Birds represent so many things to humans. Their ability to soar in the air reminds us of unlimited freedom, and their songs can be both joyful and mournful. It’s no surprise that composers and singers have been writing songs about birds forever, and many of those are some of the most well-known songs in the world. While many of these songs are familiar, there are also songs about birds that are less well-known. With online lyric sites and numerous music streaming services, learning more about these songs may make them some of your new favorites.
1. Blackbird – The Beatles
Paul McCartney, one of the world’s greatest songwriters and most prolific artists, wrote Blackbird as a young man as a response to events in the civil rights movement. He saw news accounts of nine young black students who were enrolled at Little Rock Central High School in 1957 and the ensuing discrimination they faced. He used Blackbird to convey his support for their struggle.
2. Three Little Birds – Bob Marley
With its mellow vibe and upbeat message, “Three Little Birds” might seem like an odd song about society, but in reality, the lyrics indicate that Bob Marley used the song to uplift others and let them know that “every little thing’s gonna be alright.” It’s a reminder that worrying doesn’t produce anything except unnecessary stress. Try to be more like those three little birds.
3. Feed the Birds – Julie Andrews in Mary Poppins
From the soundtrack of “Mary Poppins”, this might seem like a song that is out of place on a list of popular bird songs, especially ones with a social commentary theme. In the context of the movie, this song is a sweet, gentle reminder of the dignity and humanity of everyone. The bird lady in the song becomes a symbol of giving and caring, and the orchestral arrangement of the song is lush and beautiful. Plus it’s Julie Andrews singing with vocal perfection.
4. Canary in a Coalmine – The Police
The title of this song comes from the actual practice by coalminers of taking caged birds, like canaries, into coal mines. The birds were used to indicate early warning signs of noxious gasses that could harm the miners. The birds were more readily susceptible to the effects of bad gasses, so if they became affected (or sadly, died), the miners would know to leave the mines.
The song can be interpreted in a number of ways, but the lyrics seem to indicate that people can sometimes get so caught up in worrying about the bad things that could happen that they forget to live.
The freedom that birds in flight represent has inspired many songs. Whether they are about leaving relationships, the support of our loved ones, or simply becoming our true selves, some songs focus on how those events can make us feel like a bird soaring through the sky. When they are well-written, accompanied by matching melodies, and performed by talented artists, they can become a personal anthem for many.
5. I’m Like a Bird – Nellie Furtado
This empowering song has a mellow delivery, but its upbeat chorus gives us a great sense of freedom. Its theme is freedom, even within a loving relationship. It was considered a break-out song for Furtado, who also wrote it. While it did not win a Grammy for Song of the Year (though it was nominated), it did win the JUNO Song of the Year, a comparable award in Canada.
We can see this song as a description of not knowing what the future brings, but still embracing life.
6. Bird Set Free – Sia
Sia wrote this song with the original intent that it would be sung by someone else. When the song wasn’t picked up by others, she recorded it herself and it certainly came across as a very personal anthem. The theme here is also freedom, but it is freedom from what seems to be an unhealthy relationship. Once we get past relationships that aren’t good for us, we can feel like we’re able to fly.
7. Time for Me to Fly – REO Speedwagon
While there is no bird in this song, it is definitely about leaving a bad relationship and soaring into the future alone. Because of its status as a well-known rock ballad, we’re willing to give them the benefit of the doubt and assume that they’re referencing the freedom of a bird flying as they leave behind a bad situation to soar ahead.
8. Wind Beneath My Wings – Bette Midler
From the soundtrack to the movie, “Beaches”, which starred Bette Midler, this is perhaps one of her most well-known songs. Beautifully sung, with lyrics that match the movie’s story perfectly, it is not hard to see why this song has an iconic place in music history. There is no bird mentioned, but the song soars just the same and it’s hard to imagine anyone but Bette Midler singing it.
9. Skyline Pigeon – Elton John
Like most Elton John compositions, he takes the amazing words of Bernie Taupin and sets them to music that creates the exact right picture. The song is one of hope and dreaming without limits. Using the symbolism of a simple pigeon achieving such freedom is a way to tell us that we are all capable of soaring.
10. Eagle – ABBA
While this is not one of their better-known songs, Swedish pop band, ABBA, truly captures the sense of soaring in the skies in “Eagle.” The harmonizing vocals, musical arrangements, and production offer an uplifting experience.
11. The Eagle and the Hawk – John Denver
John Denver is an artist who left us far too soon. His unique voice gave an unmistakable sound to the unique songs he wrote. His subjects were primarily focused on nature, and from the first beautifully sung notes, we feel as though we ARE the eagle and the hawk that he sings about. This is probably the only song on the list that specifically describes actual birds, whilst also bringing in elements of what these birds represent. The song demonstrates both power and peace, with a message or two for the listener along the way.
12. Bird on a Wire – Aaron Neville, The Neville Brothers
Speaking of unique voices, Aaron Neville combined a silky delivery with a high falsetto that is easy to recognize. This song is all about being as free as a bird with some lessons about how to achieve that. The message is simple but delivered with such beautiful vocals that we feel freedom just by listening.
While birds and the songs about them often represent freedom, they can also symbolize a sense of loss or longing. Mourning doves, named for their cooing cry, remind many of sadness. Bluebirds themselves aren’t inherently sad, but they have been interpreted in some songs as representative of the emotions associated with their most recognizable color.
13. When Doves Cry – Prince and the Revolution
We could spend a lot of time discussing the words and what they mean in this song. It’s a dreamlike description, but the heart of the song is about the good and bad parts of a relationship. Prince conveys love, desire, conflict, and wanting in his own unique way with quixotic words and masterful instrumentation.
14. Bluebird – Sara Bareilles
There is no doubt that Bareilles’ song is about the end of a relationship. The bluebird here represents the reluctant acceptance of things that are changing. Letting go can be difficult and, as usual, she captures these emotions perfectly. Her sad, but soaring and hopeful vocals make this a special break-up song, one of the best songs to listen to if you’re going through a breakup, in fact.
15. Bluebird – Electric Light Orchestra
Not to be confused with their mega-hit, Mr. Blue Sky, Bluebird is a lesser-known song by ELO. The arrangement has all the elements of ELO’s signature style, but it can overpower the angst and sadness of the lyrics at times. Listening to the lyrics about loss is a bit of a contrast with the instrumental arrangement that detracts from the emotion those words deliver.
16. Birds – Imagine Dragons
This beautifully worded song is all about how life is a circle of things that come together and fall apart. It’s a haunting listening experience that reminds us to live fully and love those in our lives while we have them.
17. Skylark – Linda Ronstadt
In 1984, one of the pioneers of rock and roll with an iconic voice embarked on a musical experiment. Linda Ronstadt decided to make an album with the Nelson Riddle orchestra that featured classics from the American songbook.
Among them is this gem, a cover of Skylark, written by Johnny Mercer and Hoagy Carmichael. Mercer reportedly wrote the lyrics about his longing for Judy Garland, with whom he once had an affair. It is living proof that Linda Ronstadt could sing anything and we would want to listen.
Rock and Roll made its reputation on challenging the status quo and producing emotion. In the rock genre, songs that feature birds or bird-like features range from ballads and songs of peace to danceable, make-you-sing-along pop hits.
18. Free Bird – Lynyrd Skynyrd
Perhaps one of the best-known rock songs ever, this song gained legendary status after the plane crash in 1977 that killed the band’s lead singer Ronnie Van Zant. While there have been different versions of Lynyrd Skynyrd formed over time, there is no way to duplicate the unique vocals of Van Zant, which makes the song even more poignant. The original version that most of us know was recorded live, and over time the song’s name has become synonymous with audience enthusiasm at a live concert. “Play Freebird!”
19. Fly Like an Eagle – Steve Miller Band
Another late-70s band with immense popularity created another iconic song about birds – well, sort of. There is a lot going on in this song that reminds us from the very beginning how time is constantly ticking away. It also addresses how we have a lot of problems in the world to solve. It all relates back to finding the freedom to fly like an eagle. A lot to digest for one song!
20. Rockin’ Robin – Bobby Day
This early rock classic makes us think of sock-hop dances with swirling skirts and saddle shoes. It’s been covered by everyone from Elvis Presley to Michael Jackson. Because the original copyright for this song was never renewed, it is currently part of the public domain—meaning it is free to use. That may be why we see it in so many different commercial uses.
21. Hummingbird – Seals & Croft
While the mellow sounds of Seals and Crofts might not seem very rock and roll, their vibe fit in perfectly with the 1970s free-love movement. The song is sprinkled with metaphors from the Baha’i faith, which Jim Seals practiced. Seals, one of the composers and singers, referred to the lyrics “Hummingbird, don’t fly away” as a plea for forgiveness. The song is about him connecting with his religion but can be a reminder to everyone to maintain their faith.
22. Mockingbird – James Taylor & Carly Simon
The Taylor/Simon version of Mockingbird is an updated version of a 1963 song performed by Inez Foxx and her brother Charlie. It is based on a lullaby called, “Hush Little Baby”, but there is nothing soothing or calming about the 1970s version performed live by James Taylor and his then-wife Carly Simon. Their version quickly became an iconic hit with its perfectly paired vocal exchanges and a raucous sax in the background.
With the many metaphors we attach to birds—soaring, freedom, spring renewal, and beautiful song—it is no surprise that they are often the subject matter of incredibly inspirational music. Bird imagery is central to many religions, as well as for issues that affect every community, like peace.
23. I’ll Fly Away – Various Artists
This southern gospel classic was written by Albert E. Brumley and has been covered extensively by many artists. Johnny Cash included a version on an album that paid homage to his mother’s favorite hymns, and modern artists like Alison Krauss have given it a bluegrass twist to introduce it to a new audience.
24. Wings of a Dove – Hal Ketchum
Ferlin Husky (music) and Bob Ferguson (lyrics) wrote this iconic song, which is a modern version of a classic hymn. The metaphor of a white dove is well known in Christianity, and Hal Ketchum’s version is full of reverence and a celebration of God’s spirit.
Country music has a very long history of telling stories that evoke emotions. It makes sense that this musical genre would be bound to use birds as a significant metaphor in many of their most popular songs. The women of country music particularly have blessed us with some great songs that tell impactful stories and bring us big feelings.
25. Two Sparrows in a Hurricane – Tanya Tucker
The storytelling is front and center in this beautiful song, written by Mark Allen Springer. It’s a great song for anyone who has overcome adversity with the help of a loving partner. In a nuanced interpretation by Tanya Tucker, the song and accompanying video tells a heartfelt story that Tucker dedicated to her parents.
26. Snowbird – Anne Murray
Hope, loss, and beautiful imagery are integral parts of this Anne Murray classic. Her vocal range is wonderfully showcased in the melody. Lyricist Gene MacLellan reportedly wrote the song in twenty minutes while walking on the beach of Prince Edward Island.
27. A Broken Wing – Martina McBride
If the words and lyrics of this power ballad don’t move you, then the incredible vocals by Martina McBride should. There is no one in country music who can tell a story of women’s empowerment quite like Martina, and she is one of only a few singers in any genre who can do this. The song was written by James House, Sam Hogin, and Phil Barnhart and is perfectly crafted and expertly delivered.
Not every song needs to tell a great story. Sometimes, music is simply joyful and it is meant to provide a good time. As they used to say—if you can dance to it, maybe that’s all you need.
28. The Red, Red Robin – Doris Day
This peppy song was written and first released in 1926, so it is one piece that has stood the test of time. A testament to its popularity is that it has been covered by everyone from Al Jolson to Bing Crosby. This version pairs a joyful song with the especially sunny delivery of Doris Day. It’s a happy feel-good song, perfect for a soundtrack to a spring day.
29. Disco Duck – Rick Dees
It’s hard to know how to categorize this song. It’s a novelty song that has a lot of fun with a disco beat and a duck quacking. It’s not going to give you any nuanced metaphors for life and probably has the same effect on the world as Baby Shark. Chances are that the kids in your life will love it.
30. Little Bird – Annie Lennox
Annie Lennox’s vocals and empowering style defined much of the 1980s, but her talent is timeless, as demonstrated by her performance of Little Bird. The lyrics she’s singing might seem in stark contrast to the vibrant production and danceable beat of this song, but she delivers it with such conviction and an effortlessly powerful voice. Everything she does is hard to categorize.
In A Separate Class
There is no way to put anything Dolly Parton does in a box. As one of the industry’s most beloved and well-respected singer/songwriters, she tells stories, inspires, and spreads love to everyone who listens to her songs. While many of her songs have been sung by other artists, some of them are iconic to her. Our final song about birds is hard to pigeon-hole—that is a pun just too easy to ignore!
31. Eagle When She Flies – Dolly Parton
With all the words in the languages of the world, many songwriters can fall into the trap of over-expressing. Dolly Parton’s lyrics to this empowering song are simple but still evoke a very clear image for the listener. Most of us probably know at least one woman that we think of when we hear this song. Leave it to Dolly to strike our hearts with the fewest words possible.
Birds come in so many varieties that it is only natural their species are used symbolically to describe many human conditions. Many birds are associated with certain human characteristics because of their coloring, birdsong, or habits, so they naturally inspire artists and songwriters. Sometimes they are used metaphorically to address different social issues.
Just as it is in other art forms—painting, poetry, and dance—the imagery of birds in music has a long history. Finding inspiration and messages of hope, love, loss, happiness, joy, and peace through music can lift our spirits and console us in times of trouble. Whenever we make a playlist that centers around any of these emotions, adding one or two songs about birds will provide some great listening.
As the Head Editor and Writer at Music Grotto, Liam helps write and edit content produced from professional music/media journalists and other contributing writers. He works closely with journalists and other staff to format and publish music content for the Music Grotto website. Liam is also the founding member of Music Grotto and is passionate in disseminating editorial content to its readers.
Liam’s lifelong love for music makes his role at Music Grotto such a rewarding one. He loves researching, writing and editing music content for Music Grotto.