In Abrahamic and European mythology, medieval literature and occultism, the language of the birds is postulated as a mystical, perfect divine language, Adamic language, Enochian, angelic language or a mythical or magical language used by birds to communicate with the initiated.
In Indo-European religion, the behavior of birds has long been used for the purposes of divination by augurs. According to a suggestion by Walter Burkert, these customs may have their roots in the Paleolithic when, during the Ice Age, early humans looked for carrion by observing scavenging birds.
There are also examples of contemporary bird-human communication and symbiosis. In North America, ravens have been known to lead wolves (and native hunters) to prey they otherwise would be unable to consume. In Africa, the greater honeyguide is known to guide humans to beehives in the hope that the hive will be incapacitated and opened for them.
Dating to the Renaissance, birdsong was the inspiration for some magical engineered languages, in particular musical languages. Whistled languages based on spoken natural languages are also sometimes referred to as the language of the birds. Some language games are also referred to as the language of birds, such as in Oromo and Amharic of Ethiopia.
Ukrainian language is known as "nightingale speech" amongst its speakers.
In Norse mythology, the power to understand the language of the birds was a sign of great wisdom. The god Odin had two ravens, called Hugin and Munin, who flew around the world and told Odin what happened among mortal men.
The legendary king of Sweden Dag the Wise was so wise that he could understand what birds said. He had a tame house sparrow which flew around and brought back news to him. Once, a farmer in Reidgotaland killed Dag's sparrow, which brought on a terrible retribution from the Swedes.
In the Rígsþula, Konr was able to understand the speech of birds. When Konr was riding through the forest hunting and snaring birds, a crow spoke to him and suggested he would win more if he stopped hunting mere birds and rode to battle against foemen.
The ability could also be acquired by tasting dragon blood. According to the Poetic Edda and the Völsunga saga, Sigurd accidentally tasted dragon blood while roasting the heart of Fafnir. This gave him the ability to understand the language of birds, and his life was saved as the birds were discussing Regin's plans to kill Sigurd. Through the same ability Áslaug, Sigurd's daughter, found out the betrothment of her husband Ragnar Lodbrok to another woman.
In an eddic poem loosely connected with the Sigurd tradition which is named Helgakviða Hjörvarðssonar, the reason why a man named Atli once had the ability is not explained. Atli's lord's son Helgi would marry what was presumably Sigurd's aunt, the valkyrie Sváfa.
According to Apollonius Rhodius, the figurehead of Jason's ship, the Argo, was built of oak from the sacred grove at Dodona and could speak the language of birds. Tiresias was also said to have been given the ability to understand the language of the birds by Athena. The language of birds in Greek mythology may be attained by magical means. Democritus, Anaximander, Apollonius of Tyana, Melampus, and Aesopus were all said to have understood the birds.
The "birds" are also mentioned in Homer's Odyssey : ""[...] although I am no prophet really, and I do not know much about the meaning of birds. I tell you he will not long be absent from his dear native land, not if chains of iron hold him fast. He will find a way to get back, for he is never at a loss."
In the Quran, Suleiman (Solomon) and David are said to have been taught the language of the birds. Within Sufism, the language of birds is a mystical divine language. The Conference of the Birds is a mystical poem of 4647 verses by the 12th century Persian poet Attar of Nishapur.
In Egyptian Arabic, hieroglyphic writing is called "the alphabet of the birds".
The concept is also known from many folk tales (including Welsh, Russian, German, Estonian, Greek, Romany), where usually the protagonist is granted the gift of understanding the language of the birds either by some magical transformation or as a boon by the king of birds. The birds then inform or warn the hero about some danger or hidden treasure.
According to the Aarne-Thompson-Uther Index, the understanding of the language of birds can appear in the following tale types:
In Kabbalah, Renaissance magic, and alchemy, the language of the birds was considered a secret and perfect language and the key to perfect knowledge, sometimes also called the langue verte, or green language (Jean Julien Fulcanelli, Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa de occulta philosophia, (Emmanuel-Yves Monin, Hieroglyphes Français Et Langue Des Oiseaux),
In medieval France, the language of the birds (la langue des oiseaux) was a secret language of the Troubadours, connected with the Tarot, allegedly based on puns and symbolism drawn from homophony, e. g. an inn called au lion d'or ("the Golden Lion") is allegedly "code" for au lit on dort "in the bed one sleeps".
Hiéroglyphes Français Et La Langue Des Oiseaux, Editions du Point d'Eau by Emmanuel Yves-Monin is a systematic study on the subject but is only available in French.
The children's book author Rafe Martin has written "The Language of Birds" as an adaptation of a Russian folk tale; it was made into a children's opera by composer John Kennedy.
Melanesian creole Tok Pisin is sometimes called "language of the birds" because the word "pisin" has a double meaning (from English words "pidgin" and "pigeon"). Mian speakers, for example, refer to Tok Pisin as wan weng, literally "bird language".