Proverbs: A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush

Two birdsProverbs (traditional sayings) can tell you a lot about the culture and ideas of those who speak a certain language. I’d thought it would be fun to take a look every now and then (occasionally) at some popular proverbs. Today’s is “A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.”

This expression means that it is better to keep what you have than to risk (take a chance) it for something greater. Having one bird in your hand is worth more than trying to catch two birds that are in the bush (a large plant). You have to let go of (release) the bird that is already in your hand in order to catch the other two birds, but of course you may fail and end up with (have at the end) no birds at all. Because of the risk of loosing the little you have, it is sometimes better not to try to get something more and end up with nothing.


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22 Responses to Proverbs: A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush

  1. Ruben says:

    Dear Jeff
    I was wondering if there is a mistake in the explanation of the saying where You write “You have to let go of (release) the bird”: in my opinion a F is missing after of, I’m I right?

  2. Anton says:

    I suppose it would be interesting for all of the participatns of the blog to know different equivalents of the proverb from different countries.
    So, the russian version is. “A blue titmouse in the hands is better than a crane in the sky.” The american variant uses quantity to express that something is better than something else, the russian one uses size. What could that tell about? 🙂

    But I guess, there is another russian proverb that has similar sense, I would translate it this way: “run you after two rabbits, you’ll catch none”(the inversion is made intentionally, I guess it’s a right means to translate a sentence where “if” is omitted)

  3. Anton says:

    Ruben, there is no mistake.
    Let go (of) means release.

  4. Jacek B. says:


    In Polish we have very similar proverb… Literally it goes: “It’s better to have a sparrow in your hand than pigeon on the roof”.

    Meaning is the same…

    Best regards to all ESLPod staff and all listeners!

    Jacek B., Poznan, Poland.

  5. Maria Floss says:

    Hi, everybody
    I’ m Maria from Switzerland and in this moment I’m on vacation in beautiful Morgan Hill – a nice little city in the Bay Area in beautiful California!
    The German and also Swiss German version for the proverb above is ” The sparrow in the hand is better than the dove on the roof.” It means that a dove, even a bird but on a “higher level”(?). A dove often is compared to freedom, love and a symbol for spirituality – so on old drawings and paintings.

    Dear Jeff, Lucy and crew,
    thank you so much for you great work.
    Since two month I listen to ESL podcast every day and where ever I can. And I enjoy it every time.
    One time I was sitting in the train to my work place. The headphone in my ears I was listening to your story’s. Suddenly I had to laugh out loud about one of your joke and all the other people looked at me…it was 5:30pm…may be I woke them up…:o)

    All my best

  6. Andrea says:

    In Italy we would roughly say “It’s better an egg today than a chicken tomorrow”… there is no bird in this version 🙂

    Andrea, Italy

  7. Jose Antonio says:

    Dear Jeff:

    Well, I suppose eveyone knows the way the saying is said in spanish: “Mas vale pàjaro en mano que ciento volando”. In this case there are one undred birds, no two birds. Well, is very similar.
    My best regards.
    Jose Antonio

  8. Elly says:

    Dear Jeff and Lucy
    thank you for offering us such a good platform to study English! I really love our ESL podcast, and enjoy, i just wanna express my view about this proverb.i would rather take a chance on catching two birds than keep one in the hand.’cause i am more willing to experience funny process .sometimes i think process is more important than result.anyway, different people has different points.welcome to discuss together!

    best wishes to everyone

  9. Oscar says:

    In spanish the equivalent proverb is “Mas vale pájaro en mano que ciento volando”. It means “One bird in the hand is worth a hundred flying” (I´m sorry for my bad english)

  10. Claude, Québec, Canada says:

    Hi everyone!
    in french we say; ”un tien vaut mieux que deux tu l’auras”. I would translate in this way: ”One yours worth better than two you will have it”. Or something like that. Excuse my english!
    Best regards everyone, specialy Jeff and Lucy!

  11. waka says:

    Hello Jeff and Lucy! Thank you for such a great program! Hi everyone! In Japanese, we say, “Fifty today is better than a hundred tomorrow.”

  12. Hamar, Taiwan says:

    Hello, guys!

    In Chinese, it is written as “??????????”.
    It is translated from Chinese.

    I like this blog.

  13. martha says:

    Thank-you for your grat work I´ll use it with my students and they will be very happy working with it.
    Thank-you very much for this great help for esl students

  14. Ari Fernando Ramos says:

    Dear Jeff
    I think you’re right in the way you write the expression “to let go of”,meaning ‘”to stop holding something or someone”,as in the phrase:’The guard let go of the lead, and the dog lunged forward’.Let me know which is right.

  15. emiliano says:

    Yes, that’s right Jeff, but by the contrary there are also other proverbs that say:

    There is not any profit without some risk


    Who doesn’t ever bet never gain.

    I think there is always another provert telling us the contrary of the first one.

    Best wishes, emiliano

  16. Berron Marie says:

    in french : un “tiens” vaut mieux que deux tu “l’auras”
    “Tiens” present of the verb have and “l’auras” the future of the same verb have
    bests regards from france

  17. &rey says:

    I think Emiliano rised nice discussion about the difference between two proverbs.
    We have another russian proverb “Who doesn’t risks those doesn’t drink champagne”.
    And also another one: “Risk is a good idea”. 🙂

  18. emiliano says:

    I like russian proverb “who doen’t risk those doesn’t drink champagne” and I think it is very true, as here in Spain we always celebrate everything drinking champagne, and very often people celebrates the first, second or whichever prize at he lotery, drinking with champagne.
    All us may see every year on the screen at Christmas, a lot of people opening bottles of champagne because they “risk a bird in hand to get a lot of birds in the bush”.
    In this bussines who gets always a lot of birds in hands is THE STATE …as it is sure for iIT to get lot of birds that nearly all spaniard have releassed lookingforward to get first prize in the lottery.
    What a pitty…, yes I think there is too much to say about this item

    Thank you @rey…

  19. Maria says:

    the way goes to “no risk – no fun”…no risk – no mistakes and also no experiences… sometimes you have “to go out an a limb” – that means you have to fight for your believe, for your opinion otherwise you’re not going ahead…

    I like this blog :o)

    have a nice night or day folks – where ever you are

  20. Omar says:

    Hi all,

    Thank you Jeff for these innovative ideas.
    Here in Saudi Arabia we would say in Arabic: “a sparrow in the hand better than 10 on the tree “.



  21. BARON says:

    Please, don’t worry about your English: tomorrow at night, we ‘ll not be able to understand English because of RUGBY.

  22. Ramesh Luhadia says:

    In Hindi it is said : If you drop the half (bread) which is in your hand and run after the whole (full bread), you neither have the half nor get the full.

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