Tag Archives: bird in the hand

A Bird In The Hand Is Better Than Two In The Bush

Main Piece:

Interviewer: So what proverb did you want to share with me today?

Subject: A bird in the hand is better than two in the bush.

Interviewer: What does that mean?

Subject: It means… what you have and what you can see and what you can hold is better than what you might be able to get somewhere else… that’s uncertain.

Interviewer: Huh!

Subject: In other words, go with certainty.

Interviewer: Who told you that one? Do you remember who told you it?

Subject: Old people told me it. Believe it or not even older than me.

Interviewer: Wow. That’s pretty old.

Context: The subject is a middle-aged white man, born and raised in Tiverton, Rhode Island, and currently residing in Charleston, South Carolina. His parents are Ashkenazi Jews and his ancestors come from Russia. He is my father, and we are currently quarantined together in Charleston due to the Coronavirus pandemic. One evening after dinner, I asked him to share any folklore he heard of when he was younger.

Interpretation: I had never heard this proverb before. I did more research on it and found that the subject’s account of the proverb differed slightly from the more popular version I found upon which goes, “A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.” The proverb is a well-known English proverb, and was likely adapted from other languages. Specifically, warnings against risk-taking are apparently very common for English Proverbs. The proverb was likely brought to America by English migrants between the 17th and 18th century. Based on what I personally know about the subject and his older family, this proverb is very applicable to them. They definitely value certainty and safety, and are not the risk-taking types. The subject has certainly tried to instill those values onto myself.

For more on this English Proverb, go to:


“Más vale un pájaro en la mano que cinco en vuelo.”

Más vale un pájaro en la mano que cinco en vuelo.

A bird in hand is worth more than five in flight.


My informant, who is bi-lingual, remembers hearing this proverb from her grandmother, born in 1915, and who moved to the United States from Cuba in 1976. (My informant’s mother came to the United States at the same time in 1976).

My informant said that her mother and grandmother are the ones who say these proverbs, she claims that her generation does not repeat them as much.

For this particular proverb, my informant could not recall the context in which she heard it,  just that she thought it was clever. It refers to the value of money today as opposed to possibilities of money in the future.

This proverb appears in many different regions, so therefore the uniqueness of this variant is the comparison of a bird in hand to five in flight. Other variants have the birds in a bush, not in flight. Therefore, the Cuban influence on this proverb is evident through the influence of Cuba’s aviary wildlife.


Annotation: This proverb, (worded as “a bird in hand is worth a thousand flying”) and its comparison to a western variant are mentioned in the article, “Capital Financing, An Old Approach Reapplied” by Ronald W. Chapman Public Productivity Review, Vol. 7, No. 4. (Dec., 1983), pp. 378-387.