Monday, October 13, 2008

Bird Hits a Window

Have you heard people talk about this? At the hospice place where I work, I sometimes hear a nurse, or even a family member say, "A bird hit the window this morning, I'm sure mom's getting ready to go soon." In fact, it's not unusual to have a day when several rooms have a constant barrage of tapping from birds flying into the glass.

I was surprised to see how entrenched this symbol of the bird is in our culture. In case it's a new idea for you let me explain:

"Bird flies at the window, Death knocks at the door" is a phrase that has been repeated by kids for centuries. The roots of this reach far back. Because of their ability to fly, birds have eternally been connected with the heavens/afterlife. Birds aren't just associated with death, but life as well, as in the common story that a Stork delivers new babies into this world.

There really is no culture exempt. In Egypt, China and Japan the Phoenix symbolizes rebirth, from ancient myths of the bird constantly being reborn. In Syria, Eagles are on tombs to lead the souls in the afterlife. In the Jewish and Christian culture, it is the dove that represents the soul. Both the Celts and Greeks believed the soul would reappear as a bird after death. There is an Islamic tradition that believes that dead souls remain as birds until judgment day, whereas the Hindu's use birds to symbolize the form the soul takes in between earthly lives.

With so many cultures viewing birds as the representation of human souls, you can guess when a bird suddenly acts strangely, we take notice. Before there were glass windows, the superstition was that if a bird flew into your house and perched on someone's chair, then a death would occur within that home in a year's time. Now, not too many birds make it inside, but all it takes is the unusual event of a bird trying to get in, hitting the glass pane, and then when an untimely death occurs the two events become connected.

Such was the case for Lucille Ball, who at the age of 3 recalled that a bird flew in her house and became trapped the day her father died. She was so convinced of this superstition that she refused to stay in hotels that had bird wallpaper or pictures of birds on the walls.

Some may wonder is one type of bird more ominous with this superstition? It seems there are several to worry about. In the Cherokee tradition it is a red bird that provides the connection with the deceased. The Red Bird Center provides the story behind this belief. The other birds to be leery of if they are trying to fly in your house are the sparrow, the robin and the raven.

Anyone with stories of their own?


References:
http://www.snopes.com/oldwives/bird.asp
http://www.mythencyclopedia.com/Be-Ca/Birds-in-Mythology.html

Pictures used: "Bird in Hand" Victor Schrager has an entire collection of these here
"Start to finish" from Two Dresses Studios here

37 Responses to “Bird Hits a Window”

JerseyRN said...
October 19, 2008 at 2:52 PM

Interesting. Is there a possible parallel to the superstition that deaths come in threes?

I couldn't figure out how to post an mp3 to the site. But I am including partial lyrics to the Sufjan Stevens' tune "Casimir Pulaski Day."


Lyrics to Casimir Pulaski Day :

Golden rod and the 4-H stone
The things I brought you
When I found out you had cancer of the bone

Your father cried on the telephone
And he drove his car to the Navy yard
Just to prove that he was sorry ...

.... In the morning when you finally go
And the nurse runs in with her head hung low
And the cardinal hits the window ...


You can find the song on iTunes and I'm sure elsewhere. It's from his "Illinois" album.


Amy Clarkson MD said...
October 19, 2008 at 8:07 PM

Thanks JerseyRn! I think you read my mind. The Casimir Pulaski Day song is coming up in a post in a few weeks and is what partially prompted this post looking up this interesting superstition. So stay tuned...


Christian Sinclair, MD said...
October 20, 2008 at 11:31 PM

Amy actually beat me to the punch on Casimir Pulaski Day. I was planning on writing on it and I saw that she had already scheduled a post for it in a few weeks. That song was one of the songs that made me want to start an arts blog on Pallimed.

A couple of Google searches for some other bird associations.

A book: Chasing Redbird about: "Chasing Redbird is a complex and exciting work of fiction, that explores real issues teenagers are dealing with, including death, identity, and relationships."

A book of poetry by Mary Oliver: "Red Bird" comes three years after the death of her long-time partner, muse and literary agent, the photographer Molly Malone Cook.


Anonymous said...
August 5, 2009 at 7:38 PM

I might just sound like a superstitious weirdo. When my mom was younger a bird hit a window and my German grandma (her mom) said that when a bird hits a window someone is going to die. After that, my moms uncle died.

Just this summer, on June 25th, I was feeling sick. Me and my mom heard something thud into our patio door. My mom said "uh Oh, do you know what that means?" so she explained it and the story above this one. We weren't really worried about it and went about our business. A while later I took a benadryl thinking it was allergies. It made me drowsy and I zonked out on the couch, when I woke up disoriented, I looked at the TV, Michael Jackson had died.

I am a Lutheran I believe in GOd so think what you want but that dosen't seem like normal behavior.


Amber Wollesen, MD said...
August 6, 2009 at 10:18 AM

Anonymous,
Thanks for sharing your story. I think you perfectly describe the way that superstitions begin. Event A happens, followed by event B. Maybe it happens again. Then the next time event A happens we start looking for event B and inevitably find it. Now are they really linked or is it just a coincidence? I think this is something we see often in medicine when all we have is anecdotal evidence about certain treatments or procedures. That's why we do studies. Eliminate the bias. Someone needs to do a Bird Hitting Window study.


Christian Sinclair, MD said...
June 13, 2010 at 10:59 PM

Just posted "Do it again" by Nada Surf which could easily be seen as a song about impending loss and mentions 'just sitting here waiting for birds to sing.' I could see that as birds singing means things will get better (a la Snow White) or the classic bird = death theme we have seemed to hit upon as if the dying person's spirit/characteristics has been transferred to the bird who now sings and flies away.

While researching birds and songs and the relation to death and dying I also stumbled upon The Grateful Dead's Bird Song. Pretty easy when you google 'dead bird song'.

Apparently Robert Hunter wrote it as a tribute to Janis Joplin and later changed the gender to reference the death of Jerry Garcia.


Anonymous said...
July 15, 2010 at 1:23 PM

the day a bird flew into a window, my dad had to go to the hospital to have his appendix removed! a bird just flew into our window a few minutes ago...yikes!


Elizabeth said...
February 28, 2011 at 8:28 AM

My Great Grandma died, a Robin hit the window. My Great Grandpa died, a Cardinal hit a window. My Grandpa died, a Cardinal hit the window (that was his favorite bird). When my Grandma passed, she passed away in North Carolina where she used to feed Gold Finches. I was raised by my Grandparents in the south. The day after the funeral We came up to Michigan. A Gold Finch had hit my Mom's front door. Keep in mind that Gold Finches are very rare in Mi. I thought I would share this information, after trying to research the possibilities of why this would happen.


Elizabeth said...
March 16, 2011 at 11:54 PM

My Great Grandma died, a Robin hit the window. My Great Grandpa died, a Cardinal hit a window. My Grandpa died, a Cardinal hit the window (that was his favorite bird). When my Grandma passed, she passed away in North Carolina where she used to feed Gold Finches. I was raised by my Grandparents in the south. The day after the funeral We came up to Michigan. A Gold Finch had hit my Mom's front door. Keep in mind that Gold Finches are very rare in Mi. I thought I would share this information, after trying to research the possibilities of why this would happen.


Christian Sinclair, MD said...
March 16, 2011 at 11:54 PM

Just posted "Do it again" by Nada Surf which could easily be seen as a song about impending loss and mentions 'just sitting here waiting for birds to sing.' I could see that as birds singing means things will get better (a la Snow White) or the classic bird = death theme we have seemed to hit upon as if the dying person's spirit/characteristics has been transferred to the bird who now sings and flies away.

While researching birds and songs and the relation to death and dying I also stumbled upon The Grateful Dead's Bird Song. Pretty easy when you google 'dead bird song'.

Apparently Robert Hunter wrote it as a tribute to Janis Joplin and later changed the gender to reference the death of Jerry Garcia.


Anonymous said...
March 16, 2011 at 11:54 PM

I might just sound like a superstitious weirdo. When my mom was younger a bird hit a window and my German grandma (her mom) said that when a bird hits a window someone is going to die. After that, my moms uncle died.

Just this summer, on June 25th, I was feeling sick. Me and my mom heard something thud into our patio door. My mom said "uh Oh, do you know what that means?" so she explained it and the story above this one. We weren't really worried about it and went about our business. A while later I took a benadryl thinking it was allergies. It made me drowsy and I zonked out on the couch, when I woke up disoriented, I looked at the TV, Michael Jackson had died.

I am a Lutheran I believe in GOd so think what you want but that dosen't seem like normal behavior.


Christian Sinclair, MD said...
March 16, 2011 at 11:54 PM

Amy actually beat me to the punch on Casimir Pulaski Day. I was planning on writing on it and I saw that she had already scheduled a post for it in a few weeks. That song was one of the songs that made me want to start an arts blog on Pallimed.

A couple of Google searches for some other bird associations.

A book: Chasing Redbird about: "Chasing Redbird is a complex and exciting work of fiction, that explores real issues teenagers are dealing with, including death, identity, and relationships."

A book of poetry by Mary Oliver: "Red Bird" comes three years after the death of her long-time partner, muse and literary agent, the photographer Molly Malone Cook.


Dr_Butin said...
April 25, 2011 at 9:50 AM

Interesting string of posts. I'm an ornithologist and the son of one, and had never heard this association with death and birds hitting the window.

Amber- our experiment can start now.

A bird hit our window last Thursday, though actually this is not an unusual occurrence at our house as we have a sun room that sticks out the back of the house and is elevated above the walkout basement level so birds see windows on both sides of the room and think they can fly through.

As of now no one is ill. No one is dying in the family. I'm not superstitious but not asking for trouble either.


Christian Sinclair said...
April 25, 2011 at 10:03 AM

Objective evidence is important. Must look up Type I and II errors, because
the difference between correlation and causation is important but often
overlooked.


Lotusgdess said...
May 24, 2011 at 9:14 AM

My sister, niece and I were  with my father at the time he died, and at the exact moment of his last breath, a bird flew into the window of the room we were in.  Later when I looked out the window a bird was perched across the way on  a rooftop nearby, sitting quietly and appeared to be staring at our room.  As you can imagine it was very disconcerting because the bird the hit the window at such a speed that it sounded like it could have broken it, and because we were so emotionally wrought, for this to have happened during that intense moment, it just startled us very violently.


Christian Sinclair said...
May 24, 2011 at 8:59 PM

I imagine that would be pretty startling. Thank you for sharing your story hear.  This is one of our more popular posts here, so by sharing you are helping other people put their own experience into perspective. 

Interestingly, many buildings these days have reflective glass that is confusing to birds too, so i wonder if that is increasing the frequency of bird hits.  Here is a link from the Audubon society on minimizing window collisions: http://web4.audubon.org/bird/at_home/SafeWindows.html  Obviously something to consider when building a hospital, nursing home or hospice facility.


Kalaidescope2001 said...
September 27, 2011 at 3:15 PM

Once yesterday and twice today birds flew into windows at my house.  Yesterday a dear friend passed.  We shall wait and see.
  


Epicurean said...
March 18, 2012 at 10:28 AM

A bird entered our home the week of Halloween.  My husband told me of the superstition regarding death coming to your home that I had never heard of before that time.  Within 2 weeks my father died unexpectedly.  I had a bluebird repeatedly tap and fly into the window in our sunroom for over a week on a daily basis.  The following week my great aunt passed and then the week following her death my cousin Sharon passed away.  Since they passed I have not seen the bluebird in my yard. 


Scrapbook said...
April 7, 2012 at 9:05 PM

One day while my dad was sick my mother, my husband and I were sitting at the kitchen table after a meal. This little sparrow was landing on a suction hook looking at us,fluttering its wings. We took down the suncatcher, maybe he thought it was an opening. It kept coming back, we took down the hook, washed the window and it kept returning. We were getting aggravated and concerned about the bird with this thumping on the glass. Next day it went to other windows where we were sitting in living room. The next day my dad passed.  Later I found out about the legend.


Mary said...
July 10, 2012 at 6:07 PM

I came on to find out what to do with the injured sparrow that just hit my window.  Must have only been stunned, it seemed ok and finally flew away.   Here is my story ...My mom loved hummingbirds.  She passed away in 1983.  Anytime I see one, I instantly think of her.  However, my dad passed away 2009.  My brother reflected back to the time dad died and thought of his exact moment of where he was. 2 hummingbirds appeared in the desert of Arizona where he had been on a hunting trip with his arrows flipped with tips down taking a break.  Maybe they were flying around as if the arrows were a flower,  When he returned home to California, one of his grandchildren started a DVD, 2  hummingbirds flew across the screen that were part of the presentation.  He had shared this experience at the funeral  The reception following at his place, 2 more hummingbirds appeared and stayed a while.  We believe dad met up with mom.  A peaceful thought! 


duncan Mckellar said...
July 11, 2012 at 7:11 AM

a magpie not only hit my window,but came back and started pecking on top of windowfor about 3 minutes.my wife passed away last sept 2011 and  i think its her spirit trying to tell me something.


Duncan Mckellar said...
July 11, 2012 at 7:18 AM

a magpie hit my window,landed on the ground, flew back up, and clung to the top of the window and pecked for about 3 minutes. i think it was my wifes spirit                                       trying to tell me something(passed away sept.2011)


Christian Sinclair said...
July 11, 2012 at 9:04 AM

Thank you for sharing your story. It is amazing how so many people have experienced similar things. It is wonderful to find meaning in the world when it feels like nothing makes sense.


anonymous said...
November 27, 2012 at 7:42 AM

The legend says, if there's a bird hitting your window, it's a sign of death. Do you believe in these silly superstitions? well listen to this.

One day, my sister and I were casually just sitting at our computer desk and playing games on the computer.. and suddenly a "red bird" hit the window in our room and fell dramatically, I thought it died.. so I went outside to check, and the bird was no where in sight. My sister and I weren't concerned, because birds hit windows all the time. 5 minutes later the SAME bird hit the exact window. It got a little bit creepy. I thought maybe this time it died. So I went again, and checked. Once again, no where in sight. Anyway, this bird kept hitting the window repeatedly the same window. And strange enough, it only hit the window when someone was in that room. It kept hitting the window for months and months. Finally I was really concerned, because it would hit the window so hard there was blood all over it! My dad could care less when he saw the bird keep hitting the window, nothing really bothered him. So finally I did some research on the Internet and found that if a red bird hits your window it's a sign of death or a spiritual presence is trying to get inside your home. I told my dad very cautiously, and warned him about this legend and he replied with "Don't believe in that crap". But I was extremely scared. But then, one day my dad was in the computer room sitting at the desk, and the bird hit the window again, to him it was nothing new. So he just walked out of the room casually and went downstairs to the basement, and he was standing by the window downstairs and the exact bird, hit the window. So it literally followed him downstairs from outside, when my father was inside.. My dad was actually scared..very scared. Now we were all VERY concerned. Well, the cardinal kept hitting the window in my fathers home. And he just died this year after the weird red bird superstition which according to my father "don't believe in that crap" when it actually seems true. R.i.p

Now, superstitions may seem like silly jokes, but you never really know.
Till this day, I believe this is true.


naughtybird said...
January 10, 2013 at 10:51 PM

Hi all. my story is similar to above except there is now way its a mistake on the birds behalf. Our bird is a magpie lark (Aust) it has been harrassing us for about 6 months now or more. We put up decals on window, disco light, pulled down blinds, blocked access with plastic, string, you name it. At one stage I put up 3 balloons on fence posts he was leaping from, went to work and when i got home he did a flyby and didnt show again till christmas eve. I have watched him look at me from teenyweeny window ledge to see if im awake then he goes for it, when i made it really hard for him to get to my window he started on kitchen and then my daughters window...like what the? He will fly in from side  of the verandah walk along the inside post about 4 metres then attack.Hes not lonely he has a whole heap of friends and family, some of whom seem to come and watch...please explain someone


tina madden said...
February 15, 2013 at 6:16 AM

This morning As I set reading a book on the couch...which is seated in front of our bay window.. I heard a loud thump..and a bad feeling went through me i turned and opened the curtains and there on my porch lay a robin bird dying from hitting the window...amd I then felt sick and my eyes filled with tears...not sure what it means if anything...so I started looking online which brought me here...I will just wait and pray its not a bad thing because I just lost my mom in Sept.


Susan Alexander said...
May 29, 2013 at 10:08 AM

The day before my husband died a mocking bird flew into his office window. It was only stunned so my husband had picked it up and revived it. Then it flew away. The next day he had a massive hart attack and died. I had not connected the dots until I had read your article. This has made be believe that there is a higher power somewhere out there. I don't know if it is has to do with religion or what but there is diffidently something.


dominum said...
August 8, 2013 at 12:57 AM

I never believed in this and never was superstitious at all. But
believe it or not, couple of years ago bird hit my window (it never
happened before) and same night i had a phone call from overseas to find
out my grandfather died. Even more, he passed away approximately the same time, and i found out later because of difference in time.


Chris said...
September 6, 2013 at 5:29 AM

"Such was the case for Lucille Ball, who at the age of 3 recalled that a
bird flew in her house and became trapped the day her father died."

Related to this, the image in this poem of a bird trapped in a house -- and then, against the odds, managing to escape -- always gives me hope.

-------------------------------------------

I remember the dazed starling
Which was trapped in that very room, two years ago;
How we stole in, lifted a sash

And retreated, not to affright it;
And how for a helpless hour, through the crack of the door,
We watched the sleek, wild, dark

And iridescent creature
Batter against the brilliance, drop like a glove
To the hard floor, or the desk-top,

And wait then, humped and bloody,
For the wits to try it again; and how our spirits
Rose when, suddenly sure,

It lifted off from a chair-back,
Beating a smooth course for the right window
And clearing the sill of the world.


---------------------------------------


(Richard Wilbur, "The Writer")


Maryv said...
October 23, 2013 at 1:19 PM

My guinea pig suddenly stopped eating and drinking last week. As he was getting weaker, a bird flew repeatedly for a few days at a window above where my pets house was sitting. It banged itself for hours at a time. In a matter of a few days, my little guy died in my arms. The bird behavior was not coincidental. It was bizarre and scary.


Litina said...
November 1, 2013 at 6:44 AM

Few years ago, one of my brothers passed. I didn't make it to his funeral because it was in Hawaii and I couldn't afford it.
He was cremated and his remains we're brought back to me. Shortly after that, I fell into a deep depression. One morning, I woke up to a robin tapping on my bathroom window. That continues for about 9 months. Around the same time (6:30ish am) it literally woke me up and for some reason. I was happy to hear the tapping. This went on until another brother of mine moved close to me. Exacrly 1 year after he passed, another robin tapped on my window. Call me crazy but I believe this had to with my brother's death.


Christian Sinclair said...
November 1, 2013 at 9:05 AM

Seeing the responses here, I don't think many people would call you crazy. Thank you for sharing.


KamiGirl said...
March 2, 2014 at 11:28 AM

My husband and I always loved feeding and talking to the Stellar Jays that hung around our yard. Sadly my husband passed away from cancer a year and a half ago. A few days after his passing I was searching for an empty spot in the living room to place flowers when I heard a noise above me. There to my astonishment was a Jay perched on a hanging plant watching me. He then flew to my husbands favourite chair. I was so amazed I went to the den to get my camera where the bird proceeded to follow me hopping along the carpet. I got the camera, and the bird again perched himself on the chair where I took his picture. This is the first and last time the Jay ever came in the house. I will always treasure that picture as I truly feel it was my husband saying goodbye to me.


Greg said...
July 30, 2014 at 12:48 PM

One morning many years ago I was visiting my parents, and one morning a Cardinal kept hitting the family room window. My dad told me that he had been told as a child that a bird hitting a window like that meant someone in the house was going to die. Presumably the bird was there to take the soul to heaven. Well, no one in the house died that day. But my brother, who was traveling died that evening.
I personally say coincidence, but this is how legends get started and perpetuated. btw - listen to Nanci Griffith's song "Gulf Coast Highway" sometime for what I believe to be a related theme.


Christian Sinclair said...
August 12, 2014 at 11:13 AM

Thanks for sharing your experience. We always like recommendations for new music. We may cover it here some day too.


Sarooni said...
October 18, 2014 at 9:36 AM

This is an interesting article. Here's another one on birds in the house and death, (the second interview; Kathy Russo, Spaulding Grey's partner:
http://www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/369/transcript


Christian Sinclair said...
October 21, 2014 at 5:20 PM

Awesome find! Thanks for sharing!