Though most of the world’s great songs are about love, there are other popular themes as well. One of these is birds, a beautiful and inspirational part of nature.
The metaphors for flying, singing, and building a nest with a loved one are just too good for songwriters to pass up!
Keep reading to discover some famous songs about birds of all types.
1. “Blackbird” – The Beatles
Arguably the most famous bird song, this one first appeared in 1968 and has been a hit ever since. Budding pianists and guitarists enjoy learning the interesting-yet-accessible chord patterns, and its vocals lie in a range suitable for anyone to sing. The lyrics encourage someone who is broken to overcome their difficulties and “learn to fly” again, possibly after heartbreak.
“Blackbird” is one of the most covered songs of all time, garnering hundreds of imitations and homages from other artists. Brad Mehldau’s jazz piano cover is perhaps the most well-known, but Herbie Hancock, and Corinne Bailey Rae have also lent their talents to the song in this genre. Sarah Maclachlan does a soft acoustic version, while Bobby McFerrin and Dave Grohl work it in their signature style.
2. “When Doves Cry” – Prince
While most songs about birds are graceful or lovelorn, Prince deviates from this with his signature funky flavor. “When Doves Cry” is set to a groovy percussive beat, with high-pitched chords to accent the rhythm. One unique aspect to this song is how the instrumentals drop out almost entirely on the verse (though a toneless beat persists).
Featured in the movie Purple Rain, this classic tune from the ‘80s won an American Music Award for Favorite Soul/R&B Single. It continues to be a popular choice for dancing and karaoke, decades after it first peaked on the Billboard charts.
3. “Free Bird” – Lynyrd Skynyrd
This 1973 mega-hit has become an iconic inclusion in the American rock canon. The singer tells his love that he’s free as a bird and must travel on, despite the connection of “sweet love” they shared for a brief time. It’s such an influential song, it awarded Lynyrd Skynyrd a place in the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2006.
There are only a few simple chords that comprise this tune, making it another favorite of budding guitarists and nascent rock bands. It’s been covered dozens of times by artists of all genres. The lyrics go on for five minutes, but a legendary and much-copied guitar solo continues past that for another four minutes, making “Free Bird” one of the longer popular songs on this list.
4. “She’s Like the Swallow” – Traditional
Though many versions of this song exist, there’s no recording available by one original artist. This is because it’s a Canadian folk song, originating in Newfoundland, and probably many centuries old. The most common iteration is by Karan Casey, an Irish folk singer.
“She’s Like the Swallow” is often performed in non-Western harmonic modes and with the trills and ornamentations of Gaelic music. The supporting music is sparse, letting the vocals shine. In this tune, a young girl’s unrequited love compares to elements of nature such as a bird, a river, and flowers.
The lyrics are poignant and sad, to reflect her broken heart as she yearns for the lover who left her pregnant. Rife with lush textures and metaphors, this beautiful but haunting tune found its way into several cultures outside of North America, particularly Celtic Ireland.
5. “Bird on the Wire” – Leonard Cohen
One of Leonard Cohen’s most legendary songs, “Bird on the Wire” appears on his 1969 album Songs from a Room. He considers it a simple country song, though he began to write the music and lyrics while staying on the exotic Greek island of Hydra, then finished composing it in a motel in Hollywood.
A somewhat depressing tune, it addresses the theme of freedom. The song has been covered by multiple notable artists, including Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, Joe Bonamassa, and Joe Cocker. It features in the movie “Bird on a Wire” with Mel Gibson and Goldie Hawn, though the article in the song title has been changed from “the” to “a” just as it is in several cover versions.
6. “Fly Like an Eagle” – Steve Miller Band
This song begins with one of the most iconic lines in all of rock music history: “Time keeps on slippin,’ slippin,’ slippin,’ into the future.” Like many songs about birds, it encompasses the idea of a bird as a symbol of freedom and being free-spirited. It also ties in themes of poverty and wanting to right the wrongs of society.
Some critics have questioned whether the lyrics point to drug usage and the euphoria that results. A standard of 1970s classic rock, “Fly Like an Eagle” comes from the studio album of the same name – the band’s ninth release. The most notable cover of this song is from Seal, included on the Space Jam soundtrack in 1996, twenty years after its initial release.
7. “Rockin’ Robin” – Bobby Day
Jump back in history to encounter one of the bird songs from early rock n’ roll. This cute and lively tune lies at the intersection of R&B, Motown, and early American pop music, and was the only Top-40 hit for its original singer, Bobby Day.
In subsequent decades it was covered by several better-known artists, including Jackson 5 and eventually solo Michael Jackson.
The lyrics are playful and lack any serious meaning, suiting the “rockin” style of entertainment from the 1950s. “He rocks in the treetops all day long/ Hoppin’ and a-boppin’ and a-singin’ his song” suggests the picture of a robin jamming out to music, though later in the song it also references a swallow, chickadee, owl, and crow.
8. “I’m Like a Bird” – Nelly Furtado
The metaphors are strong in this one, as the singer talks about her wanderlust and lack of a home. She admonishes a lover to stop asking her to settle down, as she “knows she’s gonna have to eventually give [them] away.” The accompanying music video features birds, butterflies, and other winged creatures that symbolize the restlessness in the lyrics.
This song was the first single off of Canadian singer-songwriter Furtado’s debut album, Whoa, Nelly! in 2000. It charted not just in the U.S. and Canada but also Portugal, Australia, New Zealand, and the UK. It also won Furtado a Grammy for Song of the Year and Best Female Vocal Pop Performance.
9. “Three Little Birds” – Bob Marley and the Wailers
This laid-back 1977 classic is arguably the most recognized reggae track in the world. Repetitive and simple, it invites the listener to sing along and release their worries, as “every little thing’s gonna be alright.”
Marley was inspired to pen the tune by three real-life birds that would come sit next to his window, though it’s disputed that the “birds” might also refer to three performers who accompanied him on tour.
The song has been covered by dozens of other artists, including Billy Ocean, Maroon 5, Jason Mraz, and even Marley’s son Ziggy as featured on the soundtrack for Shark Tale.
10. “Little Bird” – Annie Lennox
This famously androgynous singer-songwriter and former Eurythmics band member is no stranger to edgy alternative pop hits. On this track, she uses the picture of a baby bird leaving the nest as a way to “put [her] wings to the test” as she faces the world’s challenges. The dance-pop beat joins synth keys and background vocals for heavy musical texture.
In 2012, Lennox performed “Little Bird” for the closing ceremony of the Summer Olympics as part of a one-hour feature on music from the UK. It was also featured in the movie Striptease as well as on an end credit montage for an episode of The Sopranos.
11. “Bluebird” – Miranda Lambert
Birds are a common theme in all genres of music, but especially country tunes where a connection to nature runs close to the surface. In 2019, Lambert penned this mid-tempo ballad to describe overcoming adversity. The “light on in [her] soul” and the “bluebird in [her] heart” symbolize hope and a cheerful spirit through life’s difficulties.
In the song’s music video, Lambert wears a feathery gown and sits inside an oversized birdcage, alternating shots between her and a real bluebird as if she embodies the bird’s presence with her song.
12. “On Eagles Wings” – Michael Joncas
Birds are a common theme in religious music for their perceived connection to the skies and a higher power. This classic devotional hymn bases its lyrics on passages from the Bible, such as Psalm 91 and the Gospel of Matthew, that reference birds ascending to heaven. Both Catholic and Protestant services often use it as part of their musical worship program.
A staple of late-1970s soft rock, Joncas composed this song after learning of the sudden passing of his friend’s father. It has since been covered by many pop, gospel, and adult contemporary artists, most notably Josh Groban.
13. “Songbird” – Fleetwood Mac
Band member Christine McVie penned, sang, and played piano on this track from Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours album. Though she claims she wrote it in half an hour, the simple piano ballad had a lasting effect on the band, acting as the glue when the members went through difficult times while on tour.
The lyrics encourage someone who is down – maybe a friend or lover – to rely on the support of the narrator. Offering love and comfort, they state that when the two are together, things are all right. The mention of birds in this song is brief but lovely, when at the end of the chorus McVie says they “keep singing as if they know the score.”
14. “House Wren” – Owl City
This song takes the bird theme a bit more literally, as the bird narrates the song himself. He flits around a house and yard looking for somewhere to make his nest. It’s upbeat and optimistic, with light pop textures to begin, then shifting to a harder-driving beat with drums and guitars.
Owl City’s singer and songwriter, Adam Young, wrote this track for the band’s 6th studio album. He says the words were inspired by summers at his grandparents’ house, where his grandfather would hang up vegetable gourds for the wrens to live in. Watching them scout out the perfect nesting location drove him to write as if he embodied the wren on its mission.
15. “Feed the Birds” – Julie Andrews
In the midst of a jolly Broadway musical arrives this more somber tune, sung by a homeless woman living on the streets of London. Though she has no possessions of her own, she shows affection and care for the wild birds of the city as she feeds them from her apron, and offers passers-by the same opportunity for mere “tuppence [two pence] a bag.”
Made famous by Julie Andrews in the Disney rendition of the musical Mary Poppins, this song is poignant and full of hope. Cathedral bells, a full church chorus, and the accompanying voice of Mary’s character is juxtaposed against the simple nature of the bird woman. At the end of the song, the extra sounds fade out to showcase the two female voices in lovely harmony.
16. “Mockingbird” – Carly Simon and James Taylor
In this classic rock duet, folk legends Simon and Taylor trade back-and-forth with playful vocals against a blues-tinted musical pattern. Guitar, saxophone, and keyboard add to the raucous texture, which reflects the mockingbird’s noisy personality.
Loosely based on the children’s nursery rhyme, lines like “buy you a diamond ring” alternate with “find me some peace of mind” for a more grown-up twist. The song doesn’t take itself too seriously, letting the vocalists riff along to each verse, then the instruments take over again.
Simon and Taylor were married for several years of their active careers, which always lends a special chemistry to their performances together. They borrowed this song from Inez and Charlie Foxx, who originated their spin on the “Mockingbird” lullaby in 1963, about a decade before Simon and Taylor’s version.
17. “A Broken Wing” – Martina McBride
Another story of a couple gone sour, this country ballad follows the trajectory of the woman who “loved him like he was the last man on Earth.” Despite him mistreating and abusing her, she carries on in her dedication to him until the pain becomes too much to bear. The “broken wing” is the metaphor for the effects of the emotional abuse she suffers, before finally giving in to suicide.
This song was released in 1997 and became McBride’s second single that climbed to No. 1 on the country music charts. Though birds are only a fleeting mention in the song, the animal connection strengthens in the music video, where the singer performs at the zoo.
18. “Skylark” – Ella Fitzgerald
Johnny Mercer and Hoagy Carmichael, two of the early jazz greats, penned this wistful tune in the early 1940s. The lyrics describe a yearning for a bird who actually represents a lover, and is thought to be a reference to Judy Garland, with whom Mercer had an affair.
Though Fitzgerald was the first to make it popular, “Skylark” has been covered by many artists. Most of the jazz greats such as Tony Bennett, the Glenn Miller Orchestra, Bing Crosby, and Rosemary Clooney worked it into their touring repertoire. Perhaps the most well-known modern version is by Linda Ronstadt.
19. “Disco Duck” – Rick Dees
Nashville radio DJ Dees introduced this song to the world in 1976 and it became an instant novelty hit, reaching the Billboard Hot 100 for one week. It was featured on American Bandstand and other TV and radio avenues for its blend of silly comedy and infectious singalong quality.
In the lyrics, a single man goes to a party and begins dancing. He eventually turns into a duck, flapping his wings and quacking, unable to resist the lure of the party music. Whether he actually transforms into a bird or this is just a metaphor for his awkward dancing is anyone’s guess.
20. “Vultures” – John Mayer
The typical theme of love gets left behind in this groovy offering from blues-rock balladeer Mayer, instead comparing music executives to scavengers of the natural world. He speaks of the music world “testing” him, with vultures “hiding right outside his door,” a signal that they anticipate his demise and are ready to feed on his musical carcass.
A bold venture into industry criticism, Mayer layers his iconic guitar riffing over a laid-back percussive beat and then lets his growling voice take center stage. It’s not surprising that his compositional talent is able to feature a vulture – one of the animal kingdom’s most vile birds – and render it something metaphorical and artistic instead.
21. “The Bird Hunters” – Turnpike Troubadours
A hunting dog, a truck, a gun, and dancing with your sweetheart in Oklahoma – what else do you need for a good country song? The swinging lilt of this song supports the narrative well, with a strong fiddle presence and solid vocal harmonies.
Relative newcomers to the country/Americana scene, Turnpike Troubadours established their own record label in 2007 and released five studio albums. This much-loved tune from their 2015 self-titled album has red dirt fans as excited as the lyrics’ pointer pup who flushes the covey of birds. Lush with detail, “Bird Hunters” is a country ballad that deserves all the accolades it gets.