When God’s wrath and the flood jointly abated, a dove brought the good new to the ark and Noah, keeping hope afloat.
The Norse god Odin sent two ravens — Huginn or Thought and Muninn, Memory — to fly over the fjords and fields each day. They returned each night to croak in his ear the ways of the world.
For the Algonquin people, the thunderbird ruled the sky. For the Hopi, it was a mockingbird that led them out of darkness and gave them language. For the Haida of the Northwest Pacific, it was the trickster raven that created the world.
For wherever human beings have lived on this earth, they’ve explained things, imagined things through birds.
A bird-headed man is in the paintings of the Lascaux cave in southern France that some Paleolithic artist drew some 17,000 years ago. There are birds in the nighttime sky — the ancient constellations include Aquila, the eagle, and Cygnus, the swan.
“Even with kids who don’t know mythology, I’ll ask them ‘What’s your favorite football team — The Eagles? The Ravens? The Seahawks?’” said Cathy Hagadorn, executive director of the Connecticut Audubon Society’s Deer Pond Farm nature center in Sherman.
“They are so different from mammals,” said Tim Gallagher, author and former editor of “Living Bird,” the magazine published by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.
Bird myths are everywhere and common to every culture, from Genesis to Aesop’s Fable to the albatross that Coleridge’s ancient mariner shot with his crossbow, unleashing all matter of briny vexations.
“It spans thousands and thousands of stories throughout the world,” said Morgan Evans, the center manager of the Bent of the River Nature Center in Southbury, owned by Audubon Connecticut.
Evans spoke about bird myths and folklore last week at a meeting of the Litchfield Hills Audubon Society.
A lot of them involve ravens, he said.
“Ravens are everywhere in myth and folklore, in every place I looked,” Evans said.
Besides Norse myths, Evans said there’s the Welsh god-king Bran the Blessed, Bran means raven.
After Bran’s head was chopped off, it kept talking. It was buried at the White Tower in England, where the Tower of London now stands. Ravens still guard it, with a ravenkeeper to look after them.
Athena, the Greek goddess of wisdom, favored owls — hence, even today, wise old owls get to wear college mortarboards.
“They have sort of human faces, with the way their eyes are set,” Gallagher said.
But because they’re mysterious silent-winged nocturnal hooters, owls have also become portents of doom, Evans said.
“It was said that if an owl flew by your window when you were sick, you would die,” Evans said. “If you nailed a dead owl to your barn door, it would ward off evil.”
In Jewish legends, Adam — after eating the forbidden fruit with Eve — offered an enticing nibble to all the creatures in the Garden of Eden. Only the Hoyl Bird refused.
To honor its uprightness, God made the bird immortal. Every 500 years, fire would devour it, leaving only an egg, which would hatch out a new Hoyl for the next half-millennium.
The Greek phoenix, although non-Edenic, has the same fiery death and rebirth, and the same long life span. Ditto, the Bennu bird — a purple heron — of ancient Egypt.
There is also the cinnamalogus.
Evans said spice merchants used to claim the best, the very best, the finest of cinnamon came from the nest of the cinnamalogus, which perched high in trees or on wild cliffs, and could be gathered only through great effort.
Disbelieve it, Evans said. The merchants were medieval hawkers of the PT Barnum feather.
“Someone could say theirs was the best cinnamon by telling people about this beautiful bird,” he said.
Then there are purple martins, which nested in Native American gourds. The European colonists encouraged them to do the same, seeing the martins ate insects in the garden and on drying meat.
Evans said, there was Mike the Headless Chicken — a sideshow attraction in the 1940s — and Alex the African Gray Parrot, who learned 100 words, could identify 50 objects and, who, standing in front of a mirror asked about himself “What Color?’’
Hagadorn of Deer Pond Farm said there are also ugly duckling stories, storks bringing babies and robins bringing spring.
“Birds communicate so much to us,” she said. “And they can fly. They have feathers. Who doesn’t want to have feathers and fly?”