Cold Mountain

Birds Symbol Icon

Birds are some of the most conspicuous and ambiguous symbols in the novel: crows, ravens, sparrows, turkeys, etc. At various points, the characters see birds flying past and project all sorts of symbolic meanings onto the sight. Inman envies birds for being able to fly home—unlike Inman himself, who’s forced to walk all the way back to Black Cove, his childhood home. Ruby Thewes and Ada Monroe try to find prophecies of the future by interpreting the movements of crows, symbolizing their uncertainty about their own futures (and echoing the ancient practice of augury—using birds to predict the future). In all, birds are symbols of both escape and the human desire for some kind of higher meaning. In times of great danger and uncertainty, the characters envy birds for their freedom, and also look to them to try and find a purpose in the seemingly random twists of fate. It’s telling that toward the end of the novel, when Ada begins to accept the terms of her new life, that she refuses to “interpret” the sight of a murder of crows at all—because she’s finally satisfied with her own life, she has no need for escape, and therefore no need to dwell on the birds.

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Birds Symbol Timeline in Cold Mountain

The timeline below shows where the symbol Birds appears in Cold Mountain. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 1: the shadow of a crow
War, Memory, and Trauma Theme Icon
The Quest to Return Home Theme Icon
...his wounds. He spends hours at a time staring out of a window. He sees birds flying by, and wanderers walking down the road. (full context)
Chapter 6: ashes of roses
War, Memory, and Trauma Theme Icon
Isolation, Survival, and Community Theme Icon
The Quest to Return Home Theme Icon
After talking with Ruby, Ada walks around her property, staring up at the birds. She wonders if the numbers of birds in each flock, or the type of bird... (full context)
Chapter 8: source and root
War, Memory, and Trauma Theme Icon
Isolation, Survival, and Community Theme Icon
...raining. They’re on a mission to buy supplies for plowing: scythes, horseshoes, etc. Ruby notices crows flying through the sky, and suggests that they’re an omen of something bad. Ada is... (full context)
War, Memory, and Trauma Theme Icon
Isolation, Survival, and Community Theme Icon
...Afterwards, they walk back from town. On the way home, they notice a beautiful bird—a heron. Ada has the powerful sense that the heron is a “solitary pilgrim,” and feels like... (full context)
War, Memory, and Trauma Theme Icon
Isolation, Survival, and Community Theme Icon
Romance, Sexuality, and Repression Theme Icon
Ruby tells Ada about her childhood, during which she saw plenty of herons. In fact, Ruby’s mother told her father, Stobrod, that it was a heron that impregnated... (full context)
Chapter 9: to live like a gamecock
War, Memory, and Trauma Theme Icon
Isolation, Survival, and Community Theme Icon
The Quest to Return Home Theme Icon
Hospitality and Quid Pro Quo Theme Icon
...Inman is still walking along the road, away from Junior. He sees a flock of crows flying above him, and notices that they’re circling close to a snake. The snake tries... (full context)
Chapter 10: in place of the truth
War, Memory, and Trauma Theme Icon
Isolation, Survival, and Community Theme Icon
Romance, Sexuality, and Repression Theme Icon
Ada sets up the scarecrow, and Ruby comes back from her trading with Esco. In the afternoon, Ada combs Ruby’s... (full context)
Chapter 11: the doing of it
War, Memory, and Trauma Theme Icon
Isolation, Survival, and Community Theme Icon
The Quest to Return Home Theme Icon
Hospitality and Quid Pro Quo Theme Icon
...her home, which is nearby. On the walk to her home, the woman points out birds flying through the sky. She yells, “Hey there” to the ravens in the trees, and... (full context)
Chapter 14: a satisfied mind
Isolation, Survival, and Community Theme Icon
Romance, Sexuality, and Repression Theme Icon
...meet again. Ada has learned to think literally and practically, she explains—when she sees a crow, for example, she does not “seek analogy for its blackness.” (full context)
Chapter 18: footsteps in the snow
War, Memory, and Trauma Theme Icon
Isolation, Survival, and Community Theme Icon
The Quest to Return Home Theme Icon
Romance, Sexuality, and Repression Theme Icon
...off, awkwardly waving a rifle in front of her. She aims at a cluster of wild turkeys , fires, and is amazed when two of them fall, dead. (full context)
Chapter 19: the far side of trouble
War, Memory, and Trauma Theme Icon
Isolation, Survival, and Community Theme Icon
Romance, Sexuality, and Repression Theme Icon
...and tells him he feels thin. Together, Ada and Ruby tear apart one of the birds Ruby caught and drop it in a pot of water. Inman is starving, and when... (full context)