There are only a few animals that live harmoniously alongside humans in urban habitats. One of these animals are birds. Like cats, birds have been treated in extremes throughout the history, either worshipped as gods or persecuted as pestilence. For example, ancient Egyptians personified many of their major gods as birds, but in modern times, birds such as pigeons and crows have increasingly become a nuisance to city dwellers. Industrialization and deforestation has also become a significant threat to their existence. However, there was a time in medieval history when birds
were openly welcomed, not worshipped nor treated badly.
Today, however, we can definitely say that Middle East still has a soft spot for our feathered friends. For example, falcons are regarded as precious birds and are in great demand in Arab countries. They are seen as the symbols of courage and force. Arab countries have used falcons for centuries to catch prey or for sports. Falconry, as it is called, is the favorite sport on the Arabian Peninsula; in fact, the birds are often called “hunting dogs of the skies”.
Nevertheless, it’s not only about falcons in the Arab world. We are all surely familiar with owls. This large and distinctive order of around 234 species spreads its wings across the world and can be found on every continent except for Antarctica. Despite the existence of such an enormous number of species, the Arabian Peninsula is host to a relatively small number of owls that are considered either resident, transient or migrant. Still, these charismatic birds have left their mark on the psyche of the region. In some Middle Eastern cultures, owls are often associated with death and ruin and are said to represent the souls of those who have died unavenged. For this reason, owls are often considered bad luck in this part of the world, but this perception may be changing, particularly among the region’s farmers. Incredibly effective predators who are specially adapted for night hunting, owls offer great environmental services for humans, reducing the population growth of rodents and helping to maintain an ecological balance.
Islamic scriptures also make numerous references to birds, even noting the role of the creatures during the “Year of the Elephant”. In one case, the mysterious ability of birds to fly is offered as proof of God’s existence.
Nowadays, if you walk around the streets of an Arab country, don’t be surprised to see cages of parakeets and canaries at the entrance of some shops and restaurants. With this being said, let’s see how Arabs call some types of birds in their language.
Bird in Arabic / ta’er / طائِر
Duck in Arabic / battah /بَطّة
Pigeon in Arabic / hamamah /حمامة
Parrot in Arabic / babagha’ /ببغاء
Nightingale in Arabic / bolbool / بلبل
Cock in Arabic / deek /ديك
Hen in Arabic / dajajah /دجاجة
Swallow in Arabic / sonono /سنونو
Peacock in Arabic / tawoos /طاووس
Crow in Arabic / ghorab /غُراب
Butterfly in Arabic / farashah /فراشة
Turkey in Arabic / deek habash /ديك حبش
Falcon in Arabic / saqr /صقر
Stork in Arabic / laqlaq /لقلق
Eagle in Arabic / nisser /نِسر
Ostrich in Arabic / na’ameh /نعامة
Hoopoe in Arabic / hodhod /هُدهُد
Goose in Arabic / wazzah /وَزّة
As stated before, there is a clear admiration of birds in the Middle East and perhaps we should make extended efforts to preserve their presence so that future generations have the opportunity to see the many variations of our winged friends.