Superstitions about birds are common in just about every culture throughout history. Ideas about birds foretelling future prosperity and being either good or evil are very common. One of the most notorious birds, of course, is the crow. An old saying goes:
One is lucky, two is lucky, three is health, four is wealth, five sickness and six death.
As far back as Ancient Greece, it was believed that if a single crow appeared at a wedding breakfast, there would be a divorce. The crow is considered very wise and intelligent and there are a number of superstitions associated with it. A destroyed crow’s nest indicates a fire in the area witin three days. If a crow lands on a house and caws sorrowfully, a calamity is sure to befall it. If, on the other hand, his joyful “carrow” is heard, it is a sign of good luck. In Japan, crows are sometimes regarded as departed loved ones, intelligent but likewise full of mischief. In England, the raven is thought to commonly impersonate the Devil and is held with distrust. Sometimes, an appearance of the raven also foretells a death.
It has always been thought of as unlucky to kill a robin or a swallow. Swallows have been considered sacred because they were thought to have flown around the cross of Calvary. In some places, the ill luck from an accidental killing of a robin or swallow can be canceled if burial is given to the creature.
In England, the stonechat is believed to be continually chatting with the Devil. In parts of the British Isles the chicken is also thought of as a bird of ill omen, due to an old idea that he “crowed for joy” at the hour of crucifixion.
In Norway, those in search of a drowned body would row around the body of water with a rooster aboard, believing that the bird would crow when the boat reached the spot where the corpse was. Another superstition says that to hear a rooster crow at your door is a sign of death.
In Ireland, sparrows, stares and plovers are thought to be on friendly terms with the fairies. The lark and swallow are both birds of good omen, as long as the swallow does not rest on the housetop. In Sweden the turtle dove is looked upon as sacred and is sometimes called “God’s bird” and “Noah’s bird”. This comes from the idea that the turtle dove was sent out by Noah to bring back tidings of a receding flood.
In France, a belief once existed among the superstitious that the quail would foretell the price of wheat with the number of his calls, prompting it to be called the “Bird of Prophecy”. An American superstition holds that to possess the feathers of a peacock in your home is unlucky.
In parts of Turkey, small vessels of water are sometimes placed upon graves for the birds to drink. Some marble tombs have basins for water as well, as birds are thought to carry messages about the living to the dead. The water is left as an attempt to curry the favor of the birds, so that the dead do not receive unfavorable messages.