Are Sparrows Messengers of Death?

Fox Sparrow
Fyn Kynd Photography

In many cultures, folk wisdom says animals can embody spirits or predict the future, even serve as messengers of death. For one woman and her mother, a chance encounter with a sparrow was a sign that something truly dreadful was about to happen. Although "Molly" wishes to remain anonymous, she hopes her tale serves as a cautionary true tale that sparrows can be messengers of death.

"Please Go Away!"

For more than 30 years, Molly has lived in fear of seeing sparrows. Each time she does, someone close to her dies. Her story begins when she was an 8-year-old, sitting in the kitchen with her mother, looking out the window at the yard. As they gazed outside, a sparrow flew up to the window.

"The strange thing was, the bird was actually making eye contact with my mother," Molly said, recalling the incident. "My mother said in a frightened tone, 'Oh no. Please go away!' then turned away from the window."

As her mother cowered in fear, the bird flew away. Once she'd calmed down, Molly's mother told her a strange tale.

"When I was your age, your grandma and I were sitting just like we are now and a sparrow flew up to the window," Molly's mom said. "It looked in at us, and your grandmother said, 'Oh my. We are going to have a death in the family shortly'."

For Molly's grandmother, who had immigrated from Norway, the strange incident was an omen. According to Norwegian folklore, Molly said, such an encounter with a sparrow is considered to be a harbinger of death if the bird makes eye contact with you. What made it all the eerier, Molly's mother told her, was that her grandmother died just two weeks after seeing the bird.

"I know this sounds like a silly superstition, but over the past 30 years, every time a sparrow does this, within two weeks someone close to me dies," Molly said. "The bird will do whatever it takes to get your attention, then fly off."

A Fearless Bird

Molly discovered firsthand what an encounter with a sparrow can portend when she was in her early 20s. "My boyfriend and I were cleaning his father's basement. They had a broken window down there and they had just put some heavy plastic over the window until they could replace it," she said. "As we were cleaning, my boyfriend said, 'What is with this crazy bird?' "

Molly glanced at the window. On the sill, a sparrow was pecking furiously at the plastic. As her boyfriend swatted at the bird, it suddenly turned and looked straight at him. Then, it flew off. 

"That was one fearless bird," Molly remembers her boyfriend remarking. "I told him it was an omen and that someone was going to die, but he just laughed at me."

A week and a half later, Molly's boyfriend's uncle died unexpectedly.

Molly's next encounter occurred in 2008. While washing dishes in the kitchen, Molly looked up to see a sparrow at the window. It made eye contact with her for several seconds before fluttering away.

"That afternoon my kids were playing outside and they came barreling into the house and slammed the door. My one girl said, 'Mom, there's a million birds on our roof!'," Molly recalled. "That's when I could hear them just squawking. People walking their dogs and doing yard work all stopped and just stared at my house."

Ten days later, Molly's mother passed away.

Just Chance?

Molly's most recent encounter occurred in the fall of 2017 when she was awakened by the sound of her four dogs barking at a sliding-glass door. On the other side of the glass, a sparrow hovered, peering inside. After waving away the dogs, Molly took a closer look.

"I squatted down and looked directly at the sparrow," she said. "I wondered if it was sick. injured? No, he was standing strong, clear eyes, just staring at me. I waved my hand at it. Didn't flinch. I got afraid and closed the blinds. The sparrow stayed at the door for about three minutes and then flew off."

Four days later, Molly was working outside when her neighbor came over to visit. Her mother, the neighbor told Molly, had just passed away the day before. Molly was stunned.

"I couldn't believe it. I know some people must think it's all a coincidence, but honestly, how many times can it be a coincidence?"

Molly says she no longer fears an encounter with a sparrow. She has made peace with the idea of the birds as harbingers of death, she says, and accepts that some folklore is true even if it cannot be scientifically proven. 

"I know what I experienced is real," she says.