14 Death Birds: From Harbingers to Messages From Loved Ones

There's a lot of superstition surrounding birds. These 14 birds are all associated with death in one way or another.

Updated June 4, 2024
raven on tree branch

For as long as we have co-inhabited Planet Earth with birds, humanity has imbued these flying creatures with symbolism. From ancient cultures to present day, some birds' symbolic reputations fly with them. Some are symbols of death, while others could bring hopeful messages that a dead loved one is visiting. Discover which birds symbolize death and which are believed to bring messages from those who have died. 

12 Birds That Symbolize Death

Of all the birds associated with death, black-colored birds bear the brunt. In the Western world, black is often considered insidious because it's a color used in funerals and to designate mourning.


European blackbird Turdus merula on gravestone

In folklore and mythology, the blackbird was believed to be a messenger sent by a witch or demon. The appearance of a blackbird, especially one that cawed at you, was taken as an omen of death.


Raven in a cemetery

If you had any doubt about the raven being a symbol of death, just read Edgar Allen Poe's poem, "The Raven." In Poe's poem of grieving for the lost lover, Lenore, the raven tortures the man in the poem with the promise that the grief will never leave him — nevermore. Poe's wife Virginia was dying of tuberculosis, and he'd lost family to the savage disease, including his mother and foster mother. The Raven is a death symbol that Poe cannot escape.

In the Bible, the raven is an omen of lost souls and a living symbol of death. The black color is assigned to grief, sorrow, and funerals, so it's easy to understand how any kind of black bird might be seen as a bad omen associated with death.

On battlefields, ravens are often seen as symbols of death, too.


Crows Perching On Tombstone In Cemetery

In ancient times, a crow was considered a death omen. The crow is also associated with the occult.

Some Native Americans have long believed that crows are symbols of death. However, Native American folklore refers to the crow as a trickster; they are seen as messengers who can bridge this world and the next.

In ancient Rome, the gods and goddesses were shapeshifters and often took the form of a crow. The crow was associated with negative events, especially as the forebearer of death. In addition, Romans used various animals to make predictions, and the crow was an omen of murder. It's no wonder a group of crows is called a murder of crows. 


Buzzard Perching On Tree Against Clear Sky

In Native American folklore, the buzzard is a nasty fellow. The buzzard is viewed as an unclean creature since it feeds on corpses. It is also considered the harbinger of death. Some believe that when a buzzard circles overhead, it's a sure sign of impending death.


The Enigmatic Caladrius An Hyperrealistic Encounter with Mythological White Bird in a Blue Abyss

Roman mythology sets the Caladrius as either a healer or a predictor of death. This white bird played an integral part in the lives of ancient Romans. It was a lucrative commodity for merchants.

Romans believed the Caladrius could extract disease and illness from people by touching its beak to the lips of the infirm. If the Caladrius turned away from the person and refused to cure them, it was a sign that the person was doomed to die.


Singing nightingale in dark forest

The nightingale has been used for centuries in literature as a sign of hope and a sign of death. Because nightingales sing in the spring, it's a sign of new beginnings and renewal. Because they sing at night, there's also a darker portrayal of the nightingale in literature as a symbol of something dark, scary, or unknown up to and including death. For example, in the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale, "The Nightingale," the emperor rebuked the nightingale's melodic song for a mechanical bird's chirping. When the emperor falls ill, it is the real nightingale's singing that chases away death.


Owl sitting on a branch

Many cultures view the owl as an omen of death. In Native American mythology, the owl is an ominous presence with many tales about its appearance. The owl's nightly hoot is considered a warning cry of doom and death. In fact, both Aztec and Mayan folklore portrayed the owl as a companion/messenger of the gods of death.



We all know roosters crow to greet the sun, but what about at other times? According to superstition, it's said that when you hear a rooster crow at midnight, an unexpected death is coming soon. And if a rooster fails to crow at daybreak, a death could be coming.

Southern Ground Hornbill

close up photo of a southern ground hornbill

This African bird is the subject of superstition in Africa. It's said they are bad omens — if you spot a group with an odd number of hornbills, someone will die soon.


Curious eurasian tree sparrow

Folklore from Europe suggested that sparrows were harbingers of death. There are various superstitions surrounding this, such as a sparrow flying into a window and dying suggests someone in that home will die. Another superstition from Ancient Egypt suggests sparrows carry the souls of people who have died. 

Black Swan

Black and white sawns

Some cultures associate the elegant and graceful black swan with death. Because they're the opposite of white swans, black swans represent the opposite. White swans represent life. So, naturally, a black swan must represent death.

Fast Fact

A "black swan event" is an unpredictable event with severe consequences. For example, the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the US was a black swan event. 


Lappet-faced vulture

The vulture is nature's recycler of dead creatures. The vulture hovers or perches over the dying waiting for death so it can feast on the deceased animal's carcass. It's no wonder that many world cultures view the appearance of a vulture as an omen of impending death — it usually is.

Birds That Symbolize a Dead Loved One Is Visiting

Some birds symbolize the death of a loved one but in a comforting way.


Northern cardinal

Many people believe that when they're visited by a cardinal, it's a loved one who has died stopping by to say hi.


Wild hummingbird

Hummingbirds are similar to cardinals in symbolism. Hummingbirds that visit frequently are often seen as the spirits of loved ones stopping by. 

Birds of Death

Perhaps because they can fly and we can't, humans have a ton of myths and symbolism surrounding birds. Some of these include symbolizing death, with beliefs coming from different cultures and eras. And while these birds may symbolize death, they also symbolize the beauty of nature, and that's something we can all get behind. 

14 Death Birds: From Harbingers to Messages From Loved Ones