Birds of Greek Mythology

Birds of Greek Mythology
Terracotta statuette of a siren, ca. 550–500 BCE (public domain)

It's #NationalBirdDay so I want to talk about birds in Greek mythology. There are many stories from ancient Greece about mythological birds and half-bird creatures, some of which I'm going to introduce here.

Birds of Ares

The Birds of Ares (Ornithes Areioi in ancient Greek) were a flock of arrow-feathered birds which the god had set to guard his sacred shrine on the Black Sea island of Dia, also called Ares' Island. It had been built by the Amazons, his daughters. The birds were encountered by the Argonauts in their quest for the Golden Fleece. The heroes raised their shields as a defence against the birds' deadly volleys of arrows and with a clash of shield and spear scared them away.

Art and sculptures from Hadrian’s Villa: The Lansdowne Relief FOLLOWING HADRIAN
This month’s sculpture from Hadrian’s Villa is a dark grey limestone relief decorated with mythological scenes. The relief was unearthed in 1769 during excavations undertook by the art dealer and a…
The Landsdowne Relief with a detail of the Stymphalian Birds attacking the Argonauts (right)

The Birds of Ares were sometimes identified with the Stymphalian Birds driven off by Herakles (see below).


The Griphoi or Griffins is a hybrid creature with the head and wings of an eagle and the body of a lion. They guard a treasure of gold by the border to Hyperborea. Griffins were popular decorations in ancient Greek art, for example the helm of the statue of Athena Piraeus:

Statue of Athena (“The Piraeus Athena”). Athens, Archaeological Museum of Piraeus (Αθήνα, Αρχαιολογικό Μουσείο Πειραιά)
Statue of Athena (“The Piraeus Athena”). Bronze. 340—330 BCE. Athens, Archaeological Museum of Piraeus
Athens, Archaeological Museum of Piraeus © 2014. Photo: Ilya Shurygin.


The Harpyiai or Harpies were depicted as winged women, sometimes with ugly faces, or with the lower bodies of birds. They were the spirits of sudden, dangerous gusts of wind and were sent by the gods to snatch up people and things from the dark earth. A missing person was said to have been snatched by the Harpies.

The Harpy Tomb reliefs, north side, detail of one of the winged female creatures carry small figures perhaps representing souls of the dead, about 480 BC, Xanthos, British Museum, London
Explore Following Hadrian’s photos on Flickr. Following Hadrian has uploaded 43548 photos to Flickr.
One of the winged female creatures of the Harpy Tomb reliefs. Photo: Carole Raddato


The Hippalektryon, literally "horse-cock" or "horse-rooster" (hippos = horse, alektryôn = cock) is a hybrid creature with the head and sometimes forelegs of a horse and the wings, tail and back-legs of a male chicken. @sigeel drew them most beautifully, tended to by Demeter and Persephone.

Linda Luksic Sejic/Sigeel
nothing to see here, just us horse-chickens XDspecial thanks to @thecaffeinebookwarrior for the inspiration! when I saw that horse-chicken I had to draw it LOLinspirational thread...
Linda Sejic's illustration of a flock of hippalektryoi on her Tumblr.


This bird is still well-known today through the saying "rising like a Phoenix from the ashes". It was said to resemble an eagle, with feathers partly red and partly golden. The Phoenix flies from Arabia to the Temple of the Sun (Ra) in Heliopolis in Egypt every 500 years to bury its father encased in myrrh. And there only is a father because the Phoenix begets itself. The tale of the Phoenix actually rising from its own ashes is related in a 4th century CE Roman text called "The Phoenix":

...the pyre conceives the new life; Nature takes care that the deathless bird perish not, and calls upon the sun, mindful of his promise, to restore its immortal glory to the world. Straightway the life spirit surges through his scattered limbs; the renovated blood floods his veins. The ashes show signs of life; they begin to move though there is none to move them, and feathers clothe the mass of cinders. He who was but now the sire comes forth from the pyre the son and successor; between life and life lay but that brief space wherein the pyre burned. His first delight is to consecrate his father's spirit by the banks of the Nile and to carry to the land of Aegyptus (Egypt) the burned mass from which he was born.
Phoenix. Naples, National Archaeological Museum (Napoli, Museo archeologico nazionale)
Phoenix. Fresco from Pompeii (Caupona of Euxinus, I. 11. 10—11). 123 × 124 cm. Naples, National Archaeological Museum
Fresco depicting a Phoenix from Pompeii


The Seirenes or Sirens were depicted as birds with either the heads or entire upper bodies of women. They are well-known from the Odyssey for their enchanting song.

Lovely Terpsichore, one of the Muses, had borne them [the Sirens] to Akheloos, and at one time they had been handmaids to Demeter's gallant Daughter [Persephone], before she was married, and sung to her in chorus. But now, half human and half bird in form, they spent their time watching for ships from a height that overlooked their excellent harbour; and many a traveller, reduced by them to skin and bones, had forfeited the happiness of reaching home.

The shape of the Sirens, a bird with a woman's head, was popular as a vessel for perfumes and cosmetics.

Terracotta statuette of a siren with a bird's body and a woman's head, possibly a votive offering, (public domain)

Stymphalian Birds

The Stymphalian Birds were a flock of man-eating birds of prey which lived around Lake Stymphalis in Arkadia on the Peloponnese. Herakles had to deal with them for the sixth of his twelve labours:

Herakles was stumped by the problem of driving the birds out of the woods, but Athena got some bronze noise-makers from Hephaistos and gave them to him, and by shaking these from a mountain adjacent to the lake frightened the birds. Not enduring the racket, they flew up in fear, and in this manner Herakles reached them with his arrows.
Herakles shooing away the Stymphalian Birds with a slingshot, Attic black-figure vase painting, ca. 540 BCE (public domain)

The Stymphalian Birds were sometimes identified with the arrow-shooting Birds of Ares that were encountered by the Argonauts (see above).

According to Pausanias' Description of Greece there was also an old sanctuary of Stymphalian Artemis in Stymphalos and near the roof of her temple the Stymphalian birds had been carved.

Which is your favourite birb story from mythology?


The Lansdowne relief depicting the Argonauts with the man-eating Stymphalian birds,

The Piraeus Athena, bronze statue, Archaeological Museum of Piraeus,

The Harpy Tomb relief,

Linda Sejic's Horse Chickens,

Phoenix fresco from Pompeii, Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli,

Siren terracotta figurine,

Herakles shooting at the Stymphalian Birds with his slingshot, black-figure vase painting,