Wednesday, November 8, 2023

Episode 213: Birds of a Feather


This week Shauna and Dan review why birds of a feather tend to flock together. Bonus: Pictures of cats before the internet, Dodos in the magical world, and Dan gets lost in armed robbery.

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Bunny Trails: A Word History Podcast
Episode 213: Birds of a Feather
Record Date: October 28, 2023
Air Date: November 7, 2023


Welcome to Bunny Trails, a whimsical adventure of idioms and other turns of phrase.

I’m Dan Pugh

And I’m Shauna Harrison

Each week we take an idiom or other turn of phrase and try to tell the story from its entry into the English language, to how it’s used today.

Opening Hook
Think back to your pre-teen and teenage years… or perhaps you’re a teen now… did the adults in your life ever tell you to be careful who you hang out with? That you are who your friends are? This is usually coming from a place of care and concern because many believe that birds of a feather flock together.


What does birds of a feather flock together have to do with what friends we keep?

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, this phrase means

birds of a feather and variants: people of the same sort or who have shared sensibilities, tastes, values, etc. Frequently in proverbial phrase birds of a feather flock together
End Quote

Oxford Languages tells us that a proverb is,
a short pithy saying in general use, stating a general truth or piece of advice
End quote

So, our phrase fits that criteria. It has been in use since at least the mid 1500s. One early citation in print is found in the 1545 work by William Turner titled, The Rescuing of Romish Fox.

Byrdes of on kynde and color flok and flye allwayes together.
End Quote

I was able to locate another early use in print in the 1586 work The First and Second Volumes of Chronicles, Comprising 1. The Description and Historie of England, 2. The Description and Historie of Ireland, 3. The Description and Historie of Scotland by Abraham Fleming, John Hooker, Richard Stanyhurst, John Stow, Francis Thynne.

Therefore, as birds of one feather, were supposed to be open enemies to the house of Kildare, bearing that sway in the commonwealth, as they were not occasioned (as they thought) either to crave friendship of the Giraldines, greatly to fear their hatred and enmity.
End Quote

This one was interesting for two reasons - first, it uses the phrase without the rejoinder of flocking or flying together - and second, it doesn’t explain the phrase any further but merely tosses it in as though it is the explanation. We don’t often see this in older works.

The 1598 work by Francis Meres titled, The Sinners Guyde. A Worke Contayning the Whole Regiment of a Christian Life ... Compiled in the Spanish Tongue ... And Nowe Perused, and Digested Into English.


First consider, that brute beasts do live peaceably with Man more those that are of the same kind. Elephants accompany with Elephants: in like manner, Kine and Sheep feed together in their then beasts. herds and flocks. Byrds of a feather fly together.
End Quote

There is quite the poetic jab in this next item from the 1659 work by Christopher Clobery titled, Divine Glimpses of a Maiden Muse: being various meditations and epigrams on several subjects. With a probable future cure of our present epidemical malady; if the means be not too long neglected

And many other prophets cunningly,
Preach up division for divinity

Vent schisms, and errors, fantasies of men,
For divine truths: but I'll intrust my pen
In brief to tell whence these instructers come:
They're Seminaries sent us forth from Rome:
And (wer’t not that our sins them here detain)
We'l defend them with the mischief back again,
Or give them to the fowls of Heaven here,
For a sweet meal of politic good cheer.
Our judges who our feats of justice fill'd,
More in corruption, then in law were skill'd,
Unless in wresting it to base by-ends,

To vex their honest-foes,
please their knave-friends:
The proverb prov'd true here, birds of a feather
End Quote

Moving into the 1700s, the phrase was appeared in a great many dictionaries including German to English, French to English and etymologies, as well as a number of other works.

The Harleian Miscellany Or a Collection of ... Pamphlets and Tracts, ... Found in the Late Earl of Oxfords Library; Interspersed with Historical, Political and Critical Notes Etc
Volume 5
By Robert Earl of Oxford and Mortimer Harley · 1745

Let us now consider what Manner of Birds these be; and we shall find them not Cuckows only, but other Birds of Prey, as Vultures, Harpies, Puttocks, Ostriches, Owls, Martins, Daws, and such like ominous and unclean Birds, that with their huge Bodies, and baleful Wings, have obscured our King, our Peace, our Happiness, and hid all Joy and Comfort from us; these are all Birds of a Feather, that fit in Council
End Quote

Newspapers of the late 1700s and throughout the 1800s are rife with our phrase. Here is one example from The New Hampshire gazette December 04, 1810 out of Portsmouth, New Hampshire. It included the reprinting of the Extract of a letter from Boston, dated 9th July, 1810.

Pretty well, certainly for this " Roman Cato," unless his country was England. The writer should have known that comparisons are sometimes odious.—A disgraced Minister and degraded Secretary are very natural companions. But when birds of such feather flock together, they must not be surprised if the half-fledged young ones they gather round them, should be emulous of their honors, and leave them bald and tattered in their zeal to decorate themselves with their plumage [signed] -Boston Patriot.
End Quote

Newspapers generally aren’t known to shy away from politics. And this next article is no exception. Two papers appear to be at odds in this response from one paper to another.

This is an excerpt from the article Goes Without Gloves from the December 26, 1894 edition of The Eagle out of Silver City, New Mexico

THe EagLe is inclined to be a peaceable bird and is not continually picking up quarrels of little importance and cackling over them as a hen does when she lays an egg and wants the whole world to know it.

The editor of the New Mexican has doubtless heard that old adage about birds of a feather and if he had paused to think he would have discovered the reason why The EAGle has no tender affection toward Grover Cleveland. The cuckoo sings the praises of Grover, the great, but as The Eagle and the cuckoo are not birds of a feather they will continue to flock by themselves. THe EaGLe can scream but he has never learned how to softly call "cuckoo" when the clock in the White House strikes one.
End Quote

As we move into the 1900s, we find that this phrase is used nearly as often as the word Hello. Despite its popularity, there were a lot of rather negative applications of it. And some were just difficult to express through an audio medium like art, extremely long comic strips and so on. However, the world would not be complete with one singular thing…

Pictures of cats. That’s right, it isn’t just the internet. And what’s better than pictures of cats? … pictures of cats befriending some other kind of animal. And that’s what we get in the May 9, 1954 edition of the Evening Star out of Washington, D.C. which features a full-page spread titled, Fur-and-Feather Friendship.

Tiger and Sooty are just birds of a feather for Jimmy, a cocky little budgerigar who’s eight months old. When he was first brought to the London home of Alfred B. Cobb, Jimmy had little to chirp about. Tiger, a ginger tomcat, and Sooty, a coal-black tabby, eyed him with catty suspicion.

Jimmy's lovable antics convinced them. however, that he would make a better pal than a meal, and they made him their feathered friend. Now budgie and his feline friends eat from the same plate, play, and even bed down together. Their fur-and-feather friendship pact has developed into a lasting alliance.
End Quote

A budgerigar is a parakeet. So a cute bird and cute cats being friends.

I have to say that the coolest thing about this phrase is the fact that there wasn’t a big gap in usage… we can consistently find it used in print since the 1500s.

Let’s move to our modern uses, right after we say thank you to our sponsors.

A Quick Thank You
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Modern Uses

Birds of a Feather is a TV series that aired from 1989-2020. IMDb shares this succinct overview,  

Comedy series following the lives of sisters Tracey and Sharon who are left to fend for themselves after their husbands are arrested for armed robbery.
End quote

I never heard of this show, but it was apparently popular enough to get a lot of seasons.  

In the same vein, the website TV Tropes has an entry titled Birds of a Feather. We’ll be discussing a few additional aspects of this including the counterpart Opposites Attract during the Bonus which is available to all of our patrons for free at

Birds of a feather… flock together!

Relationships, particularly romantic ones, tend to thrive when the people involved are similar. People are simply more likely to get along if they share common interests, values, beliefs, and goals. Thus people with similar personalities will often flow together easily, whether romantically or not.
End quote

The phrase was used in an article by Deborah Freedman Lustig and Kenzo Sung found in the journal Education and the Risk Society, 2012, The article is titled, Birds of a feather? Peers, delinquency, and risk. Here is the abstract,

“I know a lot of people think birds of a feather flock together. But that’s not necessarily true.” Benjamin, a 24 year old African American male, described how some of his friends were drug dealers and gang members who were in and out of jail while others were academically successful and ended up in college. Much social science research on youth, peers, and violence has suggested that birds of a feather flock together, as reflected in the common finding that association with delinquent peers is a risk factor for youth violence. In this chapter, we will unpack this statement and show how the lived experiences of youth growing up in a diverse low-income community of Oakland, California complicate this claim.
End quote

Not surprisingly, there are a number of songs with our phrase in the title. One that stood out to me is the theme song from Chicken Girls on BratTV. This web series was first released in 2017.

Here are some of the lyrics:
Listen up, now, listen to me
My girls are my fam, my family

Stronger in numbers, it's no wonder
Watch out world; watch and you'll see
There's no stopping us and our gang
Come back, come back for you like a boomerang

We fly so high, we fly together (fly together)
We are a girl gang like birds of a feather (birds of a feather)
End quote

Our proverb is also a common theme in the video game world such as the quest Birds of a Feather in Assassin’s Creed.

Tom Bowen gives us the goods on another occurrence in his 2023 GameRant post titled, Hogwarts Legacy: How to Complete Birds of a Feather (Side Quest Guide).

Birds of a Feather is a side quest in Hogwarts Legacy and requires players to rescue a rare white-feathered Diricawl named Gwyneira from poachers.
End quote

Birds of a Feather is a Chinese restaurant in New York and they have one of the coolest websites including interactive little characters for various areas of the site. There are a series of small images of individual people or in pairs and one in a group of three in a painted art style that are sort of scattered about the main landing page. Each is associated with a section of the website such as: Gift Card, Delivery & Takeout, Events, etc.

Here is the description of their business from their website ,

Birds of a Feather, 鸳鸯 in Chinese, is a Chinese restaurant in Williamsburg. It is the brainchild of Yiming and Xian, the Michelin-starred duo behind Cafe China. They have spent countless hours ruminating on the details of everything that meets the eyes and behind the scenes in the new restaurant. Yiming as the interior designer and architect of Birds of a Feather designed the space that is modern and timeless, welcoming and personal. The cuisine will be Sichuan, but with new ideas and new dishes.
End quote

Birds of a Feather Events is a company that has received high praise. They were in fact

End Quote

Here is some information from their website,

Known for our innovative approach to ground-up events, Birds of a Feather transforms blank canvases into visually stunning masterpieces.

We specialize in intimate, detail-oriented design with artfully captivating color palettes that have become our signature style.

As trusted experts, we confidently direct every phase of the planning and design process to deliver an efficient and elevated experience.
End quote

Wrap up:
When used light-heartedly or positively, I think this is a wonderful phrase. It makes sense and feels good. We see it in nature with actual birds and other animals. And we see it in humans. And it can allow for a quick assessment of things or a way to comment on the “rightness” of a relationship. Of course,  if you don’t actually know the person, it shouldn’t be a means of determining value or their trustworthiness or anything deeper than surface-level qualities and preferences.

People are way more complex than that. But as is the case with most generalities… it’s generally true. But maybe let’s stick to the lighthearted, positive side of this one. For example,  I have a partner who is as passionate about helping people and as dispassionate about social media as I am… we’re like birds of a feather. Or I like to play video games and sometimes I enjoy hanging out with other people who play video games… we’re birds of a feather.

That’s about all we have for today. If you have any thoughts on the show, or pop culture references we should have included, send us an email:, or comment on our website


It’s patron poll time!

Recently we posed this question to our Patrons:

What is your favorite sport to watch on TV?

Coming in 1st place was Baseball, followed by a tie between Basketball and Soccer. It appears we don’t have many die-hard ‘American football’ fans among our Patrons.

I enjoy soccer on tv or in person and baseball/softball in person.

Pat shared
I voted for a tie between Baseball/Softball and Basketball. OOPS I also hit the soccer dot. As far as something else, I enjoy watching all types of car races with my husband, Frank. I enjoyed all of your points ESPECIALLY concerning American football. I watch the SuperBowl FOR the commercials! Actually, old enough to remember watching the first SuperBowl.
End Quote

I love baseball. It is my favorite sport. But I prefer watching baseball in person. It's not my favorite to watch on TV and in fact I'd rather listen to baseball on the radio. But I did just watch a baseball game and the pace of play changes have sped up the game. Still, it went 11 innings and ran for 4 hours and 2 minutes. So that is a long time to ask someone to sit in front of a TV. So I played Minecraft on my computer during the game.

For watching on TV, I prefer soccer, or what the rest of the world calls football. The clock runs the whole time, the bulk of the ads are during half-time, and I know the game will last 90 minutes, plus a buffer for stoppage time. Plus there is ALWAYS something happening, even when there isn't a goal being scored. Unlike, say, American football, which according to has an average of 18 minutes of actual action during a 3 hour game.

As a reminder, our silly polls mean absolutely nothing and are not scientifically valid. But Patrons of all levels get to take part. Head over to to take this week’s poll!


Thanks for joining us. We’ll talk to you again next week. Until then remember,

Words belong to their users.

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