Tattoo Ideas: Sparrows and Swallows
First and foremost, let's understand the difference between swallows and sparrows. They are not the same thing. They are not the same bird and have vastly different meaning between them. The words swallow and sparrow cannot be used interchangeably. Swallows are a traditional old-school tattoo symbolizing enduring love that first appeared on sailors during the World Wars. Because swallows are known to always return home to San Juan Capistrano each year without fail, it was believed that sailors with a swallow tattoo would always return to their homes and families as well. Because swallows never fly too far from home, the sight of a swallow by a sailor was a symbol of hope; it meant they were close to land. Sailors with one swallow tattooed on them had traveled over 5,000 miles and a sailor with two tattoos had traveled over 10,000 nautical miles and denoted a very experienced sailor. If a sailor had the misfortune of dying at sea, legend had it that a swallow would carry his spirit to heaven. If a sailor had a friend who passed away, he may get a tattoo of a swallow with a dagger through its breast. But swallows are also an enduring symbol of love and loyalty, as swallows are monogamous creatures. They choose only one partner and will mate with them for life.
Many swallow tattoos were modeled after the barn swallow native to Europe. Blue in color, with a long, forked tail, barn swallows make their nests out of mud and are believed to represent the free blue sky and eternal happiness.
Sparrows, on the other hand, are small, brown-grey birds with stubby beaks. They are land-dwellers who subsist primarily on seeds and insects. They are NOT the tattoo to get if you're seeking to illustrate love and loyalty, or paying homage to a relative who worked as a sailor. Sparrows do have their own special symbolism, however, having been featured prominently in several works of literature. In the New Testament, Jesus assures his disciples that even a sparrow cannot fall without God's notice, implying that no suffering goes unnoticed. Likewise, Luke 12:6 says, "Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And not one of them is forgotten before God." In The Dark Half by Stephen King, sparrows function as creatures that carry spirits from the land of the living to the land of the dead.
Despite the masculine, maritime history of the swallow, they have exploded onto the tattoo scene among men and women alike as one of the most popular images currently. Whether keeping the original Sailor Jerry 1940s design or streamlining the bird's form to fit the curve of a woman's hip, understanding the symbolism of a swallow or mistaking it for a sparrow, both birds are representative of the beauty of flight and the immense freedom it brings.