bird in the hand


  1. any warm-blooded vertebrate of the class Aves, having a body covered with feathers, forelimbs modified into wings, scaly legs, a beak, and no teeth, and bearing young in a hard-shelled egg.
  2. a fowl or game bird.
  3. Sports.
    1. clay pigeon.
    2. a shuttlecock.
  4. Slang. a person, especially one having some peculiarity: He’s a queer bird.
  5. Informal. an aircraft, spacecraft, or guided missile.
  6. Cookery. a thin piece of meat, poultry, or fish rolled around a stuffing and braised: veal birds.
  7. Southern U.S. (in hunting) a bobwhite.
  8. Chiefly British Slang. a girl or young woman.
  9. Archaic. the young of any fowl.
  10. the bird, Slang.
    1. disapproval, as of a performance, by hissing, booing, etc.: He got the bird when he came out on stage.
    2. scoffing or ridicule: He was trying to be serious, but we all gave him the bird.
    3. an obscene gesture of contempt made by raising the middle finger.

verb (used without object)

  1. to catch or shoot birds.
  2. to bird-watch.
  1. a little bird, Informal. a secret source of information: A little bird told me that today is your birthday.
  2. bird in the hand, a thing possessed in fact as opposed to a thing about which one speculates: A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.Also bird in hand.
  3. birds of a feather, people with interests, opinions, or backgrounds in common: Birds of a feather flock together.
  4. eat like a bird, to eat sparingly: She couldn’t understand why she failed to lose weight when she was, as she said, eating like a bird.
  5. for the birds, Slang. useless or worthless; not to be taken seriously: Their opinions on art are for the birds. That pep rally is for the birds.
  6. kill two birds with one stone, to achieve two aims with a single effort: She killed two birds with one stone by shopping and visiting the museum on the same trip.
  7. the birds and the bees, basic information about sex and reproduction: It was time to talk to the boy about the birds and the bees.


  1. nickname of (Charlie) Parker


  1. any warm-blooded egg-laying vertebrate of the class Aves, characterized by a body covering of feathers and forelimbs modified as wings. Birds vary in size between the ostrich and the humming birdRelated adjectives: avian, ornithic
  2. informal a person (usually preceded by a qualifying adjective, as in the phrases rare bird, odd bird, clever bird)
  3. slang, mainly British a girl or young woman, esp one’s girlfriend
  4. slang prison or a term in prison (esp in the phrase do bird; shortened from birdlime, rhyming slang for time)
  5. a bird in the hand something definite or certain
  6. the bird has flown informal the person in question has fled or escaped
  7. the birds and the bees euphemistic, or jocular sex and sexual reproduction
  8. birds of a feather people with the same characteristics, ideas, interests, etc
  9. get the bird informal
    1. to be fired or dismissed
    2. (esp of a public performer) to be hissed at, booed, or derided
  10. give someone the bird informal to tell someone rudely to depart; scoff at; hiss
  11. kill two birds with one stone to accomplish two things with one action
  12. like a bird without resistance or difficulty
  13. a little bird a (supposedly) unknown informanta little bird told me it was your birthday
  14. for the birds or strictly for the birds informal deserving of disdain or contempt; not important

Old English bird, rare collateral form of bridd, originally “young bird, nestling” (the usual Old English for “bird” being fugol), of uncertain origin with no cognates in any other Germanic language. The suggestion that it is related by umlaut to brood and breed is rejected by OED as “quite inadmissible.” Metathesis of -r- and -i- was complete 15c.

Middle English, in which bird referred to various young animals and even human beings, may have preserved the original meaning of this word. Despite its early attestation, bridd is not necessarily the oldest form of bird. It is usually assumed that -ir- from -ri- arose by metathesis, but here, too, the Middle English form may go back to an ancient period. [Liberman]

Figurative sense of “secret source of information” is from 1540s. Bird dog (n.) attested from 1832, a gun dog used in hunting game birds; hence the verb (1941) meaning “to follow closely.” Bird-watching attested from 1897. Bird’s-eye view is from 1762. For the birds recorded from 1944, supposedly in allusion to birds eating from droppings of horses and cattle.

A byrde yn honde ys better than three yn the wode. [c.1530]


“maiden, young girl,” c.1300, confused with burd (q.v.), but felt by later writers as a figurative use of bird (n.1). Modern slang meaning “young woman” is from 1915, and probably arose independently of the older word.


“middle finger held up in a rude gesture,” slang derived from 1860s expression give the big bird “to hiss someone like a goose,” kept alive in vaudeville slang with sense of “to greet someone with boos, hisses, and catcalls” (1922), transferred 1960s to the “up yours” hand gesture (the rigid finger representing the hypothetical object to be inserted) on notion of defiance and contempt. Gesture itself seems to be much older (the human anatomy section of a 12c. Latin bestiary in Cambridge describes the middle finger as that “by means of which the pursuit of dishonour is indicated”).

  1. Any of numerous warm-blooded, egg-laying vertebrate animals of the class Aves. Birds have wings for forelimbs, a body covered with feathers, a hard bill covering the jaw, and a four-chambered heart.

A benefit available now is more valuable than some possibly larger future benefit. For example, Bob thinks he might do better in a bigger firm, but his wife insists he should stay, saying a bird in the hand. This expression, which in full is A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush, was an ancient Greek proverb. It was well known in English by about 1400 and has been repeated so frequently that it is often shortened.

In addition to the idioms beginning with bird

  • bird has flown, the
  • bird in the hand
  • bird of passage
  • birds and the bees, the
  • birds of a feather (flock together)

also see:

  • catbird seat
  • early bird catches the worm
  • eat like a bird
  • for the birds
  • free as a bird
  • kill two birds with one stone
  • little bird told me
  • naked as a jaybird
  • rare bird

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