Aleteia logoAleteia logo
Sunday 11 April |
Saint of the Day: St. Stanislaus of Krakow
home iconSpirituality
line break icon

5 Birds and their symbolism in Christian art



Philip Kosloski - published on 09/11/17

Birds frequently show up in pieces of art and there's a reason for that.

While many are familiar with the symbolism of the dove, peacock, eagle or pelican in Christian art, fewer are aware of the symbolism behind some of the more common birds in religious paintings.

Here are five examples of birds that we more readily see in nature, which also have deep spiritual symbolism.



Not surprisingly, the blackbird (similar to the black cat) was closely associated with darkness and sins of the flesh. The blackbird is often depicted in scenes with St. Benedict, who daily struggled with temptations of the flesh. There is one story that describes how St. Benedict saw the devil appear to him in the form of a blackbird. He recognized the satanic presence, dismissed it with the sign of the cross and it flew away.

Read more:
Bird-Watching and the Breathtaking Personalism of God



Cranes were known for their order, loyalty and vigilance. They were a symbol of good monastic order. St. Anthony of Padua said about cranes, “Let us, therefore, be merciful as the cranes; that, placing ourselves on a lofty watch-tower in this life, we may look out both for ourselves and for others, may lead those that are ignorant of the way, and may chastise the slothful and negligent by our exhortations.”



On the one hand wild falcons were used to symbolize the flying of evil thoughts, while the domesticated falcon was seen as representative of a pagan converted to Christianity.



The goldfinch is known for eating thistles and thorns, which in Christian imagery almost always refers to Jesus’ crown of thorns. For this reason the child Jesus is sometimes depicted in art holding a goldfinch, foreshadowing his Passion and death on the cross.



Another bird associated with darkness, the owl’s nocturnal habits made it a symbol of evil or Satan. However, the owl has also been a constant symbol for wisdom and solitude, which is why it was also used in depictions of certain wise saints. Owls can also be seen at crucifixion scenes, referring to how Christ came to give light to those who live in darkness.

Support Aleteia!

If you’re reading this article, it’s thanks to the generosity of people like you, who have made Aleteia possible.

Here are some numbers:

  • 20 million users around the world read every month
  • Aleteia is published every day in seven languages: English, French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Polish, and Slovenian
  • Each month, readers view more than 50 million pages
  • Nearly 4 million people follow Aleteia on social media
  • Each month, we publish 2,450 articles and around 40 videos
  • We have 60 full time staff and approximately 400 collaborators (writers, translators, photographers, etc.)

As you can imagine, these numbers represent a lot of work. We need you.

Support Aleteia with as little as $1. It only takes a minute. Thank you!

Daily prayer
And today we celebrate...

Top 10
See More
Get Aleteia delivered to your inbox. Subscribe here.