Which Birds Are Symbols of Death?

Published August 21, 2020
Crow on a tombstone

Some birds are considered symbols of death. Throughout history, many cultures view specific birds associated with death as omens of an impending death, or they may appear after a loved one has passed on with a message of hope. Learn which bird is a symbol of death and why.

Birds Associated With Death

Of all the birds associated with death, black-colored birds bear the brunt. Black is often considered an insidious color and is a color used in funerals and to designated mourning.


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.

European blackbird Turdus merula on gravestone


If you had any doubt about the raven and it 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.

Raven in a cemetery

Lost Souls

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

Battlefield Omens Of Death

Ravens are often seen as symbols of death on battlefields. They swarm over bodies to eat the decaying flesh, carrion, of dead soldiers.


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

Crows Perching On Tombstone In Cemetery

Native American Crow Symbol

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

Ancient Roman Deities

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 a death. In addition, Romans used various animals to make predictions, and the crow was an omen of murder.

Celtic Goddess

The Celtic Goddess Morrigan shapeshifted into a crow and landed on the shoulder of the dying Irish warrior Cu Chulainn after several encounters that ended with Cu Chulainn injuring Morrigan. Some versions of the story have Morrigan shapeshifting into a raven.


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

Buzzard Perching On Tree Against Clear Sky


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.

Healer or Predictor of Death

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


The nightingale is a bird associated with death through a story by Hans Christian Andersen. In his 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.

Singing nightingale in dark forest


The owl is viewed by many cultures as the omen of death. In Native American mythology, the owl is an ominous presence with many tales of warnings about its appearance. The most common is a symbol of death.

Owl sitting on a branch

Are Owls a Symbol Of Death?

In many world cultures, the owl is a death omen. 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.


The elegant and graceful swan is associated with death, but not as a harbinger. For ancient Romans, the swan (Apollo's bird) was a symbol signifying a good or happy death.

Black and white sawns


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.

Lappet-faced vulture

What Bird Symbolizes Death of a Loved One?

There are many birds associated with death or seen as omens of an impending death. There is one bird associated with death - the cardinal.

Is a Cardinal Bird the Symbolism of Death?

While the cardinal is associated with death, there is nothing to indicate that a cardinal is a bird that symbolizes death. In fact, many people report having a visitation by a cardinal after the death of a loved one.

Messenger Birds and Death

The appearance of the cardinal has been interpreted to be a message of hope sent by the deceased loved one. People report feeling elated, happy, and comforted by the sudden presence of the cardinal. This red bird often lands near or beside the person, unafraid, and stares at them before taking to wing once more.

Which Birds Are Symbols of Death?