Egyptian Bird Symbol Meaning

The Egyptian bird symbols were many in number and meant different things (other ancient cultures like the Native American bird symbols can be seen in a similar way). As part of the Nile Delta, there were many birds in the ancient Egyptian environment. Therefore, there were many birds in ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics and mythology. Some of these included the ibis, the vulture, the buzzard, the falcon, the owl, the guinea-fowl, the flamingo, the stork, the quail, the heron, and even the ostrich.

Bird symbols represented a combination of phonetic sounds, nouns, and meanings. The owl in the hieroglyphic list of historian Alan Gardiner (1879 – 1963), for example, has a phonetic meaning only and represents the “m” sound. The bald-headed (or slouched) vulture represents both the phonetic word “mwt” and meant “mother”. The falcon was an ideograph and represented both the word “hrw” (“Horus”) and the god, Horus.

Small changes in Egyptian hieroglyphs altered their meaning. For example, a single, upright vulture represented the word for “vulture”, while double upright vultures represented the word for “see”. Similarly, a singular heron represented the word for “heron”, while a heron depicted on a perch meant “inundated” (i.e. “flooded”).

Egyptian Bird Hieroglyph

Egyptian Bird Hieroglyph

In effect, there was not a singular meaning for bird hieroglyphs in ancient Egyptian culture. Every bird hieroglyph represented different meanings, sounds and words. Even the same bird, written differently, could represent different things.

For example, a single, standing duck represented the word for “duck” or in some cases, the word for “son”. A flying duck represented the word for “fly” or in some cases, the word “the”. Finally, a landing duck could mean “to halt” or “throw”. All of these meanings are different, though the hieroglyphs depict the same bird.

Other birds represented different words. The cormorant hieroglyph meant “enter”, while the swallow meant “great”. The sparrow could mean “small” or “bad”, while a goose could mean “perish” or “idle”. A long-necked bird bending over a fish meant “to catch fish”, while a fattened bird hieroglyph meant “provisions”.

Egyptian Bird God

Day-to-day meanings aside, the hieroglyphs could represent religious concepts and gods. The Bennu, for example, was a heron-like deity akin to the phoenix. As the soul of Ra (the supreme sun god), the Bennu represented the rising and setting sun. Hieroglyphs of the large heron in Egypt’s later periods represented the Bennu directly.

Ra himself, being the supreme sun god and the foremost god of all ancient Egyptian religion — was depicted as a man with a falcon’s head. He often overlapped with the sky god Horus (who also had the head of a falcon), forming Ra-Horakhty, or “Ra-Horus in the Horizon”.

Thoth was the ancient Egyptian god of mathematics, magic, the sciences, the moon, knowledge, and writing. He was the patron god of scribes and was usually depicted as an ibis, or a man with an ibis’ head.

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Nekhbet was an early Egyptian goddess that protected rulers of the upper Nile. She is depicted as a woman with a vulture’s head, and sometimes with the wings of a vulture.

Khonsu was an ancient Egyptian moon god. He was the son of Amun (a creator god) and Mut (a matron goddess). Khonsu is sometimes depicted as having a falcon’s head with a crescent moon headdress.

Isis, along with her sister Nephthys, was at times depicted as having hawk, kite, or kestrel-like features, especially wings and feathers. They were known as guardians of the dead, and tombs were sometimes lined with their images. The sounds, especially the screeches of hawks, eagles, and other birds of prey — were considered to be the screeches of Isis and Nephthys.

Finally, in a somewhat strange reversal of deities represented as humans with bird heads, the hieroglyph of a human head on top of a bird’s body was an ideograph representing the concept of the soul. Supernatural belief was endemic t