Why we say: ‘a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush’

This proverb may not be all that common today, but it remains a gentle warning against greed or irresponsible risk-taking to those who heed its message...

Why we say: ‘a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush’ © Getty Images

The English phrase means it is better to be happy with the things we have rather than risk everything in order to get more. The ‘bird’ we already possess is far more valuable than the ‘two’ we could possibly get.


Although the exact roots of the proverb are not clear, it is thought to have first appeared in medieval falconry – where trained birds of prey, such as falcons, hawks or eagles, were used in hunting. The ‘bird in the hand’, therefore, was the trained hunting bird, which was extremely valuable to its owner, far more than the prey hiding in the bushes.


Throughout the centuries, The Bird in Hand became a popular name for pubs and inns across England and the phrase travelled to America with the English migrants. The phrase even inspired the name of a community in Pennsylvania – Bird-in-Hand was founded in 1734.