The Role of Birds in Horror Stories | Symbolism Explained

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When you look at a bird, how does it make you feel? For many individuals, these birds create an unpleasant or even terrifying emotion. Ornithophobics may even experience complete dread at the sight of birds.

All throughout human history, superstitious ideas have been strongly shown by people. This tendency is still prevalent now. Birds appear heavily in numerous myths and stories, both as harbingers of doom, symbols of peace, and a variety of other omens.

But most birds are naturally beautiful, so any ominous signs are overwhelmed by their beauty. So why have horror movies and tales featuring birds had such grim themes? We’ll be looking more closely at birds’ roles in terror in this piece.

Horror Stories from History: Birds as Omens

For a very long time, people have dreaded birds as terrible legendary creatures and forebodings of death and doom. Examples include the terrifying lightning bird (Hamerkop) of Africa, which was thought to consume human blood and entice young maidens, and the Barn Owl, which was greatly feared in medieval England.

Not all of the legend about them has been transmitted orally. Through centuries-old stories, poets and authors have memorialized their terror. Poet Robert Blair wrote “The Grave” in the 1700s, which has a terrifying owl that screams. American writer Edgar Allen Poe wrote the famous story “The Raven” in 1845, which tells the story of a dangerous raven that visits a bereaved man on a chilly winter’s night.

Classic Horror Movies: Birds Taking Front Row

Ever since the development of motion films, birds have appeared in a variety of, often ominous, roles.

“When he moves, an abyss of horror opens up, and the entire Earth trembles and quivers.” This passage from the trailer for the 1956 Japanese movie “Rodan” foreshadows the appearance of an enormous, ancient bird-like monster that is hungry for destruction.

Viewers were exposed to a far more plausible story nine years later. The renowned Alfred Hitchcock directed the 1963 film “The Birds.” It was based on a novella that was published eleven years earlier by English novelist Daphne du Maurier.

In the classic horror movie “The Birds,” a group of humans in Bodega Bay fight to escape an onslaught by tens of thousands of birds, including gulls, sparrows, and crows. The film is set in California. In the tale, a variety of types of birds gather and form a flock, which attacks and murders many individuals. Their goal is to get retribution on those who take nature for granted and use it for their own nefarious ends.

Even if birds are still seen as an alternate option in the horror genre, the movie is still well-liked over fifty years after. Birds have acted as the avian adversaries in other lesser-known movies since the debut of “The Birds,” such as “Beaks: The Movie” and “Poultrygeist: Night Of The Chicken Dead.”

Alfred Hitchcock’s 1963 film The Birds, Image courtesy of AMPAS

Symbolism of Birds in Horror

It’s simple to understand how a monster like a toothy shark or werewolf may work well in a horror film or narrative. What makes birds so frightening, however, given that they are generally gentle animals? Continue reading to discover some ominous bird undertones.

The Unknown

Our feathery buddies have a mysterious quality about them. These avian experts are adept in both the air and the ground, and their keen senses allow them to perceive things that others cannot. Because of their propensity for nighttime navigation, owls in particular are dreaded.


Housed in cages and aviaries, birds are popular pets and show animals. There is a belief that animals this exquisite and voyaging shouldn’t be imprisoned. Furthermore, birds are farmed, hunted, and exploited by humans for their eggs, meat, and feathers.

This perspective makes it simple to humanize birds and see how they can harbor resentment. The frightening thing about birds could be how many there are. We would be facing a formidable force if they harbored resentment!


With their speed and strength, large predators like eagles are inherently frightening, yet the most common birds of prey in horror films are the symbolic Crows, Ravens, and Vultures. These clever birds take advantage of decomposition and death as scavengers.

One of the most common birds in horror films is the vulture.

Modern Representations: Evolving Roles of Birds

Birds are still featured in movies and television shows in the twenty-first century. Particularly in animated movies like “Rio” and “Angry Birds,” birds are often presented as complete individuals rather than merely menacing symbols. They have, nonetheless, also developed to take on more complex roles in the horror genre.

In the immensely famous fantasy television series “Game of Thrones,” Brandon Stark finally transforms into this supernatural creature after starting to have visions and see through the eyes of a strange three-eyed Raven. Strangely, the term “bran” is the ancient Welsh word for “crow.”

In a more current horror movie, “Hatching,” a little girl hatches a bird egg that develops into a horrific monster that eventually turns into a human-like person, causing a family to suffer through turmoil.

The Game of Thrones character, the Three-eyed Raven

Birds are not only associated with the enigmatic and gloomy. Numerous movies and TV series have used some of these very disturbing calls. The eerie beauty of Loons’ wails, the cawing of Crows, and the hooting of Owls are often used to create atmosphere and set the mood in horror films.

But why do we find certain bird noises so frightening? Perhaps because owl and crow sounds are so distinctive, we automatically connect them to their ethereal creators.

Some calls evoke strong feelings in us because they resemble human distress calls, such as screeches and cries (Barn Owl calls), or they serve as a warning of potential threats, such as roaring lions (Ostrich calls) or howling wolves (Common Loon calls), which still make us act on our instincts even when we are safe in our homes.

The International Viewpoint: Birds in Horror Films Around the World

There have been birds in horror movies from all around the world. For instance, the Mexican movie “Beaks: The Movie” is based on a Japanese film “Rodan.” Horror films with avian themes are still being produced in a number of nations in the twenty-first century.

The Mamtsotsi Bird is a short horror film from South Africa with a mythological subject. It revolves on a creature that resembles a bird and torments a lonely lady. The 2022 film “The Hatching” was filmed in Latvia and was produced in Finland.

Final Thoughts

It’s incredible to consider that even benign and beautiful birds may arouse such dread in individuals from diverse backgrounds. This timeless bond between the bird and the human has deep historical origins and continues to endure in people’s imaginations worldwide, having been memorialized in both contemporary films and poetry written centuries ago.

The many myths and phobias surrounding birds may stem from their eerie sounds, their keen senses, or their connection to death and darkness.

They are undoubtedly interesting themes for horror tales, and that much is obvious. Watch out for upcoming films and television shows as this fascinating horror subgenre develops.

I'm Nauman Afridi, the bird enthusiast behind My lifelong passion for birds has led me to create a space where fellow bird lovers can find valuable insights and tips on caring for our feathered friends.Professionally, I'm a brand strategist and digital marketing consultant, bringing a unique perspective to the world of bird care. Whether you're a novice or an experienced bird owner, is designed to be a welcoming community for all.Feel free to explore, and reach out if you have any questions or just want to chat about birds.
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