Birdcage Tattoos: History, Meanings & Designs

Birdcage Tattoos: History, Meanings & Designs

It’s a symbol that is recognized across the world… the birdcage! So, what do birdcage tattoos mean anyways? In today’s article, we’ll give you the scoop on some of the symbolism, meanings, and more of this deceptively simple design.

Art has the power to transform the mundane into something new and interesting and as it turns out, with a symbol so well-recognized around the world, you’ve got quite a few options when it comes to birdcage tattoos!


What is the History of Birdcage Tattoos?

Birdcages have been around for pretty much as long as we’ve been able to tempt birds to come close to us. Ancient cultures, such as China, Egypt, Persia, Mesopotamia, and Babylon have depictions of early cages and when you have a symbol that is very old, it inevitably attracts a score of interpretations.

Caged birds, in ancient times, were a mark of wealth and nobility, and throughout Europe many exotic birds were literally worth their weight in gold. With the status-boost that came the birds, housing them appropriately was another sign of the owner’s wealth and affluence, and this meant that there were all kinds of interesting cages.

For instance, in Germany, in the Hartz mountain region, cages were fashioned of wood that were similar to the famous ‘cuckoo clocks’, though in colonial America they could be as simple as a bamboo framework. During the renaissance, birds such as Siskins and Finches were even trained to sing popular songs from their gilded cages.

In Victorian parlors, ornate birdcages were also a very big deal from a social standpoint, though canaries of the time didn’t have such a cushy job – as they were carried in their cages sometimes into deep areas of mines, to test if the air was safe to breathe. Birdcage tattoos have a rich history to draw on, indeed!


What Do Birdcage Tattoos Symbolize?

Birdcage tattoos can symbolize a lot of things. For instance, is the door open or closed? A closed birdcage could symbolize feeling trapped and then you have to factor in the size of it – is it small and constricting or primitively constructed, or is large and ornate… but still a cage)?

What is the birdcage is open? An open birdcage can symbolize that one has escaped their prison and is under the dominion of no one, ‘free to fly’ and to do what they will in the world, but an open birdcage with bait of some sort inside indicates the will to capture the ‘bird’ in question.

If something is inside the birdcage, there is symbolism there as well, and trapped inside could be words, creatures, or even physical objects that are symbolically ‘trapped’ within the cage in accordance with or possibly against the owner’s will – it all depends on how it is depicted.

With such a wide range of meanings, Birdcage tattoos let you work with a symbol that has quite a lot of flexibility and which is something so commonplace in every culture that it’s one of those rare images that will be recognized immediately anywhere that you go.


What Do Birdcage Tattoos Mean?

With skin art, as with any art, the meaning of the image is going to depend on whether it’s depicted alone, how it is depicted (plan, gilded, open, closed, etc), and on what is around it.

For instance, a birdcage tattoo with a depiction of the owner drawn from a childhood photo could indicate the loss of or sublimation of the inner-child, though on the other end of the spectrum, a cat trapped in a birdcage could indicate that the owner is graceful, but tends to get into trouble — or just a sense of humor.

An open birdcage with some of the letters for the word ‘success’ present inside like bait, with birds hovering outside with the remaining letters on their wings could indicate the tattoo owner’s ambition, while a simple, but ornate, locked birdcage might simply indicate that the owner feels trapped, isolated, and empty.

With the wide range of possible meanings, you have a lot of options for a beautiful tattoo that definitely says something important about you to the world. As such, it’s best to give your own design a lot of thought and to work with your artist well in advance. You’ll be happy that you took the time to do so!


Where Do Birdcage Tattoos Usually Go?

Birdcage tattoos are pretty versatile. As the design can be as simple or as complex as you would like, you can put them on your arm, back, hip, ankle, or even go with little birdcages on some fingers with little birds on the others. Get creative with it and have fun – there’s really no wrong place.

Most commonly, the outer and upper arm is a popular place for birdcage tattoos, unless you are looking to depict a colorful bird or another image as captured inside the cage, in which case you might want to put it in an area with more skin to work with such as the back or the hip.

Think on what you want and the right place should come to you. We suggest starting off by deciding if you want the tattoo to be visible most of the time, easily hidden, or placed somewhere for more intimate view. Once you determine that, you’ll know exactly where you want it!


Characteristics and Styles of Birdcage Tattoos

The characteristics of Birdcage tattoos are many and numerous. With such a recognizable image, you can do a black and white birdcage and it’s still immediately recognized and understood, or you could go full color and create a gem-studded birdcage of gold, to represent a ‘kind captivity’ that is nonetheless ‘still a cage’.

As far as styles, Japanese tattoo styling can make for elegant cages, or you could go with Geometrical style if you feel trapped by modern tech, or New School if you want to be comical about the imprisonment or luring side of a birdcage.

Come up with your basic design idea and then start checking portfolios – the extra minutes that it takes can really lift your design to the next level.


In closing

As you can see, the birdcage has been around for so long that it’s actually quite hard to find imagery that is so concrete, and yet so flexible. Take advantage of this and stretch the personal symbolism as much as you can.

With a little forethought, you’ve got the makings of an absolutely amazing birdcage tattoo design and best of all, it’s all about YOU!

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