Bird Vocabulary

Bird Vocabulary

A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.

An English proverb

“Everyone likes birds. What wild creature is more accessible to our eyes and ears, as close to us and everyone in the world, as universal as a bird?” These words of English broadcaster and natural historian David Attenborough resonate within me, and I hope you can also associate yourself with them. If you can, you’ll particularly enjoy this post. Let’s expand our bird vocabulary with idioms, proverbs and more…


Screen Shot 2019-09-11 at 9.36.01
Credit: “The New Oxford Picture Dictionary” by E.C. Parnwell
  1. pigeon (a – wing) (a dove is a bird that looks like a pigeon but is smaller and lighter in color; doves are often used as a symbol of peace)
  2. hummingbird
  3. crow (a – beak) /krəʊ/
  4. sea gull
  5. eagle
  6. owl /aʊl/
  7. hawk /hɔːk(a – feather)
  8. blue jay
  9. robin
  10. sparrow
  11. cardinal
  12. ostrich
  13. egg
  14. canary
  15. parakeet /ˈpærəkiːt/ (a type of small parrot which is brightly colored and has a long tail; a budgie /ˈbʌdʒi/ is a very common type of parakeet, which is often kept as a pet)
  16. parrot
  17. woodpecker
  18. peacock
  19. pheasant /ˈfez(ə)nt/
  20. turkey
  21. rooster (= cock (British English))
  22. chick
  23. chicken (a bird kept for its eggs and meat; the female chicken is called a hen and the male is called a cock/rooster; a baby chicken is called a chick)
  24. pelican (a – bill)
  25. duck
  26. goose (plural: geese)
  27. penguin
  28. swan /swɒn/
  29. flamingo
  30. stork
  31. nest
  32. roadrunner


  • early bird – someone who gets up early in the morning: I’ve never been an early bird.
  • the early bird catches the worm – used for saying that if you arrive somewhere or do something before other people, you will have more chance of succeeding: We must carry out this innovative project because the early bird catches the worm. 
  • rare bird – an unusual, uncommon, or exceptional person or thing: This candidate is a rare bird and we must hire him.
  • the birds and the bees (humorous) – the facts about sex and sexual reproduction, as told to a child: At the age of 16, I remember having yet another discussion about the birds and the bees with my father. (Related: “Euphemisms“)
  • birds of a feather – two or more people who are very similar in many ways: Birds of a feather flock together.
  • to kill two birds with one stone – to achieve two things, both at the same time: I thought I’d kill two birds with one stone… you know, get a boyfriend and a roommate.
  • to get the bird (British English) – to be booed or jeered at: He is a great comedian, but early in his career he sometimes got the bird.
  • to give sb. the bird (British English) – to loudly shout at, laugh at, or boo someone (such as a performer) in order to show disapproval: When the audience gave him the bird, he nearly quit.
  • a bird in the hand – something definite or certain: This is not my dream job but it’s a bird in the hand. 
  • a little bird told me – used for saying that you are not going to say who told you something: A little bird told me that you had bought a house. 
  • to put/set the cat among the pigeons – to cause trouble by doing or saying something: That set the cat amongst the pigeons, because the report’s not ready, but I’ve given a specific date.
  • as the crow flies – in a straight line: The hotel is located close to the station (just 0.4 km as the crow flies).
  • to eat crow – to admit that you were wrong about something: Hold a press conference, eat crow, and move on.
  • to keep an eagle eye on sb./sth. – to watch a person or thing very carefully: Don’t get too comfortable. I’ll keep an eagle eye on you. If you talk about a person’s eagle eye, you mean that they are watching someone or something carefully or are very good at noticing things: It’s hard to work under the eagle eye of our boss. An eagle-eyed person can see or notice things that are very difficult to see: She’s like an eagle-eyed tiger.
  • to watch sb. like a hawk – to watch someone very carefully, especially in order to make sure that they do not do something bad: I can’t work if you are watching me like a hawk!
  • night owl – someone who enjoys going out at night or does not go to bed until it is late: I go to bed at around 1 a.m., so yes, I’m a night owl.
  • as sick as a parrot (British English, very informal) – very unhappy or disappointed about something that has happened (Related: “Similes“): The team leader told him off and now he’s as sick as a parrot.
  • to talk turkey – to discuss something seriously: If you want to sit down to talk turkey, give me a call.
  • cock of the walk/rock/roost – a man who thinks he is stronger, cleverer, or more successful than the rest of his group: He looks funny because he’s nothing but a cock of the rock.
  • don’t count your chickens (before they are hatched) – said to mean that you shouldn’t make plans for the future because you don’t know for certain how a particular situation will develop: When dealing with important financial arrangements, it is imperative that you do not count your chickens before they are hatched.
  • to take to something like a duck to water – to learn a new activity very easily, as if you have been doing it for a very long time: He has taken to office life like a duck to water.
  • wild goose chaise – an absurd or hopeless pursuit, as of something unattainable: We are on a wild goose chaise, which we must stop. 
  • to cook one’s goose – to spoil one’s plans: I was planning a great weekend in the countryside, but my cousin decided to visit me so unexpectedly. He cooked my goose!
  • the goose that lays the golden eggs – a person or thing that provides money: He’s the goose that lays the golden eggs, and if you fire him, we’ll be in trouble. So, don’t kill the goose that lays the golden eggs.
  • Swan song – the last performance, speech, or piece of work in the career of a well-known person: This job is my swan song, my masterpiece.

We’d like to finish the article with a beautiful poem by Emily Dickinson. The poet compares hope to a bird in a truly unique way, as “the thing with feathers” refers to nothing but hope. Enjoy and don’t lose the thing with feathers!

Hope is the thing with feathers

That perches in the soul,

And sings the tune without the words

And never stops at all.


And sweetest in the gale is heard,

And sore must be the storm

That could abash the little Bird

That keeps so many warm.


I’ve heard it in the chillest land

And on the strangest sea,

Yet never in extremity

It asked a crumb of me.

“Hope is the thing with feathers…”

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