A Bird in the Hand Is Worth Two in the Bush (Origin)

by Craig Shrives

What Is the Origin of the Saying "A Bird in the Hand Is Worth Two in the Bush"?

The term "a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush" means having something certain is better than taking a risk for more. In other words, it means it's better to hold onto what you have rather than running the risk of attaining something better, which could lead to getting nothing.

The proverb comes from the sport of falconry, where "a bird in the hand" (i.e., the falcon) was to be more valued than two or more birds flying freely (i.e., the prey). More specifically, the proverb states that you should not risk losing your falcon for mere prey birds. In essence, it advises not to release your falcon under risky conditions.

Here are two early versions of the proverb:
  • "It is more sekyr [certain] a byrd in your fest, than to haue three in the sky a-boue." (AD 1450)
  • "Better one byrde in hande than ten in the wood. (AD 1546)
With its origins in the 15th century, "a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush" is one of the oldest proverbs in English. It is likely, however, that it is older still as it is probable its origins are from outside Britain, where falconry was more common.
A Bird in the Hand Is Worth Two in the Bush (Origin)

Previous and Next Sayings

Test Your Knowledge of English Proverbs and Idioms

Ready for the Test?

More Proverbs, Sayings, and Idioms

Help Us To Improve Grammar Monster

  • Do you disagree with something on this page?
  • Did you spot a typo?
Next lesson >

See Also

What are idioms? What is figurative language? A list of common grammar errors A list of easily confused words A list of sayings and proverbs

Page URL