A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush

Photo of author


A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush is a proverb. A proverb is a short, common saying or phrase that particularly gives advice or shares a universal truth. Common proverbs are phrases used in the English language in order to convey a concise idea, and are often spoken or are considered informal or conversational. Sometimes, only the beginning of a proverb is quoted, the speaker assuming that the listener can supply the rest of the quote for himself. Many English as a Second Language learners do not understand proverbs, as they attempt to translate them word for word, which yields only the literal meaning. In addition to learning vocabulary and grammar, one must understand the figurative meaning of a proverb in order to know English like a native speaker. We will examine the definition of the expression a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush, where it may have come from and some examples of its use in sentences.

A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush means it is better to have the certainty of possessing something that has some value, than to gamble that certainty on the promise of possessing something of greater value. The phrase a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush may be seen as an admonition to be satisfied with something that is adequate, rather than risking the loss of that item by attempting to grasp more. Often, the phrase fragment a bird in the hand is quoted in a sentence, the speaker assuming that the listener is familiar enough with the idiom or proverb to complete the thought. The origin of the proverb a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush is uncertain. Some believe it is related to the sport of falconry, the bird in the hand being the falcon and the birds in the bush being the prey. Or, the term may simply be an expression referring to strategies involved in hunting. The expression  was certainly known in the English language by the time it was published in John Heywood’s A dialogue conteinyng the nomber in effect of all the prouerbes in the Englishe tongue, in 1546: “Better one byrde in hande than ten in the wood.” The origin goes back at least to the seventh century and the work Story of Ahikar, written in Aramaic: “Better is a sparrow held tight in the hand than a thousand birds flying about in the air.” The sentiment of holding onto what is a sure thing rather than gambling on obtaining something greater goes back to antiquity. Other phrases, expressions, or proverbs that depend on the imagery of birds are birds of a feather flock together, don’t count your chickens before they hatch, and the early bird catches the worm.


Conley urged residents to pass the bond issue now, using the analogy of a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. (The Mansfield News Journal)

By signposting upcoming reform, the road map acts as the proverbial bird in the hand for firms who have a presence in Ireland or indeed those who are looking to invest here. (The Independent)

Owners, trainers and jockeys are often prepared to forgo the bird in the hand if there are two in the bush a few weeks later. (The Sydney Morning Herald)

That really would be having a bird in the hand and a bird in the bush, because the simple truth is that Habayit Hayehudi and Bennett owe their political future to Netanyahu’s conflict-management policy and that Israelis want to see a good offer on the table. (Haaretz)