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The Meaning of Sparrows: Symbolism and Identification

Jennifer enjoys researching and writing about animals as symbols in folklore, legend, mythology and culture.

Sparrows' symbolic significance varies depending on culture and context.

Sparrows' symbolic significance varies depending on culture and context.

What Are Sparrows Known For?

The sparrow is a familiar little bird that is widespread throughout Britain and Ireland (with the possible exceptions of the upland and northern districts). It is also common throughout the rest of Europe, Asia, Africa and—thanks to imports from settlers—North and South America and Australia.

In recent years, sparrow numbers have been in decline, and it is now less common to see flocks of them feeding or chirping from rooftops, although you should have no trouble spotting the occasional house sparrow, especially in urban parks where people frequently feed them.

There is an incredible amount of folklore and superstition surrounding these friendly little birds, and they are even mentioned in the Bible. In this article, we'll discuss their cultural, religious, mythical, literary and supernatural associations and describe how to identify two common types (the house sparrow and the tree sparrow).

Contents in Order of Appearance

  • Sparrows in Legend and Folklore
  • Sparrows in Cultural Mythology
  • Sparrows in Literature
  • Sparrows in Dream Interpretation
  • Sparrow Identification
What do sparrows symbolise? That depends on who you ask.

What do sparrows symbolise? That depends on who you ask.

Sparrows in Legend, Superstition and Folklore

Despite being a relatively common bird in both urban and wild areas, sparrows carry a lot of superstitious baggage, both positive and negative. Let's take a look at what people believe sparrow encounters mean in different circumstances.

What Do Sparrows Symbolise?

In modern new-age circles, sparrows are believed to symbolise joy, community, teamwork, protection, simplicity, hard work or self-worth. This hasn't always been the case, however. In Europe's middle ages, sparrows were believed to represent peasants and the lower class. In old Celtic tradition, sparrows were thought to be keepers of ancestral knowledge.

What Does It Mean If a Sparrow Flies Into Your House?

In Indonesia, it is believed by some that if a sparrow flies into a house, a member of the household will soon marry or give birth. In China, some say that a sparrow flying into a house indicates that good luck is on the way in a more general sense.

What Does It Mean If a Sparrow Flies Into Your Window?

According to some older superstitions, if a sparrow flies into your closed window and dies, it could signify the death of someone you know. Most modern-day spiritualists and new-age enthusiasts, however, think that a sparrow hitting a window may have a less morbid and more general meaning. Many say that such an occurrence may herald an upcoming ending—whether of a relationship, a friendship, a job, a life or something else entirely.

Are Sparrows Good Luck?

In many cultures, sparrows are seen as good luck. In Chinese culture, the sparrow is an auspicious symbol of happiness and the coming of spring, while in Indonesian lore, sparrows signify birth, marriage, rain and other good tidings.

Are Sparrows Bad Omens?

According to the Audobon Society, a common superstition states that sparrows carry the souls of the dead, and as such, it is bad luck to kill them. This superstition closely resembles the ancient Egyptian view of sparrows and that of traditional sailors, some of whom would get sparrow tattoos in hopes that the birds would catch and carry their souls should they die at sea. Modern authors have also shared systems for interpreting sparrows and other birds as omens.

What Does It Mean to See a Dead Sparrow?

According to certain new-age authors, an encounter with a dead sparrow could indicate a loss of freedom or innocence. According to others, however, finding a deceased bird may be symbolic of a new beginning, much like the "death" card in the tarot system.

What Is the Meaning of a Sparrow Tattoo?

Like most tattoos, sparrow tattoos can have a variety of meanings (or none at all). As mentioned above, many sailors would get traditional sparrow tattoos in hopes that their souls might be taken to heaven if they died at sea. In a similar vein, many people choose to get sparrow tattoos to memorialize the souls of loved ones who have passed away.

Alternatively, sparrow tattoos can represent joy, freedom and inhibition. A popular example of this meaning is Jack Sparrow's sparrow tattoo in the Pirates of the Caribbean film franchise. In addition to being a tribute to the infamous pirate's last name, Jack's tattoo also points to the counterculture of freedom, expression and self-determination prized by those who choose to live outside of the bounds of structured society.

Others choose sparrow tattoos as representations of adaptability, productivity or efficiency. Sparrows are adept and resilient builders that can survive and thrive in both wild and urban settings. They learn by observing and use their observations to inform their actions. Whether sneaking into a big-box store via the motion-activated doors, swooping under a just-vacated table at a cafe for crumbs or building an urban nest out of cigarette butts and other detritus, sparrows know how to do what they can with what they have.

Fun Fact

The sparrow has an extra bone in its tongue to help it eat seeds.

The sparrow has mythological significance in a variety of cultures.

The sparrow has mythological significance in a variety of cultures.

Sparrows in Culture and Mythology

The sparrow has been the object of countless cultural, spiritual and mythological associations across both geography and time. In this section, we'll examine the symbolic significance of the sparrow from a diverse variety of perspectives.

Greek Mythology

In ancient Greek mythology, sparrows were considered a symbol of love. The sparrow was the sacred bird of Aphrodite, the goddess of love, and symbolised true love and spiritual connection—not just lust (contrary to this, sparrows are often regarded as one of the most lustful and sexually active birds in the wild). In Troy, nine sparrows were eaten by a snake, and this foretold nine years of war.

European Folklore

In European folklore of old, sparrows were considered death omens. A sparrow flying into one's home was seen as a sign of impending death. One variation of this superstition from Kent, England, stated that a person who catches a sparrow must kill it or else their parents would die. Another variation stated that the catcher must kill the bird or else they themself would die. Luckily, sparrows rarely fly into people's homes, and most people no longer feel the need to kill them if they do.

Just above the sparrow is a symbol for the word "forever."

Just above the sparrow is a symbol for the word "forever."

Ancient Egyptian Culture

According to the ancient Egyptians, sparrows would catch the souls of the recently deceased and carry them to heaven. (Years later, it became common for sailors to get sparrow tattoos in hopes that the birds would catch their souls if they died at sea.) The ancient Egyptians used a hieroglyph that represented the house sparrow. It was used as a determinative in the words "small," "narrow," or "bad."

Indonesian Folklore

In old Indonesian tradition, sparrows were considered good luck omens. Folklore states that a sparrow flying into one's home denotes good luck (especially if it builds a nest). It can also mean a wedding will happen soon. It is also said that if a lady sees one on Valentine's Day, she will find happiness marrying a poor man. The call of the sparrow is also thought to bring rain.

Fun Fact

Sparrows typically fly at around 24 miles per hour, but when in danger, they can reach speeds of up to 31 miles per hour.

Sparrows have appeared in literature for centuries across a variety of genres.

Sparrows have appeared in literature for centuries across a variety of genres.

Sparrows in Literature

Sparrows have been represented in literature throughout history, from ancient Greek and Roman poems to numerous religious texts to the works Chaucer and Shakespeare. Sparrows are still depicted in literature today and often represent soul catchers in horror stories and poetry.

The Bible

In the Bible, sparrows were used as offerings given by the very poor and represented the concern of God for even the smallest and most insignificant lifeforms. In other texts, the sparrow has been used to represent the presence of God and His love for everything.

"Are not two sparrows sold for a copper coin? And not one of them falls to the ground apart from your Father's will." —Matthew 10:29

Chaucer and Shakespeare

Chaucer and Shakespeare both used sparrows to denote lecherous or promiscuous behaviour.

"As hot, he was, and lecherous as a sparrow . . ." —Chaucer, The Canterbury Tales

"Sparrows must not build in his house eaves, because they are lecherous . . ." —Shakespeare, Measure for Measure

Grimms' Fairy Tales

The brothers Grimm collected a particularly gruesome fairy tale entitled "The Dog and the Sparrow." The story follows a sparrow who befriends a starving dog who has left its master's home in search of food.

When the dog is sleeping in a road, the sparrow warns a man driving a carriage not to run it over. The traveler runs over the dog, killing it, and is then punished by the sparrow for his misdeed. As he tries to kill the sparrow, its attacks become more severe, eventually resulting in the man's death at the hands of his own wife.

"'Unlucky wretch that I am!' cried the carter; for he saw that the corn was almost all gone. 'Not wretch enough yet!' said the sparrow; 'thy cruelty shall cost thee they life yet!' and away she flew." —The Brothers Grimm, "The Dog and the Sparrow"

". . . so he gave his wife the hatchet, and cried, 'Wife, strike at the bird and kill her in my hand.' And the wife struck; but she missed her aim, and hit her husband on the head so that he fell down dead, and the sparrow flew quietly home to her nest." —The Brothers Grimm, "The Dog and the Sparrow"

The Panchatantra

The Panchatantra is a series of ancient Indian animal fables originally written in Sanskrit sometime between 200 and 300 CE by Vishnu Sharma. In Mitra-bheda, the first book of the Panchatantra, there is a tale in which a sparrow, with the aid of a woodpecker, a gnat and a frog, exacts revenge on an elephant that destroyed its nest and eggs.

The gnat buzzes in the elephant's ear, causing it to close its eyes, which the woodpecker pecks out. The frog then uses its croak to lure the elephant to its doom in a nearby pit. The moral of the story is that small and humble creatures can outwit large and powerful adversaries by working together.

"Shita-kiri Suzume" ("Tongue-Cut Sparrow")

"Shita-kiri Suzume," or "Tongue-Cut Sparrow," is an old Japanese fable centered on a husband and wife living in the woods and a small sparrow they encounter. The husband, a woodcutter, is kind to the sparrow and feeds it. In the husband's absence, however, his wife discovers that the sparrow has eaten their grain, so she cuts out its tongue and sends it back into the forest.

The husband finds the sparrow and saves it, so the other sparrows of the woods present him with a choice between two gifts, one in a large basket and one in a small basket. He selects the small basket, as it is easier to carry. When he gets home, he opens the basket and discovers that it is filled with treasure.

His wife, eager for more, rushes to the sparrows and asks them for the larger basket. They give it to her but tell her not to open it until she returns home. Greedy for treasure, she opens it immediately, only to find it full of dangerous snakes. Surprised by the basket's contents, she stumbles down the mountain and perishes. The fable's morals are that friendship trumps jealousy and greed may lead to one's demise.

Fun Fact

While sparrows were previously believed to be monogamous, DNA analyses of sparrow eggs have revealed that very few contain genetic material from both parents. In other words, it would seem as if sparrows are highly prone to infidelity.

What do sparrows represent in dreams?

What do sparrows represent in dreams?

Sparrows in Dream Interpretation

Dreams' meanings are highly subjective and vary depending on who you ask. Some prefer to interpret their own dreams according to their own beliefs and hunches, while others look to specific individuals or texts for help. Various new-age dream-interpretation websites offer different explanations for dreams about sparrows.

According to Auntyflo, the appearance of a sparrow in a dream may indicate that the dreamer is carrying too heavy of a burden—whether spiritually, mentally, emotionally or otherwise—and be a sign that they need to lighten their load.

According to GlobeViews, sparrows mean different things depending on how they are encountered in a dream and what they are doing. For instance, seeing one in the sky may be a warning sign of annoying affairs that one must overcome in the near future. Catching a sparrow, on the other hand, may indicate an upcoming pregnancy.

According to WeKnowYourDreams, a sparrow encounter could be symbolic of joy and happiness in family matters. A baby sparrow might denote a newborn in the family. A whole flock of sparrows could indicate education and understanding.

Most sources agree that the meaning of a dream involving a sparrow likely varies depending on the context of the dream, what the sparrow is doing and how the dreamer interacts with it. Of course, no single system for interpreting dream symbols is considered to be superior to any other empirically, so your best bet may be to read what's out there, consider the context of your dream and go with your gut.

Fun Fact

While many animals reproduce annually, sparrows typically have several broods of young per year. Each brood contains an average of three to five eggs.

The house sparrow and tree sparrow can be observed in both urban and rural environments on most continents.

The house sparrow and tree sparrow can be observed in both urban and rural environments on most continents.

Sparrow Identification

In this section, we'll discuss the appearance and habits of two of the most common sparrow species: the house sparrow (Passer domesticus) and the tree sparrow (Passer montanus).

The House Sparrow: Passer domesticus

This is the most common species of sparrow. It is a sociable bird that favours areas of human habitation for nesting and roosting, often living in large flocks on rooftops in cities and in agricultural areas.

  • Size: Adults are typically around 14–15 cm in length.
  • Adult Male Appearance: The adult male has a grey crown, grey cheeks and a grey rump. The nape, sides of the crown, back and wings are chestnut brown, and the underparts are pale grey. It has a black throat and breast, a dark bill and reddish legs. In winter, the chestnut colour is less intense and the bill is paler.
  • Adult Female Appearance: The adult female has mainly brown upperparts, including the crown, and the back is streaked with buff. The underparts are pale grey, and it has a pale supercilium (stripe) behind the eye.
  • Juvenile Appearance: Juveniles are similar to adult females in appearance, but their plumage pattern is less distinct.
  • Nesting: The house sparrow prefers man-made nesting sites such as holes in walls and roof spaces. In the absence of a suitable wall or roof, it will make a large, untidy nest in a bush.
  • Diet: This species most often consumes seeds and small insects.
  • Status and Conservation: This species' population has declined as much as 50% over the last few decades, although there are still several million pairs breeding in Britain and Ireland.

The Tree Sparrow: Passer montanus

The tree sparrow is the more rural counterpart of the house sparrow. It likes untidy, arable farms, often takes advantage of frequent grain spills and can sometimes be observed feeding alongside house sparrows. Outside of breeding season, tree sparrows form large flocks and feed in fields alongside finches and buntings.

  • Adult Appearance: The adult bird has a chestnut cap and a striking black patch on its otherwise whitish cheeks and head. It has a black bib on its otherwise greyish-white underparts, and the back and wings are streaked brown with white wing bars. The sexes' appearances are similar.
  • Juvenile Appearance: Juvenile birds are similar, but their facial markings are darker and less distinct.
  • Nesting: This species often chooses holes in trees or buildings as preferred nesting sites.
  • Vocalizations: The tree sparrow utters the same familiar chirping of the house sparrow, but it also emits a sharp tik-tik while in flight.
  • Status and Conservation: The tree sparrow has suffered a catastrophic decline over recent decades, and its numbers have reduced by more than 90%. This is most likely due to changes to farming practices—most notably the autumn planting of cereal crops and the subsequent lack of winter stubble fields. Also, the increasing use of efficient herbicides means the absence of "weed seeds" in many areas. If you live in a rural area where you have seen tree sparrows, encourage them to nest by putting several nesting boxes in close proximity to each other in your garden.

Looking for More?

The following articles offer additional information about the symbolism and meaning of sparrows and other birds.

References

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

Comments

Barb on August 31, 2020:

What does it mean when a sparrow keeps landing on your head and playing with your hair. It was happily singing too. It then followed me as I was walking away. I was alone on a local bush track this afternoon when it happened. Such a feeling of peace and joy.

Ronnie on July 04, 2020:

Four months ago I noticed two sparrows sneaking under some looser shingles and into a small dead-space in the attic of my garage. They built a nest there and would come and go frequently. They seemed nice enough, and I wasn't at all concerned about our new living situation.

Eventually, they begat three of four babies. The little birdies grew up fast, their parents made sure of that, flying about the yard and journey just beyond it, hunting in a pure peck or snatch, returning with a bug or a seed to feed the newborns. And this they did ceaselessly and quietly during the day.

(What sparrows do at night is still a mystery to all but a few)

Soon, all around the air and across my window view, that family of sparrows grew and learned the world together (as well as a thing or two about one another). During heavy rain, they would take shelter. On hot summer afternoon in July, they'd dance almost dizzy and delighting in sheltering from the sun in the shades of tree to tree. I wondered at times how Dream's painter generated such beautiful shades of brown without spilling it all over the earth like Pollock slinging his colors from inwardness to canvas. And at times I realized how short the life of a sparrow is, but I did not lament this fact. Why? Because after a while the adult male sparrow would chirp at me whenever I would appear in its field of vision. He would chirp like the devil incarnate, and then he'd chirp some more.

I hate this sparrow. But I am learning to love.

In the future, please sends owls to stay the season.

All storks necks outstretch when clear gracing our eyes and the standing still sky––except Leptoptilos genus, those adjutant birds..

April Jablonski on June 15, 2020:

I have had the same 6 sparrows follow me for the last month . The day after the older man next door passed away that morning i had many more around then i have ever seen and they all were singing very loud telling me that he had passed and had begun his journey to the after life . The last few months all the animals have acted very strange around me . Like thwy are protecting me . It is very noticeable and happening with all kinds of different animals

Catrina Cunningham on May 14, 2020:

Today Thursday May 14th 2020 I'm sitting on my living room couch with my front door open and two sparrow birds first flew into my clothes then front porch then flew into my front door into my living room they didn't go no further than the living room one almost immediately Departed back outside the other appeared as if they were going to the park but maybe couldn't find their way immediately so they went forward the window and they were sitting over in the window for a few minutes behind the curtain I went to close my bedroom doors and bathroom I shook the curtain aim their the sparrow came out it was flying around the living room the thing on top of the tree in the living room then it went toward the other window and side on top of the curtain I kept trying to direct it to the door I turned the light on in the living room and it began flying around again but didn't seem to leave so I turned the light off again it went to the door and sat on top of the door post finally it flew around again and went out the door post it was inside my closed in porch for a while I opened the screen door hoping that it will depart but it crawled inside of the Rooftop the closed-in porch still not sure if it went out from the top or is it still there does it have any meaning not one but two sparrows flew into my home today I'm driving and praying to be positive about it yet honestly I really don't know what to think of it please help

ubeeka phillips on April 10, 2020:

a sparrow flew to the car i was sitting in and sat on the mirror part on the left side of door i was sitting exactly on that side of the door the bird looked calmed and relaxed no fear it was chirping abit what is that meaning symbolism

NICOLE PATTI on April 07, 2020:

YESTERDAY AND TODAY A BIRD FLEW INTO OUR KITCHEN!

oozlefinch on March 12, 2020:

Watched a sparrow a few years ago breaking up and eating dried up bit of Hamburger Bun watched another catching tiny insects on a car hood

Mar on November 15, 2019:

A sparrow come in my house and I let him out the door. whats is that meaning?

Amanda on October 30, 2019:

While doing work out of state in ND, a clay-colored sparrow came within a few feet of me and seemed very curious. It stayed with me for nearly 45 minutes while I was waiting on my co worker. I had been feeling anxious that day and while waiting I meditate for about 10 min. When I opened my eyes that sparrow was 2 feet in front of me just looking at me. That night I found out I was pregnant!

Bob on October 01, 2019:

I had a dream this morning,seating in a beautiful green park with flowers and a very warm day, I seating down on a bench ,and i was watching these birds,and a little sparrow came by my feet,and climb up my leg and made is way to up to my face,and I seen he had little insects in is mouth , and it made it way to my lips and feed me like a little bird what a warm felling. would like to know the meaning of this dream.

fredçick on September 14, 2019:

i had expriance 7 month past until now the sparrow flying ontop ofmy roof making noise and scrach the roof everday daytime what doesit mean.....?

Danielle Threewines on July 21, 2019:

I have three children and the day I brought them home from the hospital sparrows flew in immediately, and with my daughter (she’s also the youngest) they flew in before she was born and after she was born, but with all three of my children it happened. Coincidence or special good omen ? Idk weird

Marian E Walker on April 29, 2019:

I love my sparrows and their dear cousins, the Titmouse! I have many many come to my backyard every year, except this year? Ive put out more birdhouses(5) and more feed! I usually enjoy their, "Beep beep beeps!" And echo it back to them!

Marls on November 17, 2018:

Iwalked out the back door (and left it open) to put something into garage 30 sec, when i walked out of garage a sparrow was sitting on the top step. I took a step towards it and it flew into house! I went into house to close door to bedroom. It flew around until it found the open door it came in.

joanne on October 20, 2018:

I would like to know the meaning of 3 eurasian tree sparrow siiting on my finger ?

Jackie Roy on September 26, 2018:

I’m sitting on my couch in front of the window watching about 1hundred of sparrows flying around for bugs. I haven’t seen alot like this in a long time. Beautiful

Brendan on August 02, 2018:

So i was just sitting on the deck and had a 1 eyed sparrow land on the rail. Does anyone have an idea if there is anything about 1 eyed sparrows?

Amanda Stewart on July 21, 2018:

How do I get help saving a tree that they nest in.... and council my want to,cut down.

pradip vasant deshpande on July 17, 2018:

very useful article .nearly 70 to 80 sparrow come to my home in the morning daily.i give them food grain .they like biskts .i feel good while watching them and get relax

Teresa on June 15, 2018:

I have a sparroi that keeps flying into and scratches at my bathroom window. Then goes to my front living room window and does the same thing. What could it mean?

Dan on June 06, 2018:

I a sparrow falling from the sky, it was dead, through the window, if felt omen. I feel that someone close to me will be taken. I hope there is another interpretation.

Baltisraul on May 29, 2018:

In the South, grilled corn off the cob in an Iron Skillet is called The Sparrows Home. Anybody know why?

Anna on April 19, 2018:

earlier today we had 6 sparrows fly into our home , what would the meaning of this be?

Dustin on April 13, 2018:

To Erica, the bird being found dead in your garage is a spiritual thing that you should look into. Every other month c'mon girl, check it out

Aman saino on March 13, 2018:

A sparrow is building nest in my house ....is it a good sign or bad sign

Erica LSP on February 17, 2018:

So it seems every other month or so a sparrow is found lying dead in my 3 car garage ( more like two and a half ) but i always make a proper burial for them. yet i have no clue where there are coming from. I looked for how and where they are coming from and can't find a nest..... also birds on more frequent occasion mash int my windshield. i don't know what kind of bird that smallest my car while driving. but yeah... PLEASE HELP! I NEED ANSWERS. thanks xo

Whovian Prince on September 01, 2017:

I recently watched The Dark Half again as I am writing a novel and wondered if you knew anything about something they mention in the film. Sparrows are known to catch souls that were never meant to be and take them to the after-life. Is this familiar to you?

Kamalesh Chakraverty from Sahaganj, Dist. Hooghly, West Bengal, India on May 16, 2015:

Beautiful and also very Interesting. Have a good day!

LaDawn Potter on April 23, 2015:

I believe in the tale of the sparrow. One flew Ibrought my dad's house the morning he died. He went to sleep on the couch and me and my brother found him dead. I have a sparrow tattoo now.

Jennifer Stone (author) from the Riverbank, England on July 25, 2012:

Thank you Michael, I'm glad you enjoyed it! All the best from the riverbank, Jen

Michael Fielder from North Central West Virginia, where the green grass grows... on July 24, 2012:

Jen,

Your enjoyment and love of sparrows is not the only thing made "obvious" with this, as well is your love of writing made obvious! The details, pictures, knowledge and joie de vie in this essay pulled me into my own state of joie! (but I am a total animal lover, so I am easy!!)

Thank you,

Jennifer Stone (author) from the Riverbank, England on July 18, 2012:

They are the scientific names of the breed, for the bird geeks it separates the different species of birds into different groups or "families". In this instance sparrows are passerine birds, "Passeridae", then each sub species has it's own name under that title eg Passer montanus and Passer domesticus. All birds in one category will have similar characteristics, interestingly passerine birds are perching song birds of the order Passeriformes, which took their name from the house sparrow (Passer domesticus)!

Now you know the secret geek in me! lol :-) Thanks for your feedback Josh, Have a great day!

Joshua Zerbini from Pennsylvania on July 17, 2012:

Jen,

Beautiful photos and informative hub! What are those words you put in after each bird mean? Example : :Passer montanus" I am just curious. :)

P.S. I can tell you love sparrows, you have recently published two of them. :)

Jennifer Stone (author) from the Riverbank, England on July 17, 2012:

Thank you spy, I didn't know that... I might see if I can incorporate it into my hub somewhere... I've always loved sparrows, and it's amazing how much there is to still learn about them! Thanks for your feedback, Jen

Life Under Construction from Neverland on July 17, 2012:

We call the tree sparrow, Maya and this is our national bird. Very informative hub about these fantastic bird.

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