Bird’s-eye views and headless chickens: animal idioms, part 3

Sandra Standbridge / Moment / Getty Images

by Kate Woodford

This is the third in our popular series of blogs about common animal idioms. We’ll start with a creature that is found in a few frequently used idioms: the bird. (Sadly, the first two idioms have their origin in hunting.) If you want to say that with one single action you achieve two separate things, you might say you kill two birds with one stone:

I thought I’d kill two birds with one stone and drop my coat off at the cleaner’s on the way to the library.

To emphasize that something good that you already have is more valuable than something better that you don’t now have, you can say a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush:

I’m going to accept their offer and not wait around to see what the other company says. A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush!

The last idiom containing ‘bird’ is nicer! A bird’s-eye view of somewhere is a view from a high place, that allows you to see a big area:

Get a bird’s-eye view of this spectacular region in a hot air balloon.

Still with birds, we’ll look at two rather negative ‘chicken’ idioms. If someone moves around quickly, trying unsuccessfully to achieve several different things, you might say, informally, that they are running around like a headless chicken:

Isabel looks very stressed. She’s been running around like a headless chicken all morning.

If we say that the chickens are coming home to roost, that means that someone is experiencing problems that are caused by something bad that they did in the past:

The government has neglected this area for years and now all their chickens are coming home to roost.

Pigs are also used in some useful, informal idioms. If you make a pig of yourself, that is a disapproving way to say that you eat too much on a particular occasion:

I made a real pig of myself at Jo’s house.

In UK English, if someone does a task badly, you might say they make a pig’s ear of it:

He painted the front of our house last year and made a real pig’s ear of it.

Finally for pigs, to emphasize that you think there is no chance of something good happening, you might say, humorously, (UK) pigs might fly/(US) pigs can fly:

‘You never know: Lucas might offer to help.’ ‘Yeah, and pigs might fly!’

Next month, we’ll publish the last blog in this ‘animal idioms’ series, looking at an assortment of different animals that includes bears, camels and elephants.


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