:11 ) prophesies of Ephraim, "Their glory shall fly away like a bird." In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus mentions the birds, as recorded by  Matthew 6:26 : "Behold the birds of the heaven, that they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; and your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are not ye of much more value than they?" In the sermon from the boat where He spoke the parable of the Sower He again mentioned the birds: "As he sowed, some seeds fell by the way side, and the birds came and devoured them" (  Matthew 13:4 ). Mark describes the same sermon in  Mark 4:4 , and  Mark 4:32 quotes the parable of the Mustard Seed: "Yet when it is sown, (it) groweth up, and becometh greater than all the herbs, and putteth out great branches; so that the birds of the heaven can lodge under the shadow thereof." In   Luke 8:5 , Luke gives his version of the parable of the Sower, and in  Luke 13:19 of the Mustard Seed. See also   Revelation 19:17 ,  Revelation 19:21 . These constitute all the important references to birds in the Bible, with the exception of a few that seem to belong properly under such subjects as Trap; Net; Cage , etc..

Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblial Literature [7]

Birds may be defined oviparous vertebrated animals, organized for flight.

In the Mosaic law, birds were distinguished as clean and unclean: the first being allowed for the table, because they fed on grain, seeds, and vegetables; and the second forbidden, because they subsisted on flesh and carrion. The birds most anciently used in sacrifice were, it seems, turtle-doves and pigeons. In Kitto's Physical History of Palestine there is a more complete notice than exists elsewhere of the actual ornithology of the Holy Land.