Here at the Kellogg Bird Sanctuary, we get visitors from all over the world. It’s amazing to listen to everyone’s stories and hear what the birds mean to that person. Birds are not only important parts of our ecosystems, but our cultures as well. So, let’s take a minute to explore some of the stories and myths that involve our Sanctuary birds!
The Bald Eagle is an awe-inspiring bird. It’s really no wonder looking at them why our country’s forefathers would pick it as our national symbol. Eagles have likely been the inspiration for many legendary birds. Many cultures featured stories about giant birds with amazing strength. Some great examples are the Roc that would carry away elephants, the Native American thunderbirds that could cause lightening, and the Chinese Peng who transformed from an equally giant fish.
A roc carrying away an elephant (Source: Wikimedia Commons-Edward Julius Detmold)
And what about our nocturnal birds of prey? Well, owls come with a mixed reputation. In Mesoamerica, many of the indigenous people considered the owls as symbols of death, sorcery, and other less than pleasant aspects. Owls are also an ill omen in Arab mythology. However, not is all doom and gloom for our owl friends. Owls can be associated with wisdom, thanks in part to their relationship with Athena, the Greek goddess of wisdom.
The swans here at the Kellogg Bird Sanctuary and all over the world are often held as symbols of grace and beauty. In Norse mythology, two swans drank from a sacred well in Asgard, home of the gods. The water was so pure that it turned the swans white and all of their offspring after. Swans are also closely tied to love, due to their monogamous pairing. It’s not a stretch to imagine Tchaikovsky drew a lot of inspiration when making his ballet Swan Lake from the behaviors of wild swans.
What of other birds found here at the Sanctuary? Hummingbirds, full of vigor and with a propensity for aggression, were believed to be the reincarnated souls of warriors to the Aztec people. Swallows were a good omen for sailors, likely letting them know the shore was nearby. Our symbol of spring, the American Robin, earned its red breast from being scorched after fanning a fire to save a man and a boy according to Native American legend. The clever Crow is a trickster hero in Aboriginal Australian lore, in one tale bringing fire to humans.
The Aztec war god, Huitzilopochtli, was heavily associated with hummingbirds. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)
While this gives you only the briefest glimpses into the legends and other stories surrounding birds, I you have learned a little about the significance birds have to everyone around the world. If nothing else, hopefully you will be able to view the Sanctuary birds with a new perspective the next time you visit!
Some Birds of Prey in Folklore
Poetry by W.B. Yeats on Swans
Birds in Native American Lore