Birds of Ill Omen

AMONG the signs which are believed by the superstitious to prognosticate future events, those connected with the habits and character of birds have always been regarded as important. So much attention was paid by the ancients to these indications that the word bird was even in Homer’s time synonymous with omen. Most birds were considered ominous of good or evil according to the place and manner of their appearance, so that they might be said to flutter with uncertain wings on the confines of disaster and success. Others, however, from their own nature were believed to portend calamity, and although they might occasionally afford a presage of good luck, yet their general reputation was decidedly bad. There is nothing so hard to get rid of as a bad name, and as this is true alike of bipeds with or without feathers, it is not surprising that some of the former have always been regarded as birds of ill omen.

It is noticeable that this stigma has been affixed only to those birds whose appearance or voice is disagreeable, and whose habits are somewhat peculiar, any eccentricity in this respect being perverted by superficial observers into an alarming portent. Thus the owl has had to bear a good deal of unmerited abuse because of his nocturnal habits and unmelodibus notes. Even his wise looks and judicial gravity have been made the subject of derisive criticism. The only persons who really appreciated the owl were the citizens of ancient Athens, and the good opinion of that refined and intellectual people, like praise from Sir Hubert Stanley, outweighs any amount of depreciation. In that city owls were sacred to Minerva, the goddess of wisdom, and were looked upon as omens of victory and success. By the Romans they were regarded with feelings of detestation and dread, as foreboding grave misfortunes. The language applied to these birds by the Latin poets reflects the prevailing prejudice and superstition. Even Virgil gives a bad name to the owl. Ovid calls it a dire omen of mortality; Lucan stigmatizes it as “ sinister bubo,” and Claudian inveighs against it as “infestus ” (dangerous or hostile) “ bubo.” The word Bubo, used by naturalists to denote horned-owls, originally had reference to the peculiar sound of the note of this nocturnal bird, which in Spanish is called Bubo, in French, Hibou ; and in English, Boo-hoo, as Buffon has also entitled it.

Some of the worst things ever said about the owl came from the elder Pliny. The Roman naturalist, who trusted more to others’ observation than his own, and in whose writings fact and fiction are often inextricably blended, calls the owl an inauspicious and funereal bird. He is particularly severe upon the hornedowl, to which he gives a very lugubrious character, calling it the monster of the night that never utters a cheerful note, but emits a doleful shriek or moan. This owl and the screech-owl were especially abhorred and dreaded by the Romans as messengers of death. As the former inhabited only deserted and inaccessible places, its appearance in cities was considered a very alarming omen. During the early days of the Consulship a horned - owl happened to stray into the Capitol at Rome, causing general consternation. To avert the disasters which this round-faced prodigy was believed to portend, a lustration or general purification was ordered. Butler has referred to this incident in some amusing lines in Hudibras.

Pliny, after stating that it is looked upon as a direful omen to see an owl in a city or even anywhere, in the daytime, confidently remarks: “ I know, however, for a fact, that it is not portentous of evil when it settles on the top of a private house.” The deaths of several of the Roman emperors were supposed to have been foreboded by the appearance of owls in the halls or on the roofs of their palaces. Brande, in his Popular Antiquities, has given many curious illustrations from old writers of the misfortunes of which these birds were the prophetic precursors. One of the most sacrilegious acts ever committed by an owl took place during the reign of Pope John XXIV., when the bird of night had the effrontery to fly into the hall w here the Holy Father was holding a council, disturbing its deliberations by bis ill-omened presence.

It is not strange that the owl in modern times should be the victim of inherited aversion. As the perverse fowl has not so far profited by criticism as to change its nature or habits, the same causes which occasioned its classical ill-repute help to perpetuate it. A bird that shuns the honest light of day and disturbs drowsy rustics by hooting and screeching at night, that haunts ruined and deserted places, prowls round church-yards, and hides in hollow trees, must expect to be maligned. It is natural, therefore, to find traces of this superstitious dread in the works of modern poets and prose writers. Chaucer speaks of the owl as bringing the bode of death. Spenser, too, gives it the same ghastly character: —

“ The rueful Stritch still waiting on the beere.
The whistler shrill, that whoso heares doth die ; ”

and again: —

The ill-faced owle, death’s dreadful messenger.”

Marston, in enumerating the gloomy creatures that prowl about at dead of night, associates screeching owls with " meagre ghosts, Piero, and black thoughts,” and in Reed’s Old Plays it is said that the croaking of screechowls upon the chimney-tops is certain to be followed by hearing of a corpse. There was a prevalent popular superstition in England, in the olden time, that if a screech-owl flapped its wings or screeched near the windows of a sick person’s chamber one of the family would soon die; and in a paper in the Spectator in which the belief in omens is keenly satirized, it is observed that a screech-owl at midnight has alarmed a family more than a band of robbers.

Shakespeare largely availed himself of the sinister reputation of the bird of doom. “ The ominous and fearful owl of death,” as he has graphically characterized it, is associated with goblins and elvish sprites, and King Henry VI. mentions the shriek of the owl at the birth of Gloster among the portents of his infamous career. And when Lady Macbeth is waiting in suspense for tidings of the murder of Duncan by her husband,

“It was the owl that shrieked, the fatal bellman,
Which gives the stern’st good night.”

The phrase in Hamlet, “ They say the owl was a baker’s daughter,” probably had reference to the story still common among the peasantry in Gloucestershire, of a baker’s daughter being transformed into this bird by our Saviour, as a punishment for reducing to a very small size the large piece of dough which her mother had agreed to bake for him. The dough, however, swelled in the oven to enormous proportions, to the great astonishment of the baker’s daughter, who cried out “ Heugh, heugh, heugli.” This owl-like noise suggested her transformation into that bird. The story is told to deter children from illiberal treatment of the poor. It is evidently alluded to in Beaumont and Fletcher’s play of The Nice Valour, where the Passionate Lord says, after speaking of a nest of owls, " Happy is he whose window opens to a brown baker’s chimney! he shall be sure there to hear the bird sometimes after twilight.” 1 According to a legend prevalent in the north of England, Pharaoh’s daughter was transformed into an owl, and when this bird screams at night, children are told the strange story of its origin in the following distich: —

“ Oh ! — ŏ-ŏ-ŏ — o-ō
I was once a king’s daughter and sat on my father’s
But now I 'm a poor hoolet, and hide in a hollow
tree ! ”

Nuttall, the ornithologist, says he often heard this couplet when a child, in the old country.

In Sweden the owl is considered a bird of sorcery. Great caution is necessary in speaking of such birds to avoid being insnared. It is dangerous to kill one of them, as its associates might avenge its death. Although the owl is worshiped at Hindoo festivals, it is generally regarded as a bird of ill omen. If one happens to perch on the house of a native, it is a sign that one of his household will die, or some other misfortune befall him within a year. This can be averted only by giving the house or its value in money to the Brahmins, or making extraordinary peace-offerings to the gods. The oblations to Vishnu and other deities are followed by an entertainment of clarified butter and rice milk to the Brahmins, who after receiving the sacrificial fees will give a benediction to their deluded followers. Among some of the North American tribes it is customary for an Indian to whistle when he hears the cry of a peculiar kind of owl. If the bird does not answer him he expects to die speedily. On account of the superstition, this owl, which inhabits both Europe and North America, is called the Bird of Death.2

There is a strange fascination in the appearance of the owl at midnight in the stillness of the woods, as he wings his spectral flight and utters his moan of lamentation, and it is not surprising that his nocturnal habits and unearthly shriek should make him an object of dread to the ignorant and credulous. But the intelligent observer detects a harmony between this ghostly visitor and the scenes amid which he sounds his sombre notes. The moping owl in his ivy-mantled tower is in unison with the solemn pathos of Gray’s Elegy, and the cry of the boding owl had a plaintive charm to the sensitive ear of Cowper. The naturalist also appreciates the qualities which have been recognized by the poet, and the owl no where appears to better advantage than in the pictured pages of Audubon, who calls him the Sancho Panza of the woods. Indeed, we could not well spare the owl either in literature or life, in the domain of soaring fancy or of groveling fact. He is the fitting embodiment of that supernatural influence which lends such a shadowy charm to bygone days, innocent alike of scientific knowledge and scientific skepticism.

Crows and ravens have generally been regarded by superstitious people as birds of ill omen. Their croaking garrulity was believed by the ancients to portend calamity, and the belief still lingers among the moderns. Pliny observes that the crow is most inauspicious at the time of incubation, just after the summer solstice. Ravens, he tells us, are the only birds that seem to understand the meaning of their auspices, for when the guests of Medus were assassinated, the ravens all took their departure from Attica and the Peloponnesus. He adds that they are of the very worst omen when they swallow their voice, as if they were being choked. It was supposed that these birds uttered them shrill, discordant cry as a note of warning to persons about to die, and Alexander the Great is said to have been thus admonished that his end was near. “ He that employed a raven to be the feeder of Elias,” says an old writer, “ may employ the same bird as a messenger of death to others.” Appian and other authors have made special mention of the crows which were believed to have foreboded the death of Cicero. As the great Roman orator lay sleeping in his Formian villa after his temporary escape from his pursuers, large numbers of these birds are said to have fluttered and screamed about the windows, as if to warn him of his approaching fate. One of them, after entering his chamber, pulled away the bedclothes from solicitude for his safety, till his faithful slaves, frightened by the omens, roused him from Ids slumbers and carried him away in the litter in which he was soon after assassinated.

This story affords a good illustration of the ancient belief in the prophetic powers of the raven which caused it to be sacred to Apollo. Virgil, who had the good sense to regard the actions of these birds as the result of natural, rather than supernatural causes, refers in the Georgies to the joyful notes of the raven after a storm as indicative of fair weather, and mentions the dismal croak of the impudent crow stalking solitarily on the dry sand, as a sign of approaching rain. If a raven appeared on the left of a person the omen was particularly bad —

“ Sæpe sinistra cava praedixit ab ilice cornix.”

The evil repute attached to these birds in ancient times has lingered for centuries among the moderns. Abundant evidence of it is found in English literature. Spenser speaks of

“ The hoarse night raven, trompe of doleful dreere,”

Marston associates the screeching crow, “ fluttering Tout casements of departing souls,” with gaping graves and the most dismal voices of the night. In the Barons’ Wars, Drayton mentions the baleful notes of the ominous raven as begetting strange, imaginary fears, and telling through his hoarse beak of following horror. The prevalence of this superstition is thus referred to in Butler’s Hudibras:—

“ Is it not om’nous in all countries
When crows and ravens croak upon trees ? ”

It is natural that there should be many illustrations of this belief in the pages of Shakespeare, who turns to good account the weird fancies of all ages in his inimitable creations. Hoarse, hateful, fatal, wolfish, bellowing, are the epithets which he applies to the raven, and the crow does not fare much better, being stigmatized as ribald and knavish. The reputation of the raven as a prophet of disaster is illustrated in two memorable instances. Thus, when Lady Macbeth is plotting the murder of the king, she seeks to have his doom foreboded by the voice of the ill-omened bird: —

“ The raven himself is hoarse
That croaks the fatal entrance of Duncan
Under my battlements.”

And when Othello is reminded by Iago, to rouse his jealousy, of Desdemona’s missing handkerchief, he exclaims in the agony of his grief, —

“ Oh, it comes o'er my memory,
As doth the raven o'er the infected house,
Boding to all.”

It is difficult for us to realize the impressiveness which these illustrations must have had in the olden time, when the raven, instead of being the plaything of fancy, was an object of dread as a veritable doom-bird. This popular conception of the corvus family, which existed in full force long after Shakespeare’s day, is still prevalent in the Old World. Bishop Hall, in enumerating the omens that terrified the superstitious man in the early part of the seventeenth century, says that “if he heare but a raven croke from the next roofe he makes his will.” At a later day Ramesey remarked in his Elminthologia: “ If a crow fly but over the house and croak thrice, how do they fear they, or some one else in the family, shall die!” Home, in his Dæmonologie in 1650, mentions the flying and croaking of ravens over a house as the dreaded portent of death. In the following century we find the gloomy superstition still strong in the minds of the vulgar. It is quaintly said in the Secret Memoirs of Duncan Campbell, that “Some will defer going abroad, though called by business of the greatest consequence, if, happening to look out of the window, they see a single crow.” The poet Gay, in his amusing fable of The Farmer’s Wife and the Raven, makes the former mention among the omens which caused her grief, —

“ That raven on yon left-hand oak
(Curse on his ill betiding croak !)”

It may surprise some people to learn that dread of the croaking raven still exists in many parts of Great Britain. Collectors of folk lore narrate many curious instances of it in recent days. In his entertaining work on Romances and Drolls of the West of England, London, 1865, second series, Mr. Hunt relates an anecdote told to him by “a really intelligent man,” which illustrates this feeling. The family of this person were annoyed by the croaking of a raven over their house, some of them believing it to be a death-token, while others ridiculed the idea. By the advice of a good lady who lived next door, they noted the day and hour of the occurrence, and five months afterward they received a black-edged letter from Australia announcing the death of one of the members of the family in that country. On comparing the dates of the death and the raven’s croak, they were found to have occurred on the same day. A writer in Notes and Queries, May 21, 1853, relates an incident showing the power of this superstition over bodily as well as mental health. At a meeting of the guardians of the poor of a parish in Cornwall, which took place a short time previous, an application was made by the relieving officer on behalf of a single woman residing in the church village at Altarnum. “ The cause of seeking relief was stated to be ‘ grief,’ and on asking for an explanation, the officer said that the applicant’s inability to work was owing to depressed spirits produced by the flight of a croaking raven over her dwelling on the morning of her visit to the village. The pauper was by this circumstance, in connection with its well-known ominous character, actually frightened into a state of wretched nervous depression, which induced physical want.”

Nowhere is superstition more rife than in the north of Europe, and there the raven is invested with more ghastly qualities than in sunnier climes. In Sweden the ravens that scream by night in forest-swamps and wild moors are said to be the ghosts of murdered men concealed there by their undetected murderers, and denied Christian burial. By the peasantry of Denmark the nightraven is considered an exorcised spirit. There is a hole in its left wing, caused by the stake driven into the earth where a spirit has been exorcised. It is dangerous to look up when it is flying overhead, for whoever sees through the hole in its wing will be transformed into a night-raven, and the bird will be released from its weary flight. Its course is ever towards the East, in order to reach the Holy Sepulchre, where it will obtain rest. In the Danish isles the appearance of a raven in a village is a sign that the parish priest will soon die.

Though the raven and the owl are mentioned together in Scripture as typical of desolation, yet the former, as the first messenger sent from the Ark, and the feeder of Elijah in the wilderness, is a more pleasing object than the owl of the desert, the companion of dragons, and the representative of mourning and lamentation. The figure of the raven which darkened the banners of the Danes and Saxons may be seen also among the Norman ensigns in the Bayeux tapestry, and with the Scandinavians it was the usual symbol of slaughter.

Magpies, or magot-pies, as they were originally called, have generally been considered birds of ill omen. In Sweden they are believed to be under the special protection of the powers of darkness. When the witches go on Walpurgis night to their scenes of elfish revelry in the Blakulle, they take the form of magpies. The baldness round the necks of these birds at the close of summer, their moulting season, is supposed by the superstitious country-people to be caused by the yoke of the Evil One, which they have worn in the Blakulle while helping him to gather in his hay.

The dread of the magpie as ominous of death, which can be traced back to the olden time, still lingers in many parts of England and Scotland. Allusions to it may be found in Shakespeare, who associates the dismal discords of the “chattering pies” with those baleful sights and sounds that attended the birth of Richard III. At the beginning of this century it was truthfully said that many an old woman would more willingly see the devil, who bodes no more ill-luck than he brings, than a magpie perching in a neighboring tree; and at this late day, the boasted light of our civilization has not wholly dispelled this gloomy superstition. Henderson, in his entertaining work on the Folk Lore of the Northern Counties of England, etc., describes his astonishment, while driving an old lady in her pony carriage in his boyhood, to see her snatch the reins out of his hands and suddenly bring the pony to a stand. The object which had excited her alarm was a magpie crossing the road, upon which she was gazing with intense interest. After a short pause she exclaimed, with a sigh, “ Oh, the nasty bird! Turn back, turn hack!” And back they went, the old lady repeating to him on the way home the following lines illustrating the superstition: —

“ One is sorrow, two mirth,
Three a wedding, four a birth,
five heaven, six hell,
Seven the deil’s ain sel'.”

The first couplet, with some variations, is prevalent, in Great Britain. The evil omen conveyed by this bird is generally limited to its appearance singly, and the superstitious dread of it is not confined to the poor and ignorant. A county magistrate and landowner in Yorkshire in 1825, while riding to York to deposit his rents in a bank, turned back on seeing a magpie fly across his path, and the failure of the bank on the following day was supposed to have been foreboded by the appearance of the bird.

Communications in Notes and Queries as late as 1866 show that men and women of excellent education and position, chiefly of the old school, are in the habit of making certain signs whenever they see a magpie, to avert the evil consequences which they believe will otherwise ensue, and these statements are confirmed by recent works on English folk lore. The modes of dispelling the charm are various. Some persons content themselves with bowing and raising the hat, while others, more devout, make the sign of the cross on their breasts, in the air, or on the ground. The custom of crossing the thumbs for this purpose is said to ho confined to Yorkshire. One elderly gentleman there not only crosses his thumbs, but to make assurance doubly sure, spits over them. In this he follows a time-honored usage, for spitting as a charm against evil was practiced by the most cultivated nations of antiquity. It is adverted to by classic poets, philosophers, and satirists, and was condemned by some of the Christian fathers. Spitting, being a sign of contempt or aversion, was a defiance of the omen.

The reason given by a servant in the north of England to her master, a clergyman, for the evil reputation of the magpie, certainly justified her ill opinion, though it may not be equally convincing to Biblical scholars. She said “it was the only bird which did not go into the ark with Noah; it liked better to sit outside, jabbering over the drowned world.” The thieving propensities of the magpie are well known. Time has not cured him, or his cousin, the jackdaw, of the habit of stealing gold and silver, which excited the wonder of Pliny and furnished such felicitous illustrations to Ovid and Cicero, to say nothing of modern authors. The superstitious belief that the treasures purloined by the magpie are, when found, perilous as witches’ money, may afford some consolation to the owner of such property.

Crowing hens are birds of ill omen. According to a Northamptonshire proverb,

“ A whistling woman and crowing hen
Are tit for neither God nor men.”

Similar proverbs are current in Normandy and Cornwall. All along the border between England and Scotland a crowing lien is regarded as a portent of death. A few years ago an old woman in the parish of East Kilbride heard one of her hens crow near the house. She mentioned the circumstance to a neighbor, saying that no good would come of it. Not long afterwards her husband died. A month passed by, and once more she heard the fatal sound, which was followed in a few days by tidings of the death of her only son. A week later the hen crowed again, and the eldest daughter died. The old woman could stand this no longer. In her desperation she seized the unlucky fowl, wrung its neck, and threw it into the fire. Wiser people have burned men and women with less show of reason. The following question was proposed many years ago by a writer in The British Apollo: —

“ When my hens do crow,
Tell me if it be ominous or no ? ”

This was answered by another contributor whose reason is better than his rhyme: —

“ With crowing of your hens we will not twit ye,
Since here they every day crow in the city ;
Thence thought no omen. ”

Besides the above-mentioned birds, which have generally been regarded as ominous of evil, there are others that on particular occasions or in certain places are of ill fame. Thus, in England it is thought to be an unlucky sign to have no money in one’s pocket on hearing the cuckoo for the first time in a season. This bird is also considered of evil omen under similar circumstances by the Danes, and in Sweden it shares with the owl and the magpie the reputation of being a bird of sorcery. The swallow, which in classic times was of repute in auguries, is in some countries considered a messenger of life, in others the herald of death. In Ireland the vulgar call it the devil’s bird, and believe there is a certain hair on every person’s head which, if pecked off by a swallow, dooms the victim to eternal perdition. But in Scotland the pretty little yellow-hammer is dreaded as the devil’s bird.

Doves in the possession of persons about to be married are supposed to bring bad luck, and they have sometimes been got rid of for this reason. If pigeons come into a house misfortunes are sure to follow. Their settling on a table forebodes sickness, and on a bed, death. When rooks desert a rookery the downfall of the family owning the estate is thereby portended, and if these birds haunt a town or village, mortality awaits its inhabitants. Such are the superstitions still current in the British Islands. The peculiar cry of beangeese, on their flight southward from Scotland and Scandinavia, bears a singular resemblance to the yelping of beagles, and this is the origin of the superstitious belief in the spectral pack known as the Gabriel hounds. As these wild fowl select dark nights for their migration, it is not surprising that their strange unearthly cries should be considered ominous of approaching death. Wordsworth, in one of his sonnets, has connected this belief with the German legend of the Wild Huntsman who is doomed to chase the flying deer forever on aerial grounds. In some parts of Germany and Scotland the souls of unbaptized children are supposed to accompany the spectral pack as they sweep across the wintry sky. The wide-spread belief that unchristened babies have no rest after death, but are forced to wander in the air till the judgment-day, is thus blended with another equally curious.

There is a prevalent superstition that when birds fly round a house and rest on the window-sill, or tap against the pane, death is sure to follow. A pure white pigeon was thus believed to forebode calamity by a pious lady in Yorkshire, who, when her minister soon after fell dead in the pulpit, recalled the ominous occurrence. If there is sickness in a house the portent is peculiarly alarming. The crowing of a cock at night has caused superstitious servants to leave a family. Even the robin, which all over Christendom is regarded with affection and reverence, is in Scotland and some parts of England thought to be a prophet of death to the sick person who hears its song. Mr. S. Baring Gould thus refers to the belief among the boys at St. John’s College, Hurstpierpoint, that when a death takes place a robin will enter the chapel, light upon the altar, and begin to sing: “ Singularly enough, I saw this happen myself on one occasion. I happened to be in the chapel one evening at six o'clock, when a robin entered at the open circular east window in the temporary apse, and lighting on the altar began to chirp. A few minutes later the passing bell began to toll for a boy who had just died.” In one of the Familiar Letters of old James Howell there is a quaint description of a tombstone which he saw in a stone-cutter’s shop in Fleet Street, in memory of four members of a family named Oxenham. The inscription stated that a bird with a white breast appeared to each of the deceased at the hour of death. The fact was attested by several witnesses whose names were engraved upon the stone, and Howell himself expresses his belief in it. A similar circumstance is mentioned in the memoirs of Lady Fanshawe. Two robin-redbreasts, as we learn from his biographer, appeared in midsummer in the sick chamber of Bishop Doyle, where they fluttered about, sometimes perching on his bed, until death released him. Among the occurrences which are said to have warned Thomas, Lord Lyttelton, of his approaching end, the appearance of a bird is one of the best authenticated.

It is easy for us to smile at the superstitions that have filled so many hearts with awe, and fancy loves to linger over the associations on which terror used to brood. But the old fear still haunts some natures, and cannot be driven out by science or charmed away by philosophy. To us the boding owl, the croaking raven, the solitary magpie, and the crowing hen, though no longer objects of dread, are more interesting because of the weird memories which they recall. In a prosaic age we cannot afford to let these traditions pass away. They lift us above the earthy level into the dreamland of sentiment and romance. Without them we lose the meaning of many facts and fancies of the olden time, and diminish our stock of pleasurable associations.

These beliefs, moreover, are symbolized and authenticated by our daily experience. Birds of ill omen abound in human society. There are men and women to whom we feel an instinctive aversion, based upon an intuitive perception of their evil influence; croakers, worse than the maligned raven, who delight to peck at the weaknesses of men, but do not appreciate their better qualities; purblind owls, that can only blink in the sunshine of honesty, but hoot as they fly about at midnight, disturbing the peace of society; gossiping magpies, who carry scandal on their baleful wings, and forebode domestic discomfort and unhappiness. Nor will truth allow us to omit the crowing hens, the viragoes of social life, Xantippes upon whom even Socratic wisdom is thrown away. Though their dusky hues set off the bright plumage of their cheerful sisters, yet they cast a shadow which no sunshine can dispel. Then there is the numerous family of bores, that flap their leaden wings through every open door. The game laws of society forbid their destruction. The satirist cannot penetrate their toughened cuticle, and the morbid anatomist dulls his scalpel on their indurated sensibilities.

But there are more detestable creatures still. We need not read Tennyson to learn that, the carrion vulture waits for the warbler at the gates of fame; that genius and worth are the congenial quarry of the rapacious hunters of men. They gnaw at the vitals of the new Prometheus, and strive to rend the reputations which are their perpetual reproach. Nor can such ghoulish creatures justify themselves by the example of the feathered biped. The bird of prey only follows the promptings of his nature, which he is powerless to change. He is not to blame because he has an instinct for garbage, and loves darkness better than light. But a reasonable creature has no such excuse. Being free to choose between good and evil, he is justly held responsible for the results of his choice. If he is so far perverted as to find enjoyment in the misfortunes of his fellows, if by his dark and crooked ways he becomes an object of dread to honest men and women, he must expect to be stigmatized as a bird of ill omen.

Alexander Young.

  1. The prevalence of a belief in such a transformation by Christ is very curious, though the traditions vary somewhat in different countries In Norway the story is told of a woman with a red hood, mimed Gertrud. As she flew up the kitchen chimney her body was blackened with spot, and thus she appears as the red-crested black woodpecker, which the Norwegians call Gertrud’s bird. According to the North Germans a baker’s man was the offender. He was turned into a cuckoo, whose dun-colored plumage, seemingly sprinkled with flour, recalls its origin. — Thorpe’s Northern Mythology, vols. ii. and iii. Compare Hazlitt’s English Proverbs and Proverbial Phrases, p. 381.
  2. Otherwise known as Tengmalm’s Owl.