Rev Chris Coleborn
A Bird List Of Birds Of Israel And Region In Bible Times
Birds Mentioned in the Bible

Birds are often referred to throughout the Bible, both wild and domestic. There are over 300 references to birds in the Bible. The bird species of Palestine remains surprisingly intact from ancient times, with relative abundance of each species to this day. When one considers the human activity and upheavals of that part of the world over the centuries, it is quite amazing. Archaeological evidence is that changes in climate, land use and civilization have caused few birds in this area to become extinct. This in itself is a commentary on the fact there is One who cares even for the little sparrows. (Luke 12:6-7) To-day there are approximately 400 different species and subspecies identified for Palestine, and most, if not all, would have been known to the more astute observers in Bible times such as Solomon.

Generally raptors - eagles, hawks, falcons and birds of prey generally, as well as other birds that are basically carnivorous, were classified as "unclean" under the Old Testament, and not for human consumption. The "clean" or edible birds were generally herbivorous or plant/seed eating species. (Lev 11:13-20)

There are certain difficulties when it comes to identifying what specific bird is intended by the word used in a particular verse in the Hebrew and Greek manuscripts of the Bible. No doubt, most, if not all, of the same 400 Palestinian birds were known to the "fathers" of old, and some were studied and observed quite closely, as we can note from Job, David, Solomon and our Lord’s observation on them. What we must remember is that the writers of the Bible did not think of the bird species so specifically and exactly as present day ornithologists and bird-watchers do. For example, there are five kinds of vultures and eight kinds of owls in Palestine. But not every vulture or owl is specifically identified in the Biblical texts. Thus the Hebrew and Greek names often cover several bird species within families. For example, instead of finding a Hebrew word Short-eared Owl, we find various Hebrew words and expressions for owls, without specifying which owl of the eight possible owls is intended. The Hebrew word could also be for another type of bird apart from owls.

Because of the Hebrew/Greek way of naming birds, it is difficult at times for us to identify in many cases which specific bird is meant in a Biblical text. Some scholars have suggested we can identify with certainty about 20% of the birds mentioned in the Bible from their Hebrew/Greek names. A further 20% can reasonably be identified, not so much from the actual Hebrew and Greek words used, but from habits and habitat known from the context of the word used. Also, philological consideration of the word often point us to what bird is intended, such as the Hebrew or Greek word pronounced like the call of the bird.

Thus, if the context shows us the bird referred to inhabited desolate places, and has a certain kind of call, and is a carrion eater and/or is noted for its flight or sharpness of eye and so on, we can arrive with reasonable certainty an what species is meant. We are thus fairly certain what birds are intended in many cases, but we can only make guesses in other places.

Many of the bird species of Israel are migrants. Of the 400 plus species and subspecies, only about 143 are year round residents of the region. The arrival time of migrating birds varies from year to year, depending on climatic conditions. Some species in fact merely pass through the area on their migratory routes, remaining only for a few weeks each year. Israel is a land -bridge between Europe and Asia, Africa and Arabia and between the southern and northern hemispheres. So many species of birds use it for migrating purposes.

Some will pass through Israel on their autumn migration but not on their spring migration. This is because the birds take advantage of prevailing winds. This is true for example of the White Stork. Thus quite a few birds would have been only briefly seen, if at all, by the men and women of Bible times.

The Bible speaks quite a lot on the nesting habits of birds; where they nest and how they care for their young ones. (For example, see Deut 32:11; Psalm 84:3; 104:16-17; Proverbs 27:8; Jer 39:27; 48:28; 49:16 Isa 16:2 and Matt 23:37). One of the ways the Lord shows His care of birds, and how His people are to reflect this care themselves to others and the animals and plants around us, is that even in an era where meat was scarce and highly desired, the law was that if a man raided a nest for necessary food, the mother bird must not be caught, but left to go free to breed again, and perpetuate the species.

Observations are also made in the Bible on birds’ habits and appearances. For example, some species of birds live in waste and desolate places, (Isa 13:21; 34:11 ff & Jer 50:39); some raptors, such as eagles, gather in numbers when prey is spotted, (Isa 34:15 & Matt 24:28). The way some birds fly, such as the swallow and large birds of prey, and their calls are noted and known, (Prov 26:2; Deut 28:49; Jer 4:13; Eccles 12:4). The physical characteristics of birds were observed, such as the appearance of birds’ feathers and claws, their eyes and their wings, (Job 39:13; Ezekiel 17:3; Daniel 4:33; Song of Solomon 1:15; Job 28:7; Ex 19:4; Job 39:13; Psalm 55:6; 68:13; Jer 48:40 and Zech 5:9).

Leviticus 17:13 & Deuteronomy 14:11 speak of eating "clean" birds - so it was expected that birds would be eaten. It is thought that the sale of sparrows is connected with their use as food (Matt. 10:29; Luke 12:6). Nehemiah 5:18 mentions birds for Nehemiah’s table, and I Kings 4:23 records that birds were also part of the food of Solomon’s table.

Bird names were sometimes used as the names of men and women, such as Jemimah, an Arabic word for "dove", Jonah (dove), Oreb (raven), Zippor (bird) and Zipporah (bird).

The following is a modern list of birds of the area of the region. It covers the area from the Suez Canal up to modern day Lebanon and east to the state of Jordan, and south-east to the Red Sea. Some birds were present in the past in the region that are no longer present - the Ostrich is one such bird. There would be some present in the past, and even today that are not listed, such as the domestic fowl. Some would have been introduced, such as the Peacock. Nevertheless, the following list will give a good idea of how rich the region was and still is in birdlife. It is a lovely thought to contemplate that the people we know about in the Bible, including our Saviour would have observed and known and delighted in many of the birds listed below.

We may not only go to Israel today and see the Sea of Galilee, the Mount of Olives, Mount Sinai, the Jordan River, the Dead Sea, the hills of Bethlehem and of the region of Galilee, to be reminded of the historical and objective reality of our Christian faith. In observing and enjoying the birds that our fathers and mothers in the faith would have seen, and in which they would have also have delight, we with them may draw near to our Creator our daily life and work, and be enriched in the wonder of life.

Psalm 104:1, 10-12, 16, 17 & 24.
"Bless the LORD 0 my soul! 0 LORD my God, Thou art very great; Thou art clothed with honour and majesty ... He sends the springs into the valleys, which flow among the hills. They give drink to every creature ...By them shall the birds of the heaven have their habitation, which sing among the branches. The trees of the LORD are full of sap; the cedars of Lebanon which He planted; where the birds make their nests: as for the stork, the fir trees are her house ... 0 LORD, how manifold are Thy works! In wisdom hast Thou made them all: the earth is full of Thy riches. "


GREBES: Podicipitidae. This is one of the five main group of water birds that dive from the surface of the water. They are smaller, longer-necked and generally dumpier than divers. They have lobed toes, and are adapted to their aquatic way of life, with a short tail. Their legs set far back on the body. This gives them a powerful thrust when swimming, but which makes them clumsy on land, which they rarely visit except to breed.

Species found in the region: Great Crested Grebe; Black-necked Grebe; Little Grebe or Dabchick.

SHEARWATERS: Procellariidae Puffinus Long-winged seabirds, characterised both by their stiff-winged mode of flight, "shearing" the waves as they skim the surface, tilting alternately from one wing-tip to the other, and by their tube-noses, their nostrils lying in two short tubes on the bill. Exclusively sea birds (pelagic), coming to land only to breed and are highly adapted to gliding. They have hooked bills and webbed feet.

Species found in the region: Manx Shearwater; Cory’s Shearwater

PELICAN: Pelecanidae A very large heavy pale water bird - both salt and fresh, with a large long bill with a distensible throat pouch. Generally swims in flocks and has webbed feet. Majestic in flight with neck retracted.

Species found in the region: White Pelican; Dalmatian Pelican CORMORANTS: Phalacrocoracidae Large generally dark-plumed aquatic diving bird, with long neck, long stout hooked bill, rather short wings, fairly long tail and webbed feet. On land they often hold their wings out to dry; and on water hold their head at marked upward angle.

Species found in the region: Cormorant.

HERONS, EGRETS & BITTERNS: Ardeidae Large to very large wading birds, with long legs, bill and neck - all of which are adaptations to feeding in shallow water. The heads of some are adorned with elongated plumes. Their neck is held retracted in flight and often also at rest. Their legs are outstretched in flight.

Species found in the region: Grey Heron; Purple Heron; Great White Egret; Little Egret; Cattle Egret; Squacco Heron; Night Heron; Little Bittern; Bittern

IBISES & SPOONBILL: Threskiornithidae & Plataleidae Fairly large, long-necked, long-legged wading birds, habitually flying with neck outstretched. Bill long and curved in ibises, straight and soup spoon-shaped at the tip in spoonbills.

Species found in the region: Spoonbill; Glossy Ibis.

STORKS: Ciconiidae & Phoenicopteridae Large to very large long-legged long-necked birds, with long stout bills and bills in storks and "Roman nose" type of uniquely curved bill, specially adapted to sieving animal and vegetable food from shallow water.

Species found in the region: White Stork; Black Stork; Greater Flamingo

GEESE: Anserinae Large thickset birds, with necks relatively longer than most ducks, and legs comparatively short. They have webbed feet and generally graze on land, but near water. They are highly gregarious, and collectively noisy. They fly fast and direct, but often with rather laboured wing-beats and in V-formation.

Species found in the region: Greylag Goose; White-fronted Goose

DUCKS: Anatinae Birds of the wetlands with dense waterproof plumage, webbed feet and flattened bills. Most fly strongly. There are different groups of ducks, such as shelducks, perching ducks, dabbling ducks and diving ducks.

Species found in the region: Shelduck; Ruddy Shelduck; Mallard; Gadwall; Wigeon; Teal; Garganey; Pintial; Northern Shoveller; Marbled Teal; Red-Crested Pochard; Tufted Duck; Pochard; Ferruginous Duck

OSPREY, EAGLES, HAWKS, GOSHAWKS, EAGLES, HARRIERS, BUZZARDS, KITES VULTURES & FALCONS: Pandionidae, Accipitridae & Falconidae These daylight (diurnal) birds of prey (raptors) are a large distinctive group of medium to large long-winged birds, adapted to flesh-eating by their hooked bills and powerful talons and having their nostrils in a cere at the base of the bill. Females are usually larger than males. Immature plumages can be very confusing. Flight powerful, often soaring.

Species found in the region: Osprey, Black Kite, Short-toed Eagle, Sparrowhawk, Levant Sparrowhawk, Goshawk, Buzzard, Long-Legged Buzzard, Honey Buzzard, Bonelli’s Eagle, Booted Eagle, Golden Eagle, imperial Eagle, Spotted Eagle, Lesser Spotted Eagle, Tawny Eagle, Black Eagle, Egyptian Vulture, Bearded Vulture, Lappet-faced Vulture, Black Vulture, Griffon Vulture, Marsh Harrier, Hen-Harrier, Pallid Harrier, Montagu’s Harrier, Saker Falcon, Lanner Falcon, Peregrine Falcon, Barbary Falcon, Sooty Falcon, Hobby, Merlin, Red-footed Falcon, Lesser Kestrel, Kestrel.

PARTRIDGES: Alectoris Perdix Stoutly built medium- sized brownish birds, with rufous colouring and often barring and spotting. They are grassland birds, though often in rocky country.

Found in Palestine: Chukar, Sand Partridge, Quail, Black Partridge

CRANES: Gruidae Large, long-legged, long-winged, long-necked but rather short-tailed birds of land and marsh. They have stout straight bills, fairly long but shorter than herons and storks. Plumage usually is a combination of grey, black and white. Flight slow, strong and direct, with both neck and legs outstretched. Voice is a loud clanging or trumpeting. These birds often perform remarkable dancing displays.

Species found in the region: Crane, Demoisells Crane

BUSTARDS: Otididae Medium-large to very large, rather long-necked and long-legged land birds; bill stout, somewhat flattened. Normal gait is a sedate walk with head erect, but usually either crouching with neck extended or running when alarmed. Flight strong, with broad wings, legs and neck extended. They occur in open treeless country.

Species found in the region: Great Bustard, Houbara Bustard

RAILS, CRAKES, SWAMPHENS & COOTS: Rallidae Small to medium, shy ground-dwelling birds, with legs and toes fairly long, wings and tail rather short. Their gait is jerky, with tail often flared and legs dangling in flight. Generally marsh dwellers, inhabiting densely vegetated wetlands, swamps, bogs & water margins. Rarely seen in the open.

Species found in the region: Water Rail, Spotted Crake, Baillon’s Crake, Corncrake,Little Crake, Moorhen, Coot.

LAPWINGS, PLOVERS & DOTTERELS: Charadriidae Short-billed, round-headed, large-eyed plain or camouflaged small to medium-sized wader of marsh or watersides. When feeding characteristically run a little way and then stop, often bobbing head nervously.

Species found in the region: Ringed Plover, Little Ringed Plover, Kentish Plover, Greater Sandplover, Dotterel, Turnstone, Lapwing, White-tailed Plover, Northern Spur-winged Plover.

OYSTERCATCHERS, STILTS & AVOCETS: Haematopodidae & Recurvirostridae Medium sized black or pied waders of brackish or fresh water, with black or pied colouring, with long legs and neck and long bill. They are gregarious . Stilts have very long pink legs and a straight- bill. Avocets have an up-curved bill, used with a side to side sweeping motion in feeding. Though not webb-footed, they swim readily and up-ends when feeding.

Species found in the region: Oystercatcher (Pied), Black-winged Stilt, Avocet.

SANDPIPERS, SNIPE, CURLEW & GODWITS: Scolopacidae Long to moderately long billed, small to large waders - the smallest called "stints". Moderately long legs and shortish wings and neck. Usually they have a subdued piping or twittering call. They are common in flocks and breed in the Northern tundra and moors.

Species found in the region: Broad-billed Sandpiper, Curlew-Sandpiper, Dunlin, Temminck’s Stint, Little Stint, Sanderling, Redshank, Greenshank, Marsh Sandpiper, Common Sandpiper, Wood Sandpiper, Green Sandpiper, Ruff, Curlew, Slender-billed Curlew, Black-tailed Godwit, Woodcock, Great Snipe, Jack Snipe, Snipe, Stone Curlew.

PRATINCOLES & COURSERS: Glareolidae Smallish plover-like birds, with fairly long legs and pointed bills. They have a habit of appearing to stand on tiptoe, stretching the neck. They appear plover-like on the ground, but tern or swallow-like in flight with long pointed wings. Their legs and bill are short and they are often in inland and barren areas.

Species found in the region: Black-winged Pratincole, Collared Pratincole, Cream-coloured Courser.

GULLS & TERNS: Laridae Gregarious long-winged web-footed seabirds, some species also occuring inland, divided into the larger stouter Gulls with shorter, fuller bills, broader, blunter wings and longer legs and the smaller, slenderer Terns with finer bills, longer wings and forked tails. Terns often carry their bills almost downwards in their buoyant flight. Gulls rarely dive while Terns do, and many are scavengers. They are colonial nesting, often very noisy on nesting grounds on cliffs or flat ground by the sea. Some also nest inland by fresh water. Marsh Terns are smaller than Sea Terns, except the Little Tern. They rarely dive, stooping to the surface of water to pick up insects. They breed exclusively by fresh and brackish water and marshes.

Species found in the region: Audouin’s Gull, Slender-billed Gull, Great Black-headed Gull, Black-headed Gull, Little Gull, Mediterranean Gull; Herring Gull, Lesser Black-Back, Gull-billed Tern, Sandwich Tern, Common Tern, Little Tern, Black Tern, White-winged Tern.

SANDGROUSE: Pteroclidae These are mainly sandy coloured terrestrial birds, hard to see when at rest in their desert environment, when they resemble small long-tailed partridges. In flight they are more like plump Parakeets or long-tailed Pigeons. Their necks and legs are very short and their legs and toes are feathered in front. Their flight is fast, flocks performing aerial evolutions, and undertaking long, often noisy daily journeys - up to 40 miles and back- to and from water to drink. Gait pigeon-like. They nest on the ground.

Species found in the region: Spotted Sandgrouse, Crowned Sandgrouse, Pin-tailed Sandgrouse, Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse, Black-bellied Sandgrouse.

PIGEONS & DOVES: Columbidae Pigeons tend to be larger and doves to be smaller; but there is no real distinction between the two. They are soberly coloured, in pastel shades of grey or brown, with smallish heads, short hills, longish tails and crooning or cooing call. Their gait is a walk and they nest on tors or ledges.

Species found in the region: Rock Dove (Feral Pigeon), Stock Dove, Collared Dove, Turtle Dove, Palm Dove.

CUCKOOS: Cuculidae These are medium to large, rather slender, solitary arboreal (tree dwelling) birds, with long and graduated tails, and a slightly de-curved bill. All species in the region lay their eggs in other birds’ nests.

Species found in the region: Great Spotted Cuckoo, Cuckoo.

OWLS: Tytonidae & Strigidae Nocturnal birds of prey, though some species also hunt by day, with long rounded wings, short tail and feathered legs and feet. Their heads are large. They have large eyes facing forwards and set in a flattened facial disc, whose feathers usually conceal the short hooked bill. The ear tufts of a few species do not represent true ears. Plumage is usually some shade of brown or white with darker markings - often spots and/or stripes. Stance is upright. They nest in holes, in old nests of other bird or on the ground.

Found in Palestine: Barn Owl, Eagle Owl, Brown Fish Owl, long-eared Owl, Short-eared Owl, Scops Owl, Bruce’s Scops Owl, Little Owl, Hume’s Tawny Owl.

NIGHTJARS: Caprimulgidae These are exclusively nocturnal birds, well adapted by their long wings and tail, large eyes and gape and small bill and feet, to catch moths, beetles and other flying insect prey by nigh. They are seen by day only when flushed from the ground or day roosting on a branch (normally horizontally along it). Their flight silent, and very agile, gliding and wheeling, with sudden darts after prey. Eggs are laid on bare ground.

Species found in the region: Nightjar, Nubian Nightjar

SWIFTS: Apodidae The most aerial of all birds, superficially resembling swallows and martins, feeding on flying insects. Their plumage is brown or blackish, sometimes with white patches. They have narrow scythe-like wings, short usually forked tails adapted to very fast flight. They have short legs for clinging on vertical surfaces and are very rarely on the ground. Swifts nest in holes or crevices of natural or artificial cliffs, often in towns and villages, the material of their nest being glued together with the bird’s saliva.

Species found in the region: Swift, Pallid Swift, Alpine Swift, Little or House Swift.

BEE-EATERS: Meropidae Gregarious brightly coloured long-winged, long-tailed, terrestrial birds. They have long, slightly curved bills and perch on a lookout for bees, wasps and other flying insects. Their flight is swallow-like, with long glides on triangular wings and tremendous acceleration to capture prey. Bee-eaters occur in open country with scattered trees and bushes and nest in sandy banks and pits in colonies.

Species found in the region: Bee-eater, Blue-cheeked Bee-eater, Little Green Bee-eater.

ROLLERS: Coraciidae These brightly coloured crow-like terrestrial birds are named for their somersaulting habits in courtship display. Rollers have stout, slightly hooked bills and often perch conspicuously on posts or bush tops, flying down to capture beetles, lizards and other small animals an the ground, unlike the Australian Roller - the Dollarbird, which hawks insects. Rollers nest in a hole.

Species found in the region: Roller

KINGFISHERS: Alcedinidae Medium-sized birds with short legs, long stout bill, brightly coloured plumage and habit of perching upright. Not all Kingfishers feed on fish. They nester in holes.

Species found in the region: Kingfisher, Smyrna Kingfisher, Lesser Pied Kingfisher, Hoopoe.

WOODPECKERS: Picidae These birds are highly adapted to climbing about trees, extracting insect prey from the tree’s bark and rotten wood. They excavate nest holes in trees. They have a stiff tail, (except in the Wryneck), to act as support against vertical surfaces, with two toes pointing forwards and two backwards (zygodactyl feet). Their legs are short, bill stout (except for the Wryneck), and their tongue is very long. Woodpeckers’ tails are square. Males usually have a red patch on their head. Their flight is markedly undulating. Most species of the region drum in spring, a mechanical sound make by resonance of dead branches under rapid blows from their bill. Some species will feed on the ground.

Species found in the region: Syrian Woodpecker,Wryneck.

LARKS: Alaudidae These are small to medium ground-living birds, mostly with sober plumage. Larks have moderately thin bills adapted to both an insect and a seed diet. Their song is well developed, usually delivered in the air. Larks walk or run but do not hop.

Species found in the region: Share Lark, Temminck’s Horned Lark, Hoopoe Lark,Short-toed Lark, Lesser Short-toed Lark, Desert Lark, Bar-tailed Lark, Calandra Lark, Bimaculated Lark, Thick-billed Lark, Woodlark, Skylark, Crested Lark.

SWALLOWS AND MARTINS: Hirundinidae These are small, slender, short-necked aerial birds, with long wings, forked tail, and short flattened bill with wide gape. Their wings are relatively shorter than swifts. Flight is graceful, often fast. They are gregarious, aerial insect feeders, and often found over fresh water.

Species found in the region: Earn Swallow, Crag Martin, Red-rumped Swallow, Pale Crag Martin, Sand Martin, House Martin.

PIPITS AND WAGTAILS: Motacillidae These are small, rather slim, long-tailed insectivorous land birds. Pipits are brown, with paler under-parts, usually with darker streaks on breast with tails shorter than wagtails and usually with white other feathers. Their appearance and habits are often lark-like. They avoid perching in trees. Wagtails have plumage in combinations of black, grey, white and yellow, and white outer tail feathers. They repeatedly wag their tail up and down. They have a quick, jerky run. Both are gregarious after breeding season.

Species found in the region: Tree Pipit, Meadow Pipit, Red-throated Pipit, Water Pipit, Tawny Pipit, Long-billed Pipit, White Wagtail, Grey Wagtail, Blue-headed (Egyptian) Wagtail.

BULBULS: Pycnonotidae Medium, often gregarious, usually soberly coloured land birds. They have a fairly slender de-curved notched bill and rather a long tail, and often with a crested head. They are not strong fliers. Bulbuls are regularly found in human settlements.

Species found in the region: Common Bulbul

SHRIKES: Laniidae Small-medium to medium sized land birds, with longish rounded or graduated tail and bill slightly hooked. They are aggressive birds, often perching on prominent lookouts before swooping on large invertebrate or small vertebrate prey, which is often impaled on thorns or other spikes as "larder". Often they will hover to catch prey. They have a harsh, chattering cry and alarm note. Shrikes will mimic other birds. They are found in woodland edges, olive groves and where there is scattered tall bushes.

Species found in the region: Great Grey Shrike, Lesser Grey Shrike, Masked Shrike, Woodchat Shrike, Red-backed Shrike.

ACCENTORS: Prunellidae Mainly montane (mountainous) birds, generally solitary sparrow-like birds, distinguished from sparrows by their thin insect-eating bills. They have streaked flanks.

Species found in the region: Hedgesparrow.

WARBLERS : Acrocephalus Reed Warblers are small birds that are very similar in plumage, brown above and paler below, with a whitish throat and rounded tail. They often have repetitive and mimetic songs, with churring and scolding call notes. Generally they are found in marsh or swamp lands, skulking in habit, but will sing from a prominent perch. Hippolais Warblers differ from Reed Warblers in their square tail and broader, flatter bill. Warblers have a habit of raising crown feathers when excited. Sylvia Warblers have a graduated, rounded tail. They are found in bushes, scrub and tall vegetation. The male is brighter than the female. Leaf Warblers are small greenish or yellowish warblers. They have a typical habit of flicking wings and tail, which appears slightly forked.

Species found in the region: Reed Warbler, March Warbler, Great Reed Warbler, Clamorous Reed Warbler, Moustached Warbler, Sedge Warbler, Cetti’s Warbler, Pan-tailed Warbler, Graceful Warbler, Scrub Warbler, Cicterine Warbler, Olivaceous Warbler, Tipcher’s Warbler, olive-tree Warbler, Whitethroat, Lesser Whitethroat, Garden Warbler, Barred Warbler, Blackcap, orphean Warbler, Menetries’ Warbler, Sardinian Warbler, Ruppell’s Warbler, Subalpine Warbler, Spectacled Warbler, Willow Warbler, Chiffchaff, Wood Warbler, Bonelli’s Warbler, Goldcrest.

FLYCATCHERS: Muscicapidae These are small birds, with rather broad flattened bill for feeding on flying insects caught mainly on the wing. Rarely are they found on the ground, but will pick up an insect. They nest in a hole or on ledge.

Species found in the region: Spotted Flycatcher,Pied Flycatcher, Collared Flycatcher.

THRUSHES, CHATS & ALLIES: Turdidae A large subfamily containing some of the finest songsters. Thrushes are small robin-like birds, with habit of perching on prominent lookout, often flicking tail jerkily and uttering harsh clacking notes. Chats are land birds with rumps usually conspicuously white, and tail usually with white sides and black centre. Males are distinctive but females hard to tell apart. These birds are mostly ground birds, frequently bobbing and chasing after insects. Their flight is flitting. Redstarts are characterised especially by a rufous tail. They have a habit of giving a curious tail-shivering display.

Species found in the region: Stonechat, Whinchat, Blue Rock Thrush, Rock Thrush, Wheatear, Desert Chat, Isabelline Chat, Red-tailed Chat, Black-eared Chat, Mourning Chat, Pied Chat, Finsch’s Chat, Red-rumped Chat, Hooded Chat, White-crowned Black Chat, Blackstart, Black Redstart, Redstart, Robin, Bluethroat, Thrush-nightingale, Nightingale, White-throated Robin, Rufous Bushchat, Blackbird, Ring Ouzel, Fieldfare, Song Thrush, Mistle Thrush.

BABBLERS: Timaliidae This species in the region has uniform brown plumage, paler beneath, and they superficially resemble Thrushes, but with short rounded wings, not usually held close to the body, and a long graduated loosely hanging tail. Bill, legs and feet are all strong, the bill slightly curved. They are almost always in parties. Poor fliers, they are constantly on the move in trees and bushes and on the ground, with jerky movements and brief flights, usually one after the other rather than together. They are Noisy, often with a loud, abrupt fairly musical song. They are scrub dwellers.

Species found in the region: Arabian Babbler

SUNBIRDS: Nectariniidae These are small, brightly coloured birds with slender, long de-curved bills. They are quick-flying, nectar and insect feeders. At times they are like honeyeaters and hummingbirds in behaviour and flight mannerisms. They build pendulous nests with a side entrance.

Species found in the region: Palestine Sunbird

TITS: Paridae Small active short-billed insectivorous birds, often flocking together, with several species visiting gardens. Some species have an explosive hissing threat display on their nest. Their nests are usually in holes.

Species found in the region: Great Tit, Blue Tit, Sombre Tit.

NUTHATCHES & WRENS: Sittidae Small tree-climbing birds, short-tailed and compact. They are the only birds which habitually descend trees head downwards, with a jerky gait; feeding on small invertebrates, nuts and seeds, the tougher items being wedged into cracks in the bark and hammered open. They are hole nesters.

Species found in the region: Nuthatch, Rock Nuthatch, Wallcreeper, Wren

BUNTINGS: Emberizidae Mainly ground-living finch like birds, of open country, with thick seed-eating bills; usually rather indifferent songsters. The males are usually more brightly coloured than the female. Their flight is fairly fast and bounding. Most species avoid human settlements.

Species found in the region: Corn Bunting, House Bunting, Rock Bunting, Black-headed Bunting, Ortolan, Cretzschmar’s Bunting, Cinereous Bunting, Reed Bunting

FINCHES: Pringillidae These are small, thick-billed gregarious seed-eating birds, breeding mainly in habitats associated with trees, and with a characteristic bounding or dancing flight. They include Chaffinches, Carduelines, Trumpeter Finches, Redpolls, Rose Finches and Crossbills. Serins also belong to this family. The domestic Canary descends from them. They are small to very small yellowish-green finches, most with very short stubby seed-eating bills.

Species found in the region: Brambling, Chaffinch, Goldfinch, Siskin, Greenfinch, Desert Finch, Trumpeter Finch, Crimson-winged Finch, Linnet, Syrian Serin, Red-fronted Serin, Serin, Sinai Rosefinch.

SPARROWS: Ploceidae Small, compact, brown-plumaged seed-eaters, finch-like birds with thick-bills.

Species found in the region: Spanish Sparrow, House Sparrow, Dead Sea Sparrow, Rock Sparrow, Pale Rock Sparrow

STARLINGS & ORIOLES: Sturnidae & Oriolidae Medium-sized, highly gregarious, stocky land birds, with short tails, strong legs and bills, running not hopping on the ground. Their flight is fast and direct, often carrying out spectacular mass movements.

Species found in the region: Starling, Rose-coloured Starling, Tristram’s Grackle, Golden Oriole.

CROWS: Corvidae The largest of the perching birds, with robust bill and legs, a high degree of intelligence and unmelodious song. They are usually gregarious, nesting in trees or rock ledges. They are of various shades and colours of black, fawn, red, blue and white.

Found in the region: Jay, Chough, Alpine Chough, Raven, Brown-necked Raven, Fan-tailed Raven, Rook, Hooded Crow, Jackdaw.


In the remainder of this article, we will consider something of the birds that were most probably, if not certainly, referred to in the Bible. Remember though, that some birds we refer to in a text at times would refer to the genera, and not the species, and our naming the species is that of probability, not certainty.

The words for bird or fowl in the A.V. appears over 120 times in the original languages of the Bible. Sometimes however, the word is now thought to represent an actual family of birds. For example, Psalm 84:3 has a general word for bird in the Hebrew text, but it is correctly translated sparrow. Also in Nehemiah 5:18, a general word for bird there should be understood to mean domestic fowl.

Several words in the Hebrew of the Biblical text, refer generally to one type or family, even order of birds.

Birds of prey figure prominently in the Scriptures. Most of the lists of "unclean" birds, are birds of prey in the most general sense of the term, including not only raptors, but also owls. These birds in the past, as today, were, and are a common sight in Bible lands, easily seen. Nearly half of the birds mentioned in the Bible belong to this classification.

It is thought birds are referred to in some texts, though it is not always translated by the word bird, and the Hebrew word for bird is not specifically used. For example, in the Song of Solomon 2:12 the Hebrew word used literally means singing, so it is understood to mean the singing of birds. Likewise in Ecclesiastes 12:4 the Hebrew words used literally means song-stresses, and so is thought to refer to birds.

The following list of birds and their assumed or known Biblical text, are noted. These are the birds that the people of the Bible particularly knew, or to which they had their attention drawn. Look up the texts in your Bible, and also consider which bird listed above as in this region may be meant in the text.

Space will not allow us to give the reasons for the probability or otherwise of the birds being what is suggested. Such reasons can be especially found in the article from The Classic Bible Dictionary. For the make of brevity and simplicity, the Hebrew and Greek nomenclature have been omitted.

Bee Eater - perhaps Isa 34:11, third bird mentioned.
Bittern - Isaiah 14:23.
Bustard - perhaps Zeph 2:14, second bird mentioned.
Buzzard - perhaps Deut 14:13, second bird mentioned,
Cock (domestic fowl:rooster) - I Kings 4:23; Matthew 26:74
Cormorant - perhaps Lev 11:19, first bird mentioned.
Crane- perhaps Jer 8:7, third bird mentioned.
Crow- Luke 12:24.
Cuckoo - perhaps Lev 11:16.
Eagle/Vulture: little attempt was made to distinguish the two - Matt 24:28, Luke 17:37, Job 39:28, Micah 1:16, 2 Samuel 1:23 suggest Eagle, because they are swifter than Vultures.
Griffon Vulture - Daniel 4:33
Egyptian Vulture - Lev 11:18
Osprey - perhaps Deut 14:15
Goose - I Kings 4:23.
Gull - perhaps Lev 11:16, third bird mentioned.
Heron - Deut 14:18
Hoopoe - third bird mentioned "lapwing" in A.V.
Ibis - probably designated by the birds listed as "unclean" in Deut 14:12-19 as it was associated with idolatry in Egypt.
Jackdaw - Psalm 102:6 (Not pelican habitat, as A.V.)
Kite Black - Jer 48:40 The word in Hebrew suggests the Kite’s call and swooping action, perhaps Deut 14:13, first bird mentioned.
Ostrich - Job 39:13-18. The Syrian ostrich, which once inhabited Palestine is now extinct there, but is still found in the Arabian Desert.
Owl - Where birds are referred to in desolate places such as ruins of cities, the tendency is to identify them as Owls. The Arabs know the Little Owl as "mother of ruins". Psalm 102.-6 Micah 1:8.
Partridge - I Sam 26:20 & Jer 17:11
Peacock - I Kings 10:22
Pelican - Same as for ibis.
Pigeon Both domestic & wild. Lev 1:14; Song of Sol 2:14; Jer 48:28 Luke 2:22-24 & Matthew 21:12
Plover - See for Ibis.
Quail - Exodus 16:13; Num 11:31 & Psalm 105:40
Raven - Gen 8:7; 1 Kings 17:3-6; Job 38:41; Song of Sol 5:11; Luke 12:24
Sparrow - (Could refer to any little Sparrow-like bird) Ps 84:3; Matt 10:29-30
Stork - Psalm 104:17, Zech 5:9
Swallow - Psalm 84:3
Swift - Jer 8:7 (fits more with swift than swallow).
Thicknee - perhaps Deut 14:18, second bird mentioned.
Thrush (Blue Rock Thrush) - Probably intended in Psalm 102:7
Turtledove - The Hebrew name is onomatopoeic - that is, it comes from the sound the bird makes. Jer 8:7, Ps 74:19, Song of Sol 2:11-12
Wryneck - Best suited to context of Isa 38:14


The Classic Bible Dictionary, Ed J. Green, Sovereign Grace, Lafayette, 1988, Article by B.L Goddard, Birds of the Bible.
The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, 4 Vol, G. Bromiley, Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, Article by Waltke, Birds, 1980.
S.P.Tregelles, Gesenius’ Hebrew & Chaldee Lexicon, Eerdmans, Michigan, 1969.
Heinzel, Fitter & Parslow, The Birds of Britain & Europe, With North Africa and the Middle East, Collins, London,1977.
M. Beazley, World Atlas of Birds, London, 1974.
Uzi Paz, The Birds of Israel, Christopher Helm, London, 1987
S. Vere Benson, Birds of Lebanon & the Jordan Area, I.C.B.P. 1970
Hollom, Porter,Christiansen & Wills, Birds of the Middle East & North Africa, T. & Poyser, Calton, 1988
The New Bible Dictionary, Article, Birds of the Bible Ed J.D.Douglas, I.V.P. 1968.

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This report was published in The Christian Bird Observer’s Magazine