Ancient Egyptian Birds in Hieroglyphs

Most hieroglyphs are based on things that the ancient Egyptians saw around them. Hands, feet, boats and animals all feature in a big way. One of the most popular themes was the birds of Egypt, which played an important part in the culture.

The sacred Ibis

The sacred Ibis

Birds were viewed as important or powerful for various reasons – not least that being able to fly they were in many ways, out of the reach of humans. Many of the gods were depicted with bird heads. Thoth, the Egyptian god of wisdom or knowledge was always depicted as having the head of an Ibis. The

Ancient Egyptians believed that the soul (the ‘ba’) was able to leave the body during death and would one day return – the process of resurrection. In many inscriptions, the ba is depicted as a bird.

Along the Nile, some of the multitude of bird-life included the falcon, kite, goose, crane, heron, plover, pigeon, ibis, vulture and owl. Many of these birds were, in fact, kept in sacred flocks by the ancient Egyptians and some individual birds were even elevated to temple animals.

We know that birds were often mummified, usually for Egyptian citizens to present as offerings to the gods. Many of these bird mummies were provided with the same provisions in death as would have been afforded a human mummy!

A mummified bird

A mummified bird

Given the above, it’s not surprising that birds feature heavily in the hieroglyphic alphabet – unfortunately it’s hard to put a name to many of the birds at first glance, so in this post we’ve matched each hieroglyph up with its bird species it actually represents. See how many you can guess!

 

Hieroglyph Species Sound
󳮮 Vulture A
𓅀 Double Vulture AA
󳰎 Quail chick U or w
𓅳 Double Quail chick Uu or ww
󳯑 Owl M
𓅔 Double owl MM
𓅮 Pintail Duck flying pA
𓅜 Crested Ibis Ax
𓅯 Pintail Duck alighting (taking off) xn
𓅬 White fronted – Goose gb
𓅠 Black Ibis gm
𓅧 Cormorant aq
𓅭 Pintail Duck zA
𓅷 Duckling TA
𓅘 Sennar Guine-fowl nH
𓅨 Swallow wr
𓅙 Hoopoe db
𓅡 Jabiru bA
𓅰 Fattened duck wSA
𓅪 Sparrow nDS
𓅶 Quail chick with U1 mAw
𓅐 Vulture mwt
𓅂 Falcon tyw
𓅚 Lapwing rxyt
𓅟 Flamingo dSr
𓅤 Crested ibis on perch baHi

 

Bonus

We couldn’t finish an article about Egyptian bird hieroglyphics without mentioning what is arguably the cutest hieroglyph known to have existed:

󳰘

The “three ducklings in a nest” Hieroglyph is thought simply to have been an ideogram for the word nest.

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