I see and hear this over and over again, and I have not the slightest idea where it comes from.

  • I am reminded that there was a 50s TV quiz show in the US where questions or answers or some such arrived at the announcer's table via a mechanical bird. I have always associated the saying with that, but it's a memory from when I was like 8-10 years old. (There was also sometimes a duck or birdcage involved in You Bet Your Life, but I'm pretty sure that not what I'm remembering.)
    – Hot Licks
    Jan 16, 2016 at 22:53

3 Answers 3


According to 'Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable', from Ecclesiastes x. 20:

Curse not the King, no not in thy thought; . . . for a bird of the air shall carry the voice, and that which hath wings shall tell the matter.

  • +1: I don't know if the explanation is totally correct, but it certainly makes a lot of sense, and I'm inclined to believe it.
    – narx
    Oct 8, 2011 at 22:41

From The Phrase Finder

Various authors over the centuries, including Shakespeare, have made reference to birds, feathered or otherwise, giving messages. The first that comes close to our current version of this phrase is Frederick Marryat, in Peter Simple, 1833:

"A little bird has whispered a secret to me."


Peter Simple is an 1834 novel written by Frederick Marryat about a young British midshipman during the Napoleonic wars. It was originally published in serialized form in 1833

Phrase Finder says that the root source of this expression probably is biblical, from Ecclesiastes; see Barrie England's answer, above.

(The phrase "feathered or otherwise" seems odd. I thought all birds, by definition, had feathers.)


The first thing that came to my mind were Odin's ravens, Thought and Memory who "brought information to Odin".


On Wiktionary, they make reference to the same Bible phrase AND a connection to Norse mythology.


  • 1
    Interesting speculation, but speculation it is. Your answer would be better if you could back this up. Many centuries probably elapsed between Odin's ravens and when the "little birdie" expression first appeared.
    – ab2
    Jan 16, 2016 at 23:03
  • Hi there.. I was just offering a theory. However, the fact that there is a distance of centuries doesn't invalidate what I suggested. Anyone who had a passing interest in mythology could easily have referenced Odin's ravens in this context.
    – Aethon
    Jan 16, 2016 at 23:15

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