Birds are a popular subject for tattoo artists. The winged creatures come in a variety of shapes and sizes, making it easy for both clients and artists to find inspiration in them. Bird tattoos have a ton of visual possibilities; they can be captured with their glorious wings spread wide, in mid-flight, or as stately feathered individuals. Throughout the years—especially as body art has grown more mainstream—artists have applied their individual aesthetics to bird tattoo designs, from realistic to stylized.
What are some bird tattoo meanings?
Because there are so many species of these feathered creatures, there are many possible bird tattoo meanings. Sparrows are one of the most popular symbols, and their diving motif is common in traditional sailor tattoos. Back in the mid 20th century, one sparrow signified 5,000 nautical miles traveled. Now, sparrows can represent love and companionship, as these creatures travel in flocks.
The hummingbird is another species you’ll often see as a tattoo. Known for their quick fluttering, the small bird is an apt symbol for energy and joy. For those that want a reminder to live life to the fullest, a hummingbird bird is ideal. Their likeness and spirit are captured best in watercolor-style tattoos.
There are other birds you’ll find occurring in body art, but often less so than the sparrow or hummingbird. The crane, with its long neck, represents purity and hope, and the large-eyed owl symbolizes wisdom. If you’ve had a major setback and are getting your life back on track, the mythological phoenix is another creature to consider.
A trend in contemporary bird tattoo designs is a single portrait of the creature, but we can’t forget them depicted as flocks. This style of bird body art is typically smaller and their bodies are silhouetted. (This makes them easy to conceal if necessary.) Together, flocks represent the people you've met throughout your life—from family to friends to acquaintances—and the journey you’ve made.
Get inspired by contemporary bird tattoo designs
From flocks to individual portraits, contemporary tattoo artists are adding their own spin on bird tattoos. Check out 25+ tattoos that showcase the beauty of these feathered creatures.