Swallow tattoos are one of the most popular tattoos because of their attractive designs and deeper meaning. Many people confuse sparrows and swallows because the birds resemble each other in shape and have similar sounding names, but the meanings of these two bird tattoos are very different. Some swallow species travel great distances each year, migrating from one part of the planet to another; an act that has granted swallow tattoos meanings that are associated with travel and home coming.
The Difference between Swallow Tattoos and Sparrow Tattoos
Swallow tattoos and sparrow tattoos are often confused, which means that the meanings of both sparrow and swallow tattoos have become jumbled. The main difference between swallows and sparrows is that they are different species of bird. Even though they look similar and share a few behavioral traits, the two birds have their own meanings as totem animals and in tattoo designs. Unfortunately the mix-up isn’t limited to just sparrows and swallows. Bluebird tattoos are often confused with either sparrow or swallow tattoos, further complicating the meaning of swallow tattoos.
Swallows live all over the planet and come in a variety of shapes, sizes and colors. The most popular swallow used in tattoo designs is the Barn Swallow, also known as the European Swallow. This colorful bird has a blue back, orange cheeks and a white belly. In tattoo designs the colors are often emphasized or replaced with even brighter shades. Sparrows are generally smaller than swallows and come in a variety of brown and cream shades. The sparrow’s tail feathers are also not as long or as elegant as a swallow’s tail feathers.
Sparrow tattoos mean cheerfulness, determination and assertion. They are an excellent addition to tattoos of city streets or a tattoo design that represents a time of life in which a person needed to have a strong character. Although sparrows may appear at first glance to be more dull than swallows, most sparrow species have interesting patterns in their plumage. These little birds also have a characterful silhouette and posture. Sparrow tattoos have a very different meaning to swallow tattoos and should be appreciated as a separate symbol from swallow tattoos.
The most popular swallow tattoo design was created by Norman Keith Collins (January 14, 1911 – June 12, 1973), who is popularly known as Sailor Jerry because he mostly tattooed sailors. Sailor Jerry’s swallow tattoo design is an iconic American tattoo with smooth, elegant lines and an expressive pose. The colors used in Sailor Jerry swallow tattoos are generally true to the blue, red and white of the Barn Swallow’s plumage, but sometimes greens or browns are added. The red, white and blue version of the Sailor Jerry swallow tattoo are popular with people from America, England, France and other countries which have these three colors in their national flag. Read More about Sailor Jerry on Wikipedia.
The Meaning of Swallow Tattoos
Although there are dozens of species of swallows that don’t migrate, the most popular meaning for swallow tattoos is travel. Some species of swallow travel from Europe to Africa, crossing most of the planet in order to avoid the cold of winter. In countries where migrating sparrows live, the return of the birds is a sign that spring has arrived. In the past, swallows were believed to actually carry spring with them as they flew. Spring is associated with change, new beginnings and new life. As the creature that brings spring to different parts of the world, swallows are a symbol of both newness and the return of joy and easy times.
Sailors of the past were very aware of the movement of birds because the appearance or flight of certain birds were signs of the weather turning. Swallows were a good sign that the stormy winter seas were soon going to calm, making a sailor’s life safer and easier. Sailors respected swallows because like them, the little bird traveled great distances even though travelling was dangerous. It is said that one swallow tattoo on a sailor’s body meant that he had traveled 5,000 nautical miles. Two swallow tattoos meant that the sailor had traveled 10,000 nautical miles, a great achievement for a sailor of the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries. Two swallows was a symbol that the sailor was responsible and courageous; deserving of respect and admiration.
Sailors wore swallow tattoos not only as a symbol of how many miles they had traveled, but as a lucky charm. Because the swallow always returns home, a tattoo of a swallow was a good luck charm that would bring the sailor home to his family. Because of this meaning, swallow tattoos have also become popular with soldiers as a lucky charm to bring the soldier home to his or her family and friends.
Countries that see the return of swallows in spring have given these birds another meaning; home coming, for although swallows may leave when the weather turns chilly, the birds return with the beginning of spring. Swallow tattoos can be a symbol of home or patriotism; a way for a person to honor their family, city or country of birth. Because the swallow always returns each year, this bird can be a symbol of loyalty and love. The association of all bird tattoos with the freedom of flight can be added to the meaning of a swallow tattoo, creating a visual representation of the saying, “If you love someone, set them free. If they love you, they will come back.”