Birds are warm-blooded feathered vertebrates and are oviparous, that is, egg-laying. There are some three hundred references to birds in the Bible, with about thirty different varieties being specifically named. Reference is made to their flight, often in escaping their enemies (Ps. 11:1; Prov. 26:2; 27:8; Isa. 31:5; Hos. 9:11); their roosting in trees (Ps. 104:12; Matt. 13:32); nesting (Ps. 84:3; Ezek. 31:6); their uses, particularly male pigeons and turtledoves, in sacrifice (Lev. 1:14; 14:4-7, 49-53), as food (Neh. 5:18), including their eggs (Isa. 10:14; Luke 11:11, 12); and God’s provision and care for them.—Matt. 6:26; 10:29; compare Deuteronomy 22:6, 7.
Of the general terms used in the Bible that apply to birds, the Hebrew word ʽohph is the most frequent. Basically it means any winged flying creature (Gen. 1:21), and thus may include not only birds but also winged insects. (Compare Leviticus 11:13, 21-23.) G. Driver suggests that ʽohph is onomatopoeic, imitating the sound made by the bird’s wings as they beat the air.
The Hebrew tsip·pohrʹ also occurs in a large number of texts and is a generic term applying to birds in general. (Gen. 7:14) Tsip·pohrʹ literally means “twitterer” or “chiper” and hence the name imitates the “tsip” sound so characteristic of many small birds, especially the sparrow.
A third Hebrew term, ʽaʹyit, is applied solely to the birds of prey. ʽAʹyit is understood to mean “the screamer” (compare the use of the verb at 1 Samuel 25:14), and fittingly described many of the carnivorous birds with their piercing shrieks.—Jer. 12:9.
Two general terms are found in the Greek Scriptures: orʹne·on, meaning simply “a bird” (Rev. 18:2), and pte·nosʹ, meaning “flier.”—1 Cor. 15:39.
At Acts 17:18 Athenian philosophers referred to the apostle Paul as a “chatterer.” The Greek word here (sper·mo·loʹgos) literally means a crow that picks up seeds, while figuratively it was used of a person who picks up scraps by begging or stealing, or, as in the case cited, one who repeats scraps of knowledge; an idle babbler.
Birds were among the earliest conscious living things on earth, coming into existence on the fifth creative “day” along with the marine creatures. (Gen. 1:20-23) The “flying creatures” then created included not only small birds but also very large flying creatures, and also many insect forms of life.
A thoughtful study of birds gives convincing proof of the Biblical teaching that they are of divine creation. The theory advanced by evolutionists that birds evolved from reptiles is clearly fictional and could be given credence only by the most imaginative of minds. While birds and reptiles are both oviparous, reptiles are cold-blooded, often sluggish, whereas birds are warm-blooded and among the most active of all earth’s creatures, with an unusually rapid heartbeat. The evolutionary view that reptilian scales and fins eventually developed into feathered wings (as a result of air pressure against the scales caused by billions of years of leaping and hopping by certain reptiles) is both fanciful and foundationless. The fossils of birds called by scientists Archaeopteryx (or, ancient one with wings) and Archaeornis (or, ancient bird), though showing teeth and a long vertebrated tail, also show that they were completely feathered, had feet equipped for perching, and had fully developed wings. Thus, no “intermediate” specimens, exhibiting scales developing into feathers or front legs into wings, exist to give any semblance of support to the evolution theory. As expressed by the apostle Paul, birds are of a distinct “flesh” from others of earth’s creatures.—1 Cor. 15:39.
The psalmist called upon the “winged birds” to praise Jehovah (Ps. 148:1, 10), and birds do this by their very structure and their complex design. A single bird may have as many as 2,000 to over 6,000 feathers. Yet each feather is composed of a shaft from which branch out hundreds of barbs forming an inner web, each barb containing several hundred pairs of smaller barbules and each barbule having still more minute divisions known as barbicels. A single six-inch wing feather of a pigeon is thus estimated to contain some 990,000 barbules and literally millions of barbicels. The aerodynamic principles built into birds’ wings and body design surpass in complexity and efficiency that of modern-day aircraft. A bird’s hollow bones contribute to its lightness and thus the skeleton of a frigate bird with a seven-foot (2.1-meter) wingspan may weigh only four ounces (114.4 grams). Certain wing bones of large soaring birds even have trusslike supports within the hollow portions like the struts inside airplane wings
At the time of the flood, Noah introduced into the ark for preservation pairs of birds “according to their kinds.” (Gen. 6:7, 20; 7:3, 23) There is no certain way of knowing how many different “kinds” of birds then existed, some types of birds having become extinct even in recent times. However, it is of interest to note that the listing of birds according to present-day scientific classification presented in The Encyclopœdia Britannica (1959 ed., Vol. 16, pp. 930-932) gives a total of only 204 bird “families,” including some that are now extinct or known only in fossil form. There are, of course, thousands of varieties included within these “families.”—See ARK No. 1.
Following the global flood Noah offered up “clean flying creatures” along with animals as a sacrifice. (Gen. 8:18-20) Birds were thereafter made allowable by God for inclusion in man’s diet, as long as the blood was not eaten. (Gen. 9:1-4; compare Leviticus 7:26; 17:13.) The ‘cleanness’ of certain birds at that time therefore evidently relates to some divine indication of acceptableness for sacrifice; the Biblical record shows that, as regards their being used as food, none of the birds were designated as “unclean” until the introduction of the Mosaic law. (Lev 11:13-19, 46, 47; 20:25; Deut. 14:11-20) The factors determining which birds were designated ceremonially “unclean” are not expressly stated in the Bible. Thus, while most of those so designated were birds of prey or scavengers, not all of them were. (See HOOPOE.) This prohibition was lifted following the establishment of the new covenant, as God made evident to Peter by a vision.—Acts 10:9-15.
The identification of the birds specifically named presents a difficult problem in some cases. Lexicographers generally are guided by the root meaning of the name, since this is usually descriptive, by indications in the context as to the bird’s habits and habitat, and by observation of the birds known to be found in the Bible lands. In many cases the names are believed to be onomatopoeic, that is, imitating the sound produced by the bird. As in English, words such as “hoot,” “quack,” “cluck,” “caw-caw” are quickly associated with owls, ducks, chickens and crows, so likewise onomatopoeic names given to certain birds in the Hebrew text aid in identifying them.—See CUCKOO; EAGLE; SWIFT; TURTLEDOVE.
The variegated topography of Palestine, ranging from cool mountain peaks to deep sweltering valleys, from arid deserts to maritime plains, all hugged together on the SE corner of the Mediterranean Sea, make it a focal point for a great variety of bird types. Mount Hermon, in the N, is perpetually snowcapped, while just 120 miles (193 kilometers) to the S along the lower Jordan valley and near the Dead Sea is a hot tropical region. Each of these zones contains birds peculiar to its own environment, either alpine or tropical, as do also the temperate zones and the desert regions. (Ps. 102:6; 104:16, 17) Additionally, Palestine is on one of the major migrational routes followed annually by birds (storks, turtledoves, quails, swifts, swallows, bulbuls, cuckoos and others) traveling N from Africa in the spring or S from Europe and Asia in the fall. (Song of Sol. 2:11, 12; Jer. 8:7) Thus it is estimated that nearly four hundred varieties of birds may be found in Palestine at some time during the course of a year. In view of the deterioration of Palestinian forests and vegetation over the centuries, it is likely that in Biblical times the bird population was even greater.
Particularly notable are the great numbers of birds of prey (Heb., ʽaʹyit) found in Palestine, including eagles, hawks, falcons, kites and vultures. Back in Abraham’s time, birds of prey tried to descend upon Abraham’s sacrifice of certain animals and birds, obliging him to drive them off until the sun began to set. (Gen. 15:9-12; compare 2 Samuel 21:10.) In their search for food these birds rely on their powerful telescopic sight, rather than on their relatively weak sense of smell.
The well-known sight of a cluster of scavenger birds gathered around a carcass often served as the basis for an ominous warning to an enemy, as in the case of David and Goliath (1 Sam. 17:44, 46), and repeatedly formed part of divinely inspired prophetic warnings to the nation of Israel and its rulers (Deut. 28:26; 1 Ki. 14:11; 21:24; Jer. 7:33; 15:3), as well as to foreign nations. (Isa. 18:1, 6; Ezek. 29:5; 32:4) Thus, the one used by Jehovah to execute judgment was figuratively represented by a “bird of prey.” (Isa. 46:11) Desolation of a city or land was depicted by its becoming the habitat of certain birds of solitary nature. (Isa. 13:19-21; compare Revelation 18:2), or by the disappearance of all bird life. (Jer. 4:25-27; 9:10; 12:4; Hos. 4:3; Zeph. 1:3) The proclamation calling all the birds to gather to feast upon the dead bodies of “Gog of Magog” and his crowd (Ezek. 39:1-4, 17-21) is paralleled by that recorded in Revelation in which the bodies of national rulers and their armies become food for “all the birds that fly in midheaven” as a result of the executional work of Christ Jesus as King.—Rev. 19:11-21; contrast this with God’s comforting words to his people, at Hosea 2:18-20.
Worship of birds as representing the true God was prohibited to the nation of Israel (Deut. 4:15-17) but was prominent among the pagan nations, particularly in Egypt. (Rom. 1:23) Hundreds of bird mummies have been found in Egyptian tombs, principally of birds such as the falcon, the vulture and the ibis, all of which were sacred among the Egyptians. Egyptian hieroglyphics contain some twenty-two different bird signs.