Heraldic Bestiary – Birds

  The heraldic bestiary abounds with various Animals – real, fictional or mythological creatures. Birds stand out as a particularly interesting group, feathered creatures that tell their unique story on the Coats of Arms they adorn. In the collection of Coats of Arms that I have painted so far, a small flock of Birds has already gathered – so I thought that for a change, I would write a short post about them. Let’s briefly go through some interesting facts about Heraldic Birds, and along the way explore the symbolism of those I have met so far.

  In Heraldry, it is very important in which position the figure is shown. Each position has its own meaning and name. Historically speaking, all the Birds “displayed” were Eagles, only Storks have the posture “in their Vigilance”, because of its vindictiveness, only the Peacock “in its Pride” and only the Pelican in “its Piety”.

EAGLE – Mighty Ruler

  The Eagle is also the most prominent Bird on the Coats of Arms. The Eagle as a symbol is encountered as early as the Roman Empire, then in the era of Charlemagne – and after the 12th century, it became a symbol of German emperors and the German Empire. This King of Birds most often stands with spread wings (displayed), but can be with folded wings, in flight, without legs, etc.

Some of the positions typical for the Birds on the Coats of Arms:

  The depiction of the Eagle’s figure has varied over the centuries, depending on the current style period, as schematically shown in the image below.

  Symbolism: The Eagle’s spread wings represent Protection, and its penetrating gaze Vision and Authority. Whether depicted in flight or regal perched, the Eagle is a striking symbol of Power and Nobility. On the personal coat of arms, the Eagle signifies a man of action, often in an important position, a lofty spirit, a genius, quick to understand and clever in ambiguous questions.

  It is not surprising that we often meet it on the Coats of arms of Empires, states and statesmen. For example, this is Napoleon’s Imperial Eagle, inspired by Caesar’s Roman Eagle: “An eagle displayed with wings inverted, the head to the sinister, standing upon a thunderbolt or”.

Napoleonic Eagle
Black Eagle in the Crest

  We often meet the double-headed Eagle – it appears since the Bronze Age, then in Byzantium Empire, the Roman Empire, Germany, Russia…; in various historical and cultural contexts, often as a symbol of Imperial authority, dual sovereignty or due to a connection with a common historical heritage.

Double Eagle in the Crest of an Austrian Prince

  The single-headed Eagle symbolizes Sovereignty, Power and a clear Vision for the future. The Double-headed Eagle combines a dual meaning within itself – Past and Present, East and West, spiritual and worldly, becoming a visual comparison for Balance, Duality and the harmonious Union of opposing forces.

HAWK or FALCON – Speed and Precision

  Almost as often as Eagles, we also meet Falcons. In heraldic terms, it looks the same as the Eagle, but it differs in that Falcon is  belled leg on one or both legs (and sometimes is hooded). The most common positions in which we see the Falcon are rising and closed.

Symbolism: The Falcon, Lord of the Sky, associated with Agility and Focus, embodies the qualities of a skilled hunter.

On the personal Coat of Arms: denotes a man who eagerly and impatiently strives to achieve his goals.

OWL – Wisdom of the Night

  The Owl is another favorite Bird in Heraldry. Her head always looks forward, and Her body can be in a different position, most often in the guardant position with closed wings.

– symbolizes Wisdom and Insight. It is often depicted with wide, knowing eyes and wings spread wide.
– on personal Coat of arms: indicates a Family or an individual with a sharp Perception.


  The picture above shows an unusual fictional Coat of arms that I had the honour to paint, my first Owl, and the only one so far. The Owl is in the Crest, and the Shield shows the body of a golden Owl without a head (although it is heraldically incorrect to show the Owl this way).

 GOOSE, DUCK – Migration and Loyalty

  Less common, but equally interesting, the Goose also carries its own symbolic meaning. Known for her Loyalty and strong sense of Community, the Goose can appear with wings spread in flight or in a more peaceful pose, symbolizing the importance of Kinship and Loyalty

– on the personal Coat of arms: denotes a resourceful and capable man

Goose - in the Crest and on the Shield

  All known species of Birds can be found on Coats of arms – Storks, Pelicans, Doves, Swans, Ostriches, Roosters, Peacocks, Pigeons, Seagulls… Whether they are part of the Coat of Arms being the element of the Shield, as its Supporters or found in the Crest.

  We also meet mythological Birds – one interesting bird that is often encountered is the Phoenix, originating from Greek mythology. It is rarely found on the Shield itself, more often it is placed in the Crest – it is always shown as a double-headed Eagle, surrounded by flames.

Phoenix, displayed

Almost as often as the entire Bird, we come across parts of the Birds in Coat of Arms designs, such as the head, one or two wings, or a leg with claws.

A pair of wings conjoined is sometimes termed a vol, and one wing a demi-vol
A feather detail from a beautiful Coat of Arms, which, unfortunately, I cannot show you in its entirety

Conclusion: A winged Legacy

  Thank You for Your attention and for joining me on this short journey through the realm of Avian Heraldry. Whether floating in the Heavens or sitting dignified in Crests, these Heraldic Beings continue to tell stories of Power, Wisdom and Loyalty for generations to come, being an indispensable part of the design and symbolism of the Coat of Arms.

This was a short review of some of the Birds painted by me so far, and I will add more pictures to this report as new ones land in my Heraldic flock.

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