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Birds of a Feather: Countries with Birds on Their Flags

countries with birds on their flags
Uganda’s flag is one of around twenty national flags that features a bird on it – in Uganda’s case, a Grey Crowned Crane: Photo by Muniini Mulera

Introduction

Do you ever wonder why countries have the flags that they do? Where do the designs (and in some cases – *cough* Nepal *cough* – special shapes) come from? What flags have the best designs? And why are they the flags with birds?

Birds are found on about twenty national flags (this includes state flags – no, not like the state of Florida, but rather a government flag – I’ll explain below), plus another five or so flags of dependent territories. Every flag’s details have some meaning, from the colors, the stars, sun, or moon, the shapes and stripes, the coat of arms, or whatever is going on with Seychelles’ flag. Some country’s and territories include birds on their flags for different reasons. Birds often represent freedom or strength. Sometimes the bird on a flag is just a representation of the country’s natural beauty and diversity.

In this article, we’ll go through all twenty-five national and territorial flags that feature a bird or birds, from Uganda to Fiji, and explain what types of birds have this honor and what their significance is to the flags they are on.

Overview of Birds in Flag Design

Birds on national flags often represent a variety of symbolic meanings that relate to a nation’s values, history, and identity. These symbols can carry deep cultural significance and may vary depending on the country and the specific bird depicted. Here are some common representations of birds on national flags:

  1. Freedom and Independence: Birds, particularly those capable of flight like eagles, are often seen as symbols of freedom and independence. Their ability to soar high into the sky is emblematic of a nation’s desire for autonomy and liberty.
  2. Strength and Power: Predatory birds such as eagles and hawks are frequently used to symbolize strength, power, and authority. They can represent a country’s military prowess or historical significance.
  3. Peace and Harmony: Doves, known for their gentle nature, are often symbols of peace and harmony. Flags that feature doves may emphasize a nation’s commitment to peaceful relations with others.
  4. Cultural Identity: Specific birds may hold particular cultural importance to a nation. For example, a native or endemic bird species might be featured to highlight the unique natural heritage of a country.
  5. Unity and Solidarity: Birds are sometimes used to symbolize unity and solidarity within a nation. This is particularly true if the bird is depicted in a way that suggests togetherness, such as multiple birds in flight or a single bird representing the collective spirit of a nation.
  6. Protection and Vigilance: Birds like the eagle, known for their keen vision, may symbolize a nation’s watchfulness and readiness to protect its people and territory.
  7. Spirituality and Connection to Nature: Birds can symbolize a nation’s spiritual beliefs or connection to the natural world. In some cultures, birds are seen as messengers between the earthly and the divine.
  8. Historical Significance: Birds can hold historical significance to a country. Their inclusion on a flag might commemorate past achievements or pivotal moments in a nation’s history.
  9. National Pride: Birds that are endemic or unique to a country can evoke a sense of national pride and highlight the nation’s natural wealth and biodiversity.

Overall, the representation of birds on national flags can be diverse and multifaceted, often combining elements of the above themes to convey a nuanced and meaningful symbol of a country’s identity and values.

Countries with Birds on Their Flags


*A note on civil flags vs. state flags

Civil flags and state, or government, flags serve different purposes and sometimes have distinct design features (often, the two are the same). Civil flags are used by civilians or the general public to represent their country and are often flown on non-governmental buildings and private properties. These flags typically have simpler designs, omitting complex symbols such as the coat of arms that are found on state flags.

State flags, on the other hand, are used by governmental institutions, such as government buildings, military bases, and diplomatic missions, to represent the nation in an official capacity. These flags often include additional elements like the national coat of arms or other government insignia, indicating their official status. State flags are used to denote authority and connection to the national government, often for ceremonial purposes.


Albania

Sadik Kaceli, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Bird: Double-headed Eagle

During John Hunyadi’s campaign in Niš in 1443, Skanderbeg and a few hundred Albanians defected from the Turkish ranks, leading to twenty-five years of victories against the Ottomans. Skanderbeg adopted a flag with a double-headed eagle on a red background, similar to the Eastern Roman imperial flag. His victories earned him the papal title Athleta Christi. The eagle symbol was historically used by noble families in Albania and became emblematic of the Albanians, especially during Skanderbeg’s revolt against the Ottoman Empire from 1443 to 1479, leading to Albania’s temporary independence. The League of Lezhë, the first unified Albanian state in the Middle Ages, used this flag.

The double-headed eagle on a red background was revived by Albanian nationalists in the 19th and early 20th centuries during their campaign for independence from the Ottoman Empire. It was raised again in 1911 during the Battle of Deçiq by rebellion leader Ded Gjo Luli after victory, marking the first time it was used in possibly over 400 years.

Over the years, the symbol has become synonymous with Albanian national identity, encapsulating the country’s history and diverse demographic makeup. Though political factions and external powers have attempted to appropriate the eagle for their own purposes, it remains a consistent and enduring representation of the Albanian people. This historical and cultural significance is evident in the eagle hand gesture made by Kosovar Albanian players during the 2018 World Cup, symbolizing their connection to Albania and their heritage.

Austria (state flag)

Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc.

Bird: Black Imperial Eagle

The Austrian state flag features a simple design with three horizontal stripes: red, white, and red, from top to bottom. This tricolor flag is one of the oldest national flags in the world and is widely recognized as a symbol of Austria. The red and white colors are believed to originate from the medieval Babenberg dynasty and have been associated with the country since the 13th century. No bird is on the national flag.

An Eastern Imperial Eagle (Aquila heliaca) in Austria, most likely the bird that inspired the eagle on the Austrian state flag: Photo by Christoph Moning

However, in addition to the national flag, Austria has a state flag that incorporates its coat of arms. The coat of arms features a black Imperial Eagle at its center, sometimes shown with a single head and sometimes with two heads, holding a sickle and hammer in its talons and wearing a mural crown. This eagle is a symbol of strength and unity and has its roots in the Holy Roman Empire, which Austria was a part of for centuries.

The presence of the eagle on the state flag and coat of arms highlights Austria’s imperial history and serves as a reminder of its historical ties to central European powers. The sickle and hammer symbolize agriculture and industry, reflecting Austria’s economic heritage. Overall, the state flag represents Austria’s national identity, history, and economic foundation.

Bolivia

Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Bird: Andean Condor

The Bolivian flag features three horizontal stripes of red, yellow, and green, each with significant meaning. The red stripe symbolizes the blood shed by Bolivian patriots during the fight for independence, representing courage and sacrifice. The yellow stripe stands for the country’s rich natural resources, such as minerals like silver and lithium, as well as potential economic prosperity. The green stripe signifies Bolivia’s lush natural beauty, including its forests and biodiversity, and represents hope and commitment to environmental preservation. In official state settings, the national emblem with the coat of arms, featuring elements like Cerro Rico mountain, an alpaca, and an Andean Condor (Vultur gryphus) may be displayed in the center of the flag.

Andean Condor with the Andes Mountains as a backdrop: Photo by Pablo Re

The Andean Condor holds a significant place in the Bolivian coat of arms, representing strength, freedom, and the nation’s expansive natural landscape. As one of the largest flying birds in the world and native to the Andes region, the Andean Condor symbolizes Bolivia’s connection to the majestic Andes Mountains and its surrounding environment.

The condor is a symbol of liberty and sovereignty, embodying the country’s struggle for independence and its enduring commitment to maintaining its freedom. In the coat of arms, the condor is often depicted above the shield, signifying its role as a guardian and protector of the nation. The bird’s presence in the coat of arms underscores Bolivia’s rich natural heritage and its deep-rooted ties to the Andean region.

Dominica

CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

Bird: Imperial Amazon

The Dominica flag, adopted in 1978, prominently features the national bird emblem, the Imperial Amazon (Amazona imperialis), or Sisserou Parrot, a species unique to the island and endangered, with only about 250-350 individuals remaining. The parrot, which also appears on Dominica’s coat of arms, highlights the country’s rich biodiversity and commitment to conservation. The green field signifies the island’s abundant vegetation, while the cross represents Christianity and the three colors symbolize the indigenous people, fertile soil, and pure water. Additionally, the flag’s 10 green stars symbolize Dominica’s 10 parishes, and the red disc signifies justice. The Imperial Amazon is depicted in either blue or purple, making Dominica’s flag one of the few national flags to include the color purple.

An Imperial Amazon in Dominica – these birds are highly endangered and endemic to Dominica: Photo by David Ascanio

Ecuador

President of the Republic of Ecuador, Zscout370, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Bird: Andean Condor

Ecuador’s national flag, featuring horizontal stripes of yellow, blue, and red, was initially established by law in 1835 and later on 26 September 1860. The flag’s current design, which includes the coat of arms in the center, was finalized in 1900.

The condor perched atop the shield with outstretched wings signifies Ecuador’s power, greatness, and strength. It also represents the country’s readiness to defend itself against any adversaries. The shield is flanked by four national flags, with laurel on the left signifying the republic’s victories and the palm leaf on the right honoring the martyrs who fought for independence and liberty. Below the shield, the Fasces symbolizes republican dignity. The final design of the coat of arms was completed in 1900.

An Andean Condor (Vultur gryphus) in Ecuador: Photo by Ian Hearn

The oval shield’s background features Mount Chimborazo, Ecuador’s highest peak, and the Guayas River flowing from its base. The steamboat depicted on the river is also named Guayas, the first seaworthy steamship built in Ecuador and all of South America, launched on 9 October 1841. The ship features a Caduceus mast symbolizing trade and economy, with two wings and two serpents around a pole. Above the shield, a golden sun encircled by Zodiac signs for Aries, Taurus, Gemini, and Cancer marks the months from March to July, representing the duration of the March Revolution of 1845 that deposed General Juan José Flores.

Egypt

Open Clip Art, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Bird: Eagle of Saladin

The national flag of Egypt features three equal horizontal bands of red, white, and black, representing the Egyptian revolutionary flag from the 1952 Revolution. In the center of the white band is Egypt’s national emblem, the Eagle of Saladin.

The Eagle of Saladin, known in Egypt as the Egyptian Eagle or the Republican Eagle, is a heraldic symbol that serves as the coat of arms for several countries, including Egypt, Iraq, the Kurdish autonomous region of Iraq (KRG), Palestine, and Yemen. Since Egypt’s 1952 coup d’etat, the eagle has been an iconic symbol of the country and of Arab nationalism, especially in Arab states that experienced anti-imperialist political change from the 1950s onwards.

A Steppe Eagle (Aquila nipalensis) in Egypt’s deserts – this bird was the inspiration for the Eagle of Saladin: Photo by Mark Baker

The eagle’s fierce appearance has made it a popular choice for military and political emblems around the world throughout history. Originating from the ancient Egyptian eagle depicted in Pharaonic temples, the local eagle became a valued symbol for the first Sultan of Egypt, who chose it as his emblem. Saladin’s state also adopted an eagle on a yellow flag as its symbol.

Fiji

Open Clip Art, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Bird: Dove of Peace

The flag’s bright blue background represents the Pacific Ocean, emphasizing its significant role in the lives of the islanders through the fishing industry and major tourism. The Union Jack acknowledges the country’s historical ties with the United Kingdom. The shield, based on the nation’s coat of arms granted in 1908, features a white field with a red cross and red chief. The shield’s images showcase the islands’ agricultural heritage and historical connections with the UK. A British lion holding a cocoa pod crowns the shield, while the quarters display sugar cane, a coconut palm, a dove of peace, and a bunch of bananas. The dove symbolizes the islands’ commitment to peace and harmony.

Not the white Dove of Peace featured on Fiji’s national flag, but this stunner of a Columbid, the Golden Fruit Dove (Ptilinopus luteovirens) , is endemic to Fiji’s forests and may deserve a chance at representing the country: Photo by Chris Venetz

Germany (state flag)

User:Denelson83, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Bird: Federal Eagle, or Bundesadler

The government flag of Germany, also known as the Dienstflagge der Bundesbehörden or Bundesdienstflagge, was established in 1950. It is the civil flag adorned with the Bundesschild (“Federal Shield”), which covers up to one fifth of the black and gold bands. The Bundesschild is a variation of Germany’s coat of arms, differing mainly in the depiction of the eagle and the shape of the shield: the Bundesschild features a rounded base, while the standard coat of arms has a pointed base.

The Eastern Imperial Eagle (Aquila heliaca) was most likely the inspiration for Germany’s Imperial Eagle that is represented on their state flag: Photo by Wigbert Vogeley

The coat of arms of Germany features a black eagle with red beak, tongue, and talons on a gold field, known as the Bundesadler, or Federal Eagle. It is one of the oldest coats of arms in the world and the oldest national symbol in use in Europe. The German Imperial Eagle (Reichsadler) originated from a proto-heraldic emblem used by Charlemagne and was later influenced by the Roman army’s eagle standard.

The coat of arms evolved over the centuries, with a single-headed eagle as the initial design and the adoption of the double-headed eagle in the 13th century. By the 15th century, the double-headed eagle became the emblem of the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation, while emperors used personal coats of arms distinct from the imperial arms.

Guatemala

K21edgo, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Bird: Resplendant Quetzal

The national flag of Guatemala, known as “Pabellón Nacional” or “Azul y Blanco,” features two colors: sky blue and white. The sky blue stripes symbolize Guatemala’s position between two oceans, the Pacific and the Atlantic (Caribbean Sea), as well as the clear sky over the country. The white stands for peace and purity. The blue and white color scheme is derived from the flag of the former Federal Republic of Central America, much like other countries in the region.

Resplendant Quetzal, Guatemala’s national bird and emblem: Photo by Patrick Maurice

At the center of the flag is the Guatemalan coat of arms, which includes the Resplendent Quetzal (Pharomachrus mocinno), Guatemala’s national bird that represents liberty; a parchment scroll with the date of Central America’s independence from Spain, 15 September 1821; crossed Remington rifles, signifying Guatemala’s readiness to defend itself if necessary; a bay laurel crown, symbolizing victory; and crossed swords, representing honor. Guatemala’s flag is one of four national flags among UN member states that features a firearm, alongside Mozambique, Haiti, and Bolivia.

Kazakhstan

-xfi-, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Bird: Steppe Eagle

The national flag of the Republic of Kazakhstan features a gold sun with 32 rays above a soaring golden Steppe Eagle (Aquila nipalensis), both centered on a turquoise background. The hoist side includes a gold ornamental pattern known as “koshkar-muiz” (the horns of the ram). The blue color holds religious significance for the Turkic peoples, symbolizing cultural and ethnic unity as well as the limitless sky and water. The sun, representing life and energy, conveys wealth and abundance, with rays resembling grain, a symbol of prosperity. The eagle, a long-standing emblem on Kazakh tribal flags, signifies freedom, power, and the journey toward the future.

A Steppe Eagle in flight in Kazakhstan: Photo by Andrey Kovalenko

Kiribati

User:Hanzlan, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Bird: Golden Frigatebird

The flag of Kiribati features a red upper half with a gold frigatebird (based upon the Great Frigatebird (Fregata minor), known as te eitei in Gilbertese) soaring over a gold rising sun (otintaai). The lower half consists of blue with three white wavy stripes, representing the ocean and the three archipelagoes (Gilbert, Phoenix, and Line Islands). The 17 rays of the sun symbolize the 16 Gilbert Islands and Banaba (formerly Ocean Island).

The incredible Great Frigatebird is the inspiration for the gold frigatebird featured on Kiribati’s flag: Photo by George Henry Stirrett

The gold frigatebird represents command over the sea, freedom, and graceful dance movements. The blue and white wavy bands signify the surrounding Pacific Ocean, while the sun highlights Kiribati’s location on the Equator.

The flag’s design originated from a badge created by Sir Arthur Grimble in 1931 for the flag of the Gilbert and Ellice Islands British colony and was officially adopted in 1937.

Mexico

Alex Covarrubias, 9 April 2006. Based on the arms by Juan Manuel Gabino Villascán., Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Bird: Mexican Eagle

The national flag of Mexico features a vertical tricolor of green, white, and red with the national coat of arms at the center of the white stripe. The colors were adopted after Mexico gained independence from Spain during the War of Independence and the First Mexican Empire.

Red, white, and green represent the Mexican national army’s colors. The central emblem is the Mexican coat of arms, which is based on the Aztec symbol for Tenochtitlan (modern-day Mexico City), the heart of the Aztec Empire.

The Golden Eagle (Aquila chrysaetos) is the bird represented on Mexico’s national flag, as a symbol of victory over evil: Photo by Daniel Garza Tobón

The coat of arms of Mexico is a national emblem that portrays a Mexican Golden Eagle perched on a prickly pear cactus, devouring a rattlesnake. This design is inspired by the Aztec legend that their city should be founded where they saw an eagle eating a snake on a lake. The image has been a significant symbol in Mexican politics and culture for generations. To the people of Tenochtitlan, it held deep religious significance, while to Europeans, it represented the victory of good over evil, with the snake symbolizing the serpent from the Garden of Eden.

Moldova

Nameneko and others, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Bird: Heraldic Eagle

The national flag of the Republic of Moldova (Romanian: Drapelul Moldovei) consists of a vertical tricolor of blue, yellow, and red, with the Moldovan coat of arms (an eagle holding a shield featuring an aurochs) in the center. Currently, the State Flag of Moldova serves as the national flag and ensign for civil, state, and war purposes.

The Golden Eagle (Aquila chrysaetos) features on Moldova’s flag, as well as several other national flags: Photo by Lars Petersson

Moldova’s blue-yellow-red tricolor is influenced by Romania’s flag, reflecting the close national and cultural ties between the two countries. On the Moldovan flag, the yellow stripe bears the national arms. Similar to the Romanian coat of arms, Moldova’s arms, adopted in 1990, feature a dark golden eagle with an Orthodox Christian cross in its beak. Instead of holding a sword, the eagle carries an olive branch, symbolizing peace. The shield on the eagle’s chest displays traditional Moldovan symbols: an aurochs’ head, flanked by a rose and a crescent, with a star between its horns, all in gold.

Montenegro

B1mbo, Froztbyte, Great Brightstar, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Bird: Serbian Eagle

The national flag of Montenegro features a red background with a gold border, and the Montenegrin coat of arms is placed at its center.

The Eastern Imperial Eagle (Aquila heliaca) is Serbia’s national bird and inspiration for the Serbian eagle featured on the national flag: Photo by Pavel Štěpánek

The coat of arms of Montenegro features a golden crowned double-headed Serbian eagle with its wings raised in flight. The eagle holds a scepter in its right talon and a globus cruciger in its left, both on a red background. On the eagle’s chest rests a shield depicting a golden lion passant on a green field with a blue background. The crown atop the eagle’s heads and the scepter are also golden, with a cross pattée on top. The double-headed eagle, with its roots in Byzantine and ancient Roman symbolism, represents the unity or close ties between the church and the state.

Papua New Guinea

User:Nightstallion, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Bird: Raggiana Bird-of-paradise

The flag of Papua New Guinea was adopted on July 1, 1971. It features the Southern Cross constellation on the hoist side and a silhouette of the Raggiana Bird-of-paradise (Paradisaea raggiana) on the fly side. This design emerged from a nationwide competition in early 1971, with the winning entry submitted by Susan Karike, who was just 15 at the time.

Papua New Guinea’s national emblem, the Raggiana Bird-of-paradise: Photo by J. J. Harrison

Red and black have been traditional colors for many tribes in Papua New Guinea. These colors, along with black-white-red, reflect the German Empire flag that colonized New Guinea before 1918. The bird-of-paradise also appears on the national coat of arms. The presence of the Southern Cross signifies that the country is located in the Southern Hemisphere and is visible from Papua New Guinea. The bird-of-paradise represents the unification under one nation.

Poland (state flag)

Aotearoa, Wanted, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Bird: White Eagle

The national flag of Poland features two equal horizontal stripes: the top stripe is white, and the bottom stripe is red. The Polish constitution designates these two colors as the national colors. A state version of the flag with the national coat of arms in the center of the white stripe is reserved for official use overseas and at sea. A similar flag with the addition of a white eagle serves as Poland’s naval ensign.

The coat of arms of Poland features a white crowned eagle, known as Orzeł Biały, with a golden beak and talons on a red background. The nearly circular image of the white eagle is highly stylized, with the heraldic bird depicted in a ‘displayed’ pose, with its wings and legs outstretched and its head turned to the right. The eagle’s plumage, tongue, and leg scales are shaded white, creating a bas-relief effect. Its wings bear a curved band from the torso to the upper wing edge, ending in a heraldic cinquefoil.

Three of its leaves resemble a trefoil, echoing medieval designs. In heraldic terms, the eagle is “armed” with gold beak and talons, contrasting with its body. The crown atop the eagle’s head consists of a base and three fleurons. The base is adorned with three rectangular gemstones, while the fleurons, partially visible, are fleur-de-lis shaped. The entire crown, including the gems and spaces between the fleurons, is rendered in gold.

The legendary White Eagle of Poland was most likely actually a White-tailed Eagle (confusingly, a mostly brown eagle): Photo by Pavel Štěpánek

According to legend, Poland’s mythical founder, Lech, was traveling through what is now Greater Poland many centuries ago. One evening, as he crossed the ancient landscape, he encountered a large nest holding a noble white eagle and its two eaglets. As Lech drew near, the impressive bird spread its large wings against the red hues of the setting sun. Moved by the scene, Lech founded the first Polish city, Gniezno, which means “nest,” and adopted the white eagle against a red background as his emblem.

Serbia

Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Bird: Serbian Eagle

The Serbian flag, also known as the Tricolour, features three equal horizontal bands of red at the top, blue in the middle, and white at the bottom for the civil flag. For the state flag, the lesser coat of arms is positioned to the left of center.

Once again, the Eastern Imperial Eagle (Aquila heliaca) inspired the Serbian Eagle: Photo by Christoph Moning

The coat of arms of Serbia features two main heraldic symbols representing Serbian identity: the Serbian eagle and the Serbian cross. The silver double-headed eagle, borrowed from the Nemanjić dynasty, has golden beaks and a specific arrangement of feathers on its wings, neck, legs, and tail. Its wings are spread out to form a cross, and its legs hold a fleur-de-lis each. The chest of the eagle bears a small red shield with a white cross and four firesteels in each quadrant. The coat of arms is crowned with a golden crown adorned with pearls, sapphires, rubies, and a cross on top.

Uganda

tobias, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Bird: Grey Crowned Crane

The flag of Uganda was officially adopted on 9 October 1962, marking Uganda’s independence from the British Empire. It features six horizontal stripes of equal width, alternating in black, yellow, and red from top to bottom. At the center, a white circle displays the national emblem of a Grey Crowned Crane (Balearica regulorum) facing the hoist side.

Perhaps one of the most iconic cranes in the world, the Grey Crowned Crane is Uganda’s national bird: Photo by Marco Valentini

The three colors symbolize different aspects of Africa: black represents the indigenous peoples of Africa, yellow symbolizes the continent’s sunlight, and red signifies African unity through the shared bloodline. The grey crowned crane, known for its calm demeanor, was once used as a military insignia by Ugandan soldiers under British rule. Its raised leg represents the nation’s progress and advancement.

Zambia

Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Bird: African Fish Eagle

The current flag serves as both the national flag and ensign. It features a green background with an orange African Fish Eagle (Icthyophaga vocifer) in flight over a block of three vertical stripes in red, black, and orange.

The eagle and the stripes are positioned at the flag’s fly, which is unique since most flag designs place emblems in the center or at the hoist. The green symbolizes the country’s agriculture and lush vegetation, while red represents the nation’s struggle for freedom. Black stands for the Zambian people and all black Africans, and orange signifies the country’s copper, natural resources, and mineral wealth. The eagle soaring above the stripes signifies freedom and the ability of the people to overcome challenges.

The African Fish Eagle is one of the continent’s most iconic birds and the emblem of Zambia’s national flag: Photo by Jaap Velden

Zimbabwe

Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Bird: Zimbabwe Bird

The national flag of Zimbabwe consists of seven equal horizontal stripes in green, gold, red, and black. It features a white triangle with a red five-pointed star and a Zimbabwe Bird. This design was adopted on 18 April 1980. The soapstone bird on the flag is a symbol found at the ruins of Great Zimbabwe and represents the country’s history. The red star beneath the bird symbolizes the nation’s aspirations, often associated with socialism and the revolutionary struggle for freedom and peace. The flag’s design is based on the flag of Zimbabwe’s ruling party, the Zimbabwe African National Union – Patriotic Front.

The stone-carved Zimbabwe Bird is the national emblem of Zimbabwe, featuring on the national flags and coats of arms of Zimbabwe and former Rhodesia, as well as on currency such as banknotes and coins (first the Rhodesian pound and then the Rhodesian dollar). This emblem is likely inspired by the Bateleur (Terathopius ecaudatus) or the African Fish Eagle (Icthyophaga vocifer). The bird’s design comes from various soapstone sculptures discovered in the ruins of the medieval city of Great Zimbabwe.

The Bateleur (pictured here) or the African Fish Eagle were likely the inspiration behind the famous Zimbabwe Bird: Photo by Gary Douglas

The original carved birds come from the ancient city of Great Zimbabwe, constructed by the ancestors of the Shona beginning in the 11th century and inhabited for over 300 years. The ruins, which give modern Zimbabwe its name, span approximately 730 hectares (1,800 acres) and represent the largest ancient stone construction in sub-Saharan Africa. Noteworthy features include the soapstone bird sculptures, approximately 40 centimeters (16 inches) in height and perched on columns over 90 centimeters (3 feet) tall, originally placed on walls and monoliths throughout the city. These sculptures are unique to Great Zimbabwe and have not been found elsewhere.

The symbolic meaning of the birds has been the subject of various theories. One suggestion is that each bird symbolized a new king, though this would imply unusually long reigns. Alternatively, the birds may represent sacred or totemic animals of the Shona people, such as the Bateleur (chapungu in Shona), believed to be a messenger from Mwari (God) and the ancestors, or the African Fish Eagle (hungwe), possibly the Shona’s original totem.

Territories with Birds on Their Flags

Territories, such as the ones listed below, are regions that are not fully sovereign nations but are under the administrative jurisdiction of another country. They often have a certain degree of local governance, but their foreign policy and defense are typically managed by the country they are dependent on. These territories often have unique cultures and histories and may rely on their administering countries for economic support and protection.

Ascension Island

HowFalcons, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Bird: Sooty Tern

The flag features a blue ensign design, adorned with the coat of arms of Ascension Island. Ascension’s coat of arms includes key symbols of the territory, such as a shield showcasing Green Mountain, which dominates the landscape, along with three Wideawake birds, the local name for Sooty Terns (Onychoprion fuscatus) due to their habit of vocalizing throughout the night, and two green turtles.

Sooty Terns are known as “Wideawakes” on Ascension Island due to their tendency to vocalize all through the night: Photo by Noah Strycker

Christmas Island

Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Bird: Golden Bosun

The flag of Christmas Island features a split green and blue background, representing the land and sea. In the bottom left corner, the Southern Cross constellation is similar to that of the Australian flag. In the top right corner, the Golden Bosun (Phaethon lepturus fulvus), a fantastic yellow-golden subspecies of the White-tailed Tropicbird and a symbol of the island, is depicted. At the center of the flag, a golden disc holds the map of the island in green. The disc, originally added to contrast the green of the map, has also come to symbolize the mining industry.

The Golden Bosun, a beautiful golden subspecies of the White-tailed Tropicbird is adorned on the Christmas Island’s flag: Photo by Robert Tizard

Saint Helena

Patricia Fidi, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Bird: St. Helena Plover

The St. Helena Plover is the island’s national bird and only remaining endemic species: Photo by Rafael Armada

Saint Helena was given its own badge in 1874, which was then used on its flag. This badge depicted the rocky coastline of the territory along with an East Indiaman ship. In 1984, the badge was redesigned to include the Saint Helena plover in the upper section. The colors and symbols on the flag carry cultural, political, and regional significance.

The bird on the yellow field is a Saint Helena Plover (Anarhynchus sanctaehelenae), commonly known as the Wirebird, which represents the island’s unique fauna. It is the only bird species endemic to the island and is its official bird. The flag also features the Cross of Saint George on the three-masted ship, a prominent symbol of the Kingdom of England, Saint Helena’s mother country.

Sint Maarten

User:Shervinafshar, based on work of User:Washiucho. Earlier non-PD versions by User:SiBr4, User:Fry1989, and User:Andrwsc., Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Bird: Brown Pelican

The flag of Sint Maarten features a white triangle at the hoist displaying the country’s coat of arms, along with two horizontal bands of red and blue. It was adopted on 13 June 1985, shortly after the territory received its coat of arms, and has been the flag of Sint Maarten since then. The crest features a pelican in front of a yellow sun, and the Latin motto “Semper progrediens” on a ribbon below the shield translates to “always progressing.”

The Brown Pelican is the national bird of Sint Maarten, a constituent country of the Kingdom of the Netherlands: Photo by Traci Gentry

United States Virgin Islands

User:Dbenbenn, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Bird: Bald Eagle

The flag of the United States Virgin Islands was adopted on May 17, 1921. It features a simplified version of the U.S. coat of arms between the letters V and I (representing ‘Virgin Islands’). The golden eagle holds a laurel sprig in one talon, signifying victory, and three blue arrows in the other talon (instead of the thirteen arrows in the U.S. coat of arms), representing the three major islands of the U.S. Virgin Islands: Saint Croix, Saint Thomas, and Saint John.

The national bird of the United States, the Bald Eagle, is probably the most iconic and well-known national bird in the world: Photo by Mason Maron

Conclusion

The use of birds in national flags around the world offers a fascinating glimpse into the natural beauty and cultural significance of these winged creatures. From the Zimbabwe Bird representing history and aspirations, to the Grey Crowned Crane symbolizing peace and progress in Uganda, these birds serve as powerful emblems of freedom, resilience, and hope. The variety of species depicted across different flags highlights the diversity of avian life and its importance to the identities of nations. As symbols of national pride, these birds unite the past with the present, reminding us of the enduring connection between humans and nature, and the shared heritage that transcends borders.