Booth Museum

Stories on the Wing: British Birds in Literature

This special display explores the relationship between British birds and storytelling through the ages.

Combining books and specimens it shows how ornithologists have turned their observations of birds into stories, and how birds have sparked our imaginations over time through myths, folk tales and creative writing.


The display includes specimens of well-known British birds and explains how they have been used in literature, mythology and culture. Examples include the robin, whose red breast was imagined as a stain from the blood of Christ, seagulls, which turn into terrifying killing machines in Daphne Du Maurier’s story ‘The Birds’ (the basis for Hitchcock’s film of the same name), the magpie, often depicted in literature as a thief, and the blackbird, which has frequently been seen as a symbol of evil or even the Devil in disguise.


Texts on display will include Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the d’Urbervilles, Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre and Randolph Caldecott’s Babes in the Wood.


The display forms part of an AHRC-funded project involving collaborators from the Universities of Sussex, Leeds and St Andrews, that investigates the history of British nature writing. It will ultimately be accompanied by a book tracing how writers have depicted the natural world, from Gilbert White in the eighteenth century to modern authors like Helen Macdonald in her recent prize-winning book H is for Hawk.

Find out more about Stories on the Wing




Free, drop-in during opening hours