The Nature of Birds: A Short Study of Birds in the Bible

small yellow bird sitting on a limb

Have you ever noticed that there are several references to birds in the Bible? Have you ever wondered why birds are mentioned or if they have any significant meaning? Are birds bad in the Bible?

If you have wanted to know the answer to any of those questions (or even if you haven’t), I hope you’ll stick with me as we explore this interesting topic.

Which birds are mentioned in the Bible?

There are several references to birds in the Bible. Many of them are general references such as in the book of Genesis where they are mentioned in the Creation story.

Genesis 1:20 NKJV — Then God said, “Let the waters abound with an abundance of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the face of the firmament of the heavens.”

Genesis 1:26 NKJV — Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”

Genesis 2:20 NKJV — So Adam gave names to all cattle, to the birds of the air, and to every beast of the field. But for Adam there was not found a helper comparable to him.

But there are some specific birds mentioned in the Bible as well:

  • Doves
  • Ravens
  • Hawks
  • Eagles
  • Vultures
  • Buzzards
  • Kites
  • Falcons
  • Ostriches
  • Owls 
  • Sea gulls
  • Jackdaws 
  • Storks
  • Pelicans
  • Herons, and
  • Hoopoes

Whew! That’s a long list and it’s not even complete. But why are there so many birds in the Bible? Are they just birds or do they have a symbolic meaning?

What do birds symbolize biblically?

Sometimes birds in the Bible are just that, birds. They have no significant meaning; occasionally they are used as a literary device as in the example below:

I am like a pelican of the wilderness;
I am like an owl of the desert. I lie awake, And am like a sparrow alone on the housetop. Psalm 102:6-7 NKJV

The Nature of Birds: A Short Study of Birds in the Bible
Image courtesy of Canva.com

Obviously, the psalmist is not claiming to be an actual bird. Rather, he’s using the imagery of these three birds out of their natural habitat to show how desolate and isolated he feels.

Yet there are times when the Bible uses birds to represent something specific.

Here are some of the more common examples:

  • Doves symbolize the Holy Spirit. In Matthew 3:16, when Jesus was baptized by John, the Holy Spirit descended on Him like a dove. See also, Luke 3:22.
  • Eagles symbolize protection and defense. In Deuteronomy 32:11-12, God refers to Himself as an eagle who swept in and carried Israel to safety.
  • The hen was used in Matthew 23:37 to represent a protector. Jesus stated that He wanted to gather Jerusalem under His wings like a chicken gathers her chicks, but she was unwilling. See also, Luke 13:34.
  • Vultures are to symbolize birds of prey. In Jeremiah 12:9, the prophet uses the imagery of vultures surrounding another bird with the intent to devour it to represent how the other nations surrounded Israel.

When you see a reference to birds in the Bible, take a moment to decide if it’s being used symbolically, literally, or as a literary device. You may learn something new.

What are the unclean birds in the Bible?

Leviticus 11:13-18 includes a list of birds that were considered unclean:

“But these you shall not eat: the eagle, the vulture, the buzzard, the red kite, the falcon, and the kite after their kinds; every raven after its kind; the ostrich, the short-eared owl, the sea gull, and the hawk after their kinds; the little owl, the screech owl, the white owl, the jackdaw, the carrion vulture, the fisher owl, the stork, the heron after its kind, and the hoopoe and the bat” (NKJV).

As a note, the bat is not actually a bird but was included in that biblical list as it was a flying animal.

When birds in the Bible are considered unclean they are usually birds of prey or carnivorous creatures. God did not want His people to ingest those animals that could possibly have had a negative effect on their health.

The Nature of Small Birds Review

The Nature of Small Birds is the story of Minh, a Vietnamese-born child who was adopted by an American family shortly after the end of the Vietnam War.

The story is told from the perspective of three different members of the family and in three different timelines.

As an adult, Mihn (called Mindy by her family) gets an opportunity to find her birth family. This decision creates a bit of tension in her family and some anxiety in Mindy.

I was so looking forward to this book. This is the third book I’ve read by Susie Finkbeiner and I usually enjoy them. Her characters seem like real people and the stories seem like they could be about the person next door which makes them relatable. But I couldn’t get into this one.

Maybe it was the storytelling method employed in The Nature of Small Birds, but I couldn’t connect with the characters. They felt flat and one-dimensional. Even Mihn’s story which had so much potential didn’t reach me. There seemed to be a lot of backstory which I was looking forward to hearing some of, but we never learned why she acted the way she did, not really.

I felt as if too much time was spent building up to a climax that never happened. Do I still love Susie Finkbeiner’s writing? Yes. But The Nature of Small Birds didn’t cut it for me. I received an advanced reader’s copy from the publishers through Revell Reads and NetGalley; a positive review was not required.

The Nature of Small Birds Susie Finkbeiner

About The Nature of Small Birds

In 1975, three thousand children were airlifted out of Saigon to be adopted into Western homes. When one of those children announces her plans to return to Vietnam to find her birth mother, her loving adopted family is suddenly thrown back to the events surrounding her unconventional arrival in their lives.

Mindy’s father grapples with the tension between holding on tightly and letting his daughter spread her wings. Her mother undergoes the emotional roller coaster inherent in the adoption of a child from a war-torn country, discovering the joy hidden amid the difficulties. And Mindy and her sister struggle to find the strength to accept each other as they both discover who they truly are.

Told through three distinct voices in three compelling timelines, The Nature of Small Birds is a hopeful story that explores the meaning of family far beyond genetic code.

Purchase The Nature of Small Birds on Baker Books | Amazon

About Susie Finkbeiner

Susie Finkbeiner

Susie Finkbeiner is the CBA bestselling author of All Manner of Things, which was selected as a 2020 Michigan Notable Book, and Stories That Bind Us, as well as A Cup of DustA Trail of Crumbs, and A Song of Home.

She serves on the Fiction Readers Summit planning committee, volunteers her time at Ada Bible Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and speaks at retreats and women’s events across the country. Susie and her husband have three children and live in West Michigan.

The Nature of Birds

In The Nature of Small Birds, these two quotes from Susie Finkbeiner made me pause.

“Turns out that the nature of small birds is to fly. It’s no different for our kids. And, whether I’m always aware of it or not, it’s the nature of God to see every dip and dive and lift, to glory at the triumphs and grieve when they fall.”

“It’s the nature of small birds to sing their little hearts out. And it’s the nature of God to hear them.”

Now I want you to think about that for a second. God gives the birds free rein to be themselves. They can soar (or not). They can sing or not. But in spite of their actions, His character is revealed.

God gives us the same freedom and more. And He reveals Himself to us in many ways, all we have to do is choose to open our eyes to see Him.

One of my favorite passages about birds in the Bible is found in Matthew 6 and reminds us of the nature of God.

Look at the birds. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for your heavenly Father feeds them. And aren’t you far more valuable to him than they are? Matthew 6:26 NKJV

Whenever I see a bird, I am reminded of how much my Heavenly Father cares for me. The nature of birds may be to sing and fly, but they should also remind us how much God cares for us.

I hope that from now on whenever you see a reference to birds in the Bible or anywhere else, they should remind you of how much God cares for you.

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