On this list, lovers of poetry and lovers of birds can find twelve of the best poems that represent both. These pieces celebrate the nature of various birds, from the nightingale to the raven, and the windhover.
They also display the different ways that writers can approach bird-related imagery, and themes like beauty, immortality, happiness, and peace. As a symbol of freedom and joy, birds have become a universally interesting topic on which writers can express their thoughts and experiences.
Best Poems About Birds
- 1 The Windhover by Gerard Manley Hopkins
- 2 To a Skylark by Percy Bysshe Shelley
- 3 Ode to a Nightingale by John Keats
- 4 The Raven by Edgar Allan Poe
- 5 The Eagle by Alfred Lord Tennyson
- 6 A Bird came down the Walk by Emily Dickinson
- 7 To a Waterfowl by William Cullen Bryant
- 8 The Yellowhammer’s Nest by John Clare
- 9 Hope is a thing with feathers by Emily Dickinson
- 10 The Owl and the Nightingale by Anonymous
- 11 The Nightingale by Sir Philip Sidney
- 12 Song of the Owl by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
‘The Windhover’ is Gerard Manley Hopkins’s most famous poem. It’s also the one that he felt most connected to. In the sonnet, he describes a windhover, or kestrel, and compares it to Christ. Hopkins uses his “sprung rhyme” throughout. Here are a few lines from the poem:
I caught this morning morning’s minion, king-
dom of daylight’s dauphin, dapple-dawn-drawn Falcon, in his riding
Of the rolling level underneath him steady air, and striding
‘To a Skylark’ is an ode to the “blithe” essence of a singing skylark and how human beings are unable to ever reach that same bliss. The poem begins with the speaker spotting a skylark flying above him. He can hear the song clearly. The bird’s song is “unpremeditated,” it is unplanned and beautiful. Shelley is stunned by the music produced by the bird and entranced by its movement as it flies into the clouds and out of sight. Here are the first lines from the poem:
Hail to thee, blithe Spirit!
Bird thou never wert,
That from Heaven, or near it,
Pourest thy full heart
In profuse strains of unpremeditated art.
In ‘Ode to a Nightingale,’ which is likely Keats’s best-known work, the nightingale plays an important role. The speaker listens to it sing and feels jealous of its carefree life. Inspired by the song, he considers giving himself over to the woods and trying to discover the same kind of freedom the nightingale has. He even thinks about allowing himself to die in the woods. Here are the first lines from the poem:
My heart aches, and a drowsy numbness pains
My sense, as though of hemlock I had drunk,
Or emptied some dull opiate to the drains
One minute past, and Lethe-wards had sunk:
‘Tis not through envy of thy happy lot,
‘The Raven’ is a supernatural, dream-like poem that makes use of his most frequently visited themes. There is loss, death, fear, and, and above all else, the haunting presence of the talking raven. The creature cries throughout the text, a single word: “Nevermore.” You can read the first lines of the poem below:
Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore—
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
‘The Eagle’ speaks on the power and solitude of a lone eagle on a rocky cliff. The poem begins with the speaker describing how a solitary eagle is standing on the top of a craggy cliff. From where he is perched, with his “crooked hands” gripping the rocks, he can survey the whole “azure world” around and below him. Here are the three lines of stanza two:
The wrinkled sea beneath him crawls;
He watches from his mountain walls,
And like a thunderbolt he falls.
‘A Bird came down the Walk’ describes the simple, yet beautiful, actions of a bird searching for food and then taking flight. The poem begins with the speaker describing a bird she sees. She’s nearby, allowing her to look at the bird. It does not immediately notice her, though. From where she is situated, she sees the bird pick up an “Angle Worm” and bite it in half. It moves quickly from place to place, showing the anxiety inherent to most of its species. Here are a few lines:
A Bird, came down the Walk –
He did not know I saw –
He bit an Angle Worm in halves
And ate the fellow, raw,
In ‘To a Waterfowl,’ the speaker addresses the waterfowl and asks it where it’s going and why. He warns the creature that traveling alone is dangerous. But, he soon states, the bird isn’t alone. He’s accompanied by a higher power—God. This poem was inspired by a similar lonely walk the poet took. Here is the first stanza:
Whither, ‘midst falling dew,
While glow the heavens with the last steps of day,
Far, through their rosy depths, dost thou pursue
Thy solitary way?
‘The Yellowhammer’s Nest’ describes the beautiful and brutal world in which the yellowhammer lives. The speaker asks his listeners to draw close to a stream and look at a nest nestled there. It contains beautiful eggs with “scribbled” lines on them. He goes on to speak about the beauty of the world of birds and how many things can interrupt it.
Just by the wooden brig a bird flew up,
Frit by the cowboy as he scrambled down
To reach the misty dewberry—let us stoop
And seek its nest—the brook we need not dread,
‘ope is a thing with feathers’ is one of Dickinson’s most optimistic poems. It focuses on the personification of hope. She depicts it as a bird that perches inside her soul and sings. The bird asks for nothing. It is at peace and is, therefore, able to impart the same hope and peace to the speaker. She can depend on it, and take pleasure from it. Here are a few lines:
“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –
The Owl and the Nightingale by Anonymous
This is one of the longest poems on this list and also one of the oldest. It was written around 1189, or perhaps shortly after. The poem is written in English, but it is not the modern English that most readers will be familiar with. It depicts a debate between two birds, the owl, and the nightingale, and the varying views they have on everything. Some of their topics of discussion are serious, like religion, while others are more frivolous. Here are the first four lines:
Ich was in one sumere dale,
in one suþe diȝele hale,
iherde ich holde grete tale
an hule and one niȝtingale.
The Nightingale by Sir Philip Sidney
In ‘The Nightingale,’ Sir Philip Sidney describes a nightingale and her song. He makes the traditional allusion to Philomela, and tries to offer the bird some “gladness.” He spends the other lines alluding to the story at the heart of nightingale myth and speaking on mortality and immortality.
The nightingale, as soon as April bringeth
Unto her rested sense a perfect waking,
While late bare earth, proud of new clothing, springeth,
Sings out her woes, a thorn her song-book making,
And mournfully bewailing,
Song of the Owl by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
In this very unusual poem, Longfellow uses very short lines, one to three words in length, to celebrate the nature of the “great black / Owl.” The poem is light-hearted and very much up for interpretation. Here are the last four lines:
The great black
Hi! a! haa!