From death and good crop to weather patterns and political futures, birds have been used to foretell everything.
Pixel-mixer/Pixabay [Licensed under CC0]
Yesterday · 08:30 pm
People around the world and throughout history have used birds to think about and predict the future. In Wales, the call of an early-arriving cuckoo in the spring foretells a good crop of hay later in the year. For Aymara speakers in the South American Andes, seeing a yellow-headed vulture is good luck, while spotting a black vulture is bad. In the Kalahari, southern Africa, !Xõ hunters carefully watch the black-faced babblers after an antelope hunt for signs of where their wounded prey may be.
Of all the ecological knowledge people around the world use in their day-to-day lives, an awareness of birds and bird behaviour is among the most ubiquitous.
Karen Park and I explored this phenomenon in our research, Listen Carefully to the Birds. Comparing reports from six continents, we found that people from diverse communities pay attention to particular birds and what they reveal about the world around us, from approaching weather to illness, mortality and the supernatural.
We looked at more than 500 accounts, in 123 languages, of how birds are “read” in this way. Perhaps unsurprisingly, owls were the most commonly cited bird as signs or omens, and were usually related to death, ghosts and fear, but occasionally to something more positive, such as the beginning of summer.