Feather Tattoo Meaning
Feathers have always been a popular choice for tattoo designs, either on their own or incorporated into larger pieces. Feather symbolism spans over many cultures, though it is particularly strong in Native American culture. Most Native Americans are Animists, meaning that they believe that every part of nature - humans, animals, plants, the earth, etc. - all possess unique spirits, and that every part of nature is alive in its' own right. Feathers are seen as carrying the spirit of the bird it fell from; they were often awarded to warriors after a successful battle, or as a sign of honor. Native Americans also see birds as bringers of change and messages, and their feathers symbolize a sense of freedom.
With so many species of birds each with its own unique type of feather, (along with endless options for combined imagery and cultural significance), it can be difficult to nail down exactly what feather tattoos mean. But we’ve taken the time for you to explore this topic, and provide some in-depth explanations for the most popular feather tattoo choices to help you narrow down your design.
Types of Bird Feather Meanings
Feathers from different birds are associated with unique attributes; this is especially true of Native American cultures, though bird symbolism is present throughout the world. Here’s a quick list of some of the most popular bird feather choices for tattoos:
Peacock Feather Tattoo:
Immortality, a connection to the spirit world, and rebirth (because peacocks regrow their feathers on an annual basis). The peacock feather is also associated with royalty and wealth; in the olden times peacocks were often kept as pets to wander royal courtyards. Princess Ka'iulani of Hawaii had more than a dozen royal peacocks.
The unique eye-shaped design at the top of each feather was also associated with the “evil eye” in Greek mythology, and was believed to protect people against harm. Peacocks are considered one of nature's most beautiful and regal birds. Peacock feather tattoos are immensely popular in today’s ink culture.
Crow Feather Tattoo Meaning:
Cunning, skill, balance, and a release from past beliefs. Crows also symbolize death in many cultures, and they have been connected with the occult as crows are said to be the familiars of witches.
Raven Feather Tattoo Meaning:
Not to be confused with the crow, ravens are associated with creation and are considered Bringers of Light in Native American cultures. As one of the most (if not the most) intelligent bird species, ravens are also related heavily to knowledge and truth. Ravens are technically carrion birds just like the crow, however, and in this regard are also connected to death.
Eagle Feather Tattoo Meaning:
Immense strength, leadership, and prestige. For many Native Americans, the bald eagle and the golden eagle in particular were considered sacred animals. For Americans, a bald eagle feather is a strong icon of national pride. You can see more about eagle tattoos at our article [here].
Blue Bird Feather Tattoo Meaning:
Happiness and fulfillment, being content in life. Bluebirds, as well as the more common Blue Jay, are sprightly and bring a light-hearted and uplifting mood to the atmosphere, wherever they appear. The color blue itself is also associated with the sky and sea, and a blue feather can symbolize calmness, freedom, and being one with nature.
Dove Feather Tattoo Meaning:
Love, gentleness, and kindness. Doves also carry heavy symbolism in Christianity as symbols of the Holy Spirit.
Falcon Feather Meaning:
Soul healing, speed, and movement. A good choice of imagery for those recovering from trauma. Additionally, the falcon is often seen as a symbol for restless personalities.
Turkey Feather Meaning:
Turkey feathers are a symbol of abundance in both Native American and Euro-American culture (thanks to the story of the pilgrims). Turkeys also symbolize fertility and pride in Native American culture.
Seagull Feather Tattoo:
Resourcefulness, communication, and the open sea. Seagull feathers are an excellent choice for sailors and world travelers.
Owl Feather Tattoo Meaning:
Owls and their feathers are associated with wisdom throughout several different cultures. In Native American culture, they are also associated with the ability to see things as they are, and attribute the qualities of swiftness and silence to the wearer. You can find more about owl tattoo meanings at our article [here].
Hawk Feather Tattoo Meaning:
Because of their exceptional vision, hawks and their feathers often symbolize far-sightedness; they are also connected with guardianship and strength, similar to their close cousins, the eagles.
Hummingbird Feather Meaning:
Extraordinarily delicate, hummingbird feathers are signs of love, beauty, skill, and intelligence. In Native American culture, hummingbirds are spirit messengers, and are also considered to have the ability to stop time (probably due to their incredibly fast movements).
Feather Tattoo Combinations
Though you can certainly see feather tattoos as standalone pieces, it is extremely common to see feathers worked into larger designs, or more complex compositions with added elements.
Infinity Feather Tattoo Meaning:
Infinity tattoos (a mathematical symbol that looks like the number 8 lying on its side) symbolize just that: something that is never-ending and eternal. When combined with a feather, the design can take on the attributes of the bird (i.e. eagle, peacock, raven, etc.) and can also carry connotations of freedom and escape. For the latter, this tattoo can be a great choice for those who are looking to represent triumphing over an obstacle that they will never face again. When combined with a dove feather, the concept of infinity also takes on a spiritual aspect and can be connected with God and/or the Holy Spirit. The infinity/feather tattoo combination is also quite often used to beautifully incorporate meaningful words, names or phrases along the curves of the symbols.
Tribal Feather Tattoo Meaning:
Tribal feathers are popular choices because of their geometrical and highly detailed designs. Tribal feather tattoos are generally generic in the sense that they don’t indicate any particular species of bird, and are usually done with solid, graphical black lines. Since the variety of tribal feather designs is literally limitless, in this way it can be totally unique to whomever owns it.
"Birds Of A Feather" Tattoo:
The quote “Birds of a feather, flock together” is a well-known statement meaning that people with similar personalities tend to attract one another. A design featuring a feather with this quote makes an excellent friendship tattoo, especially for groups of three or more.
Feather With Birds Flying Tattoo:
A particularly beautiful feather design is that of a feather fading into birds flying away over the horizon. This design is associated with the concept of freedom; a feather with birds flying out can also be seen as a symbol for moving onwards in life.
Falling Feather Tattoo Meaning:
In Native American culture, it is believed that fallen feathers may appear unpredictably or randomly, but not without reason. Falling feathers can be a revelation of a person’s inner nature, or of their future destiny. Some people also believe that feathers fall when angels are near, so a falling feathers tattoo can indicate faith or a desire for spiritual protection.
Feathered Quill Tattoo Meaning:
A great choice for writers, the feathered quill is associated with all things wordy and bookish. Feathered quills are also popular tattoo choices for those who are enamored with Victorian-era styles, and saw a recent upsurge in popularity for their connection with the Harry Potter universe (wherein all witches and wizards use quills to write, rather than pens).
Dreamcatcher With Feathers Tattoo Meaning:
Dreamcatcher tattoos have become a particularly popular choice with the Millennial generation for their beautiful and often intricate design. In Native American culture, dreamcatchers are intended to keep away evil thoughts and dreams during the night; only “good” dreams know how to wind through the feathers and complicated string-work in order to pass through the center of the dreamcatcher, and into the mind of the dreamer. This tattoo can represent someone who is constantly dreaming (or has big dreams for their life).
Angel Feather Tattoo Meaning:
An angel feather tattoo can either indicate personal faith, or (if combined with a name), can be a memorial tattoo for a loved one who has passed on.
Wolf And Feather Tattoo Meaning:
Wolves are strong symbols of strength, loyalty, and teamwork. When combined with a feather, the tattoo can indicate all of the attributes of both the wolf and the species of bird the feather belongs to. The two animals together also strongly represent a wild spirit and a sense of freedom.
Meaning of Feather Tattoo Behind the Ear:
This is a popular placement for feather tattoos (especially with women). Because birds are often seen as spirit guides, placing a feather behind the ear can be representative of “listening” to your guide as they steer you through life.
Various Feather Color Meanings:
White feathers are associated with the concept of purity, and are oftentimes connected to Christianity because of the white dove’s link to the Holy Spirit. Blue feathers are often representative of a calm spirit and acceptance, as well as creativity and mental inspiration. Black feathers have somewhat conflicting meanings: they can mean protection, or can be a warning against danger. Black feathers are also alternately seen as either repelling negative energy or as being a sign of death.
As you can see, there are many options for feather tattoos; with so many species and designs to choose from, it’s easy to come up with a highly personal and unique design. In case you missed anything, here’s a quick summary of all of the meanings we’ve discussed:
- Happiness (bluebirds)
- Freedom, wild spirit
- Death, the occult (ravens and crows, black feathers)
- Knowledge (owls and ravens)
- Purity, faith, Holy Spirit (white feathers, doves)
- Wealth and royalty (peacocks)
- Pride (eagles, peacocks, and turkeys)
- Leadership (eagles)
- Guardianship (hawks)
- Love (hummingbirds, doves)
- Resourcefulness (seagulls)
- Protection (dreamcatchers, angel feathers, falling feathers, black feathers)
- Creativity (blue feathers)