Birds are ubiquitous elements across tattoo styles thanks to their simplicity and symbolism. Going all the way back to the start of American traditional tattooing, birds were a popular image thanks to their history; sailors would often get swallows inked to visibly mark them as sailors. It was said that if they drowned, the swallows would carry their souls to heaven.
Nowadays, though, birds tend to represent more than sailing experience. The animal can symbolize freedom, courage, or even travel. Specific birds have their own symbolism as well, like the dove—which represents peace, faith, and purity—or the phoenix, which represents rebirth and second chances.
Birds are an easy design choice to get inked in almost any style thanks to their adaptability. You might see a small bird behind the ear or a large one on the back; no matter where you want your bird tattoo placed or what style you want it inked in, it’s completely possible. If you’re interested in a bird tattoo but need more inspiration, here are 22 different bird tattoos to get your imagination going.
Realistic Hummingbird Tattoo
Realistic hummingbird tattoos require a lot of shading, but they’re able to remain feeling light thanks to the delicate nature of the bird itself. Ask your artist to use gradient shading to add dimension to the design as well.
Hummingbird Tattoo With Varied Line Thicknesses
Hummingbirds have a very distinct shape (and beak!), so it’s easy to re-create it using fewer lines. This watercolor hummingbird design uses a variety of line thicknesses to create the shape of the bird overtop vivid hues.
Minimal Dove Tattoo
Birds are easily broken down into their basic elements for line art or abstract tattoos, and doves in particular are no different. If you like simple ink, choose a design that utilizes the smallest number of lines possible without losing the dove’s image.
Line Art Hummingbird Tattoo
If you prefer the most minimalist of minimal tattoos, try a line art hummingbird design. This tattoo seems to be created out of one single line, but manages to nail the major elements to translate the bird through the style.
Watercolor Background Bird Tattoo
To keep focus on the birds in your tattoo rather than the watercolor elements, keep the splashes to a minimum and use blackwork for the birds. This will make the bird elements pop against the background while keeping both in focus.
Thin-Lined American Traditional Bird Tattoo
While traditional tattooing is known for its heavy lines, what really makes it that style is the arrangement of lines and the posing of the elements. This bird uses thin lines and no color but still manages to portray the American traditional style.
Vivid Geometric Bird Tattoo
Geometric tattoos don’t have to be done in all black ink! If you want to use color, try using colors to denote where the elements sit in terms of background and foreground. For a real pop, make the middle element the brightest color.
Basic Shapes Bird Tattoo
If you want a more minimal geometric tattoo, use thin lines to keep it delicate and minimize the amount of detail in each of the elements. This ink uses basic shapes, like circles and straight lines, and creates the bird focal point out of only a thin outline to make for a minimal and delicate tattoo.
Double Swallow Tattoo
Swallows are the most common bird type in traditional tattoos, and they’re often seen in pairs. If you like the idea of double swallows, consider getting them in separate areas—like the hands or the ankles—where they can both stand alone and together.
Brightly Colored Hummingbird Tattoo
While hummingbirds are found in nature, don’t feel confined to natural colors when designing your tattoo. Try opting for vivid colors, like purple and green, that you like, rather than what’s expected.
Birds on a Branch Tattoo
Minimal tattoos look best when the lines are delicate and simple without losing the actual image they’re creating. While this tattoo features super-thin outlines and simple shapes, it still manages to get across the image of two birds on a branch.
Personal Bird Tattoo
If your bird tattoo means something special to you, try adding personal elements, like a name or phrase, to connect it to you even more. Choose a font that complements the style of your ink, such as how the cursive here looks beautiful against the watercolor background.
Paper Crane Tattoo
Paper cranes are a well-known origami shape and have a deep connection to good fortune and desire. These also make for good tattoos, as they utilize simple geometric elements that still look like a complete bird—just with a bit of additional symbolism.
Mosaic Bird Tattoo
Don’t feel confined to black outlined designs if you want something geometric. For a more unique and colorful tattoo, create your bird design out of a number of vividly hued shapes rather than lines.
Negative Space Hummingbird Tattoo
For a more abstract design, try inking only the most important parts of the hummingbird: the beak, head, wings, and tail. Leaving a lot of negative space may feel like you’re breaking up the design, but it will actually play into the more abstract feel.
Sketched Watercolor Bird Tattoo
Because watercolor tattoos tend to utilize a lot of purposely placed but random-looking splashes of color, mimic that style in your bird outline as well. This tattoo uses sketch-looking lines that aren’t super precise to give the foreground image that artistic feel as well.
Bird Silhouette Tattoo
Sometimes the simplest things make the most impact! This tattoo features a small, blackwork bird placed at the top of a tall, thin tree, which draws your eye up to the animal.
Shoulder Bird Tattoo
Birds are a common symbol in traditional tattooing, and despite having a bold style, they can be placed anywhere and easily toned down to fit your style or the area. This bird is on the shoulder, which pops, but its minimal style also keeps it feeling light.
Geometric Background Bird Tattoo
A geometric bird tattoo doesn’t have to be fully created out of shapes or lines to give off the style. Instead, try using shapes and crisp lines as the background to a more typical style of tattoo.
If you want to add a bit of whimsy to your design without making the entire thing feel like a cartoon, pick one element of the tattoo to emphasize. While this owl ink uses thin, curved lines, the large, cartoon-like eyes are what make the piece feel fun but not over-the-top.
Dove & Rose Tattoo
To lighten up a dove tattoo with heavy black outlines that may feel a bit dark, consider using white ink to lighten it up and add dimension. Placing other light or bright elements, like the rose pictured here, may help as well.
Dove & Moon Tattoo
Doves tend to be a sign of peace, but they also hold a lot of femininity in their image. To play up that element of the bird, try adding other feminine elements, like the moon.