There are all types of birds each with distinct characteristics so when birds appear in your dreams, try to take note of what type of bird it is.
General bird meaning
Consider the qualities of a bird that set it apart from other animals. Feathers and flight (for the most part. There are some flightless birds.) Because of this, when birds appear in dreams, they often represent freedom and ideas or ideals (high, sky).
Homing pigeons played instrumental roles in communicating across long distances throughout history. Hence, they also represent messages.
Bird mythology and beliefs
In the bible, Noah sent out a dove to see if the flood waters receded enough to land his ark. The dove returned with a small olive branch in its beak which to this day symbolizes peace.
The albatross, the largest sea dwelling bird, is said to be the souls of sailors lost at sea and it is bad luck to kill one. Because of its mention in a Coleridge poem in which the punishment for killing one was to wear a dead albatross around the neck, the phrase "having an albatross around one's neck" now means to have bad luck due to bad actions.
Birds were very important to Native American culture as witnessed by the use of feathers in their ceremonial dress and in their art. In some tribes, birds were revered as spiritual messengers or even the souls of their ancestors. Some believed that birds would come to help escort a soul of a person to the spirit world which is why they became known as harbingers of death and thus the basis of a Western superstition. If a black bird appears in your dream, however, it does not always represent a coming death.
Eagles, the highest flying birds, were said to be able to traverse across both earth and heavenly dimensions.
Your personal connection to birds
If you have waking life connections with certain birds, take that into account when you interpret those bird dream symbols. For example, a reader mentioned that one of her friends is associated with magpies. Another recognizes ravens as teachers from her tribal culture.
Common bird dream scenarios
Seeing a bird appear on a window or nearby tree branch. Good news.
Seeing a dead bird. Something is not going to come to pass. An unrealized hope.
Seeing a dying bird. Something is at risk of not reaching its potential.
Seeing a black bird. Black isn't always a death color. Black also signifies intuition and spirituality. Also sometimes the dark arts and occult. It depends largely upon the other contextual clues in the dream.
Birds of different colors. Look up the meaning for the color. Gold differs from just yellow, however, so be certain when you look up the dream meaning for the color of your dream bird. Gold can indicate a golden idea while yellow is more a mood (cheerful, hopeful).
A singing bird. Positive omen. Happiness, good news.
A squawking bird. Pay attention to the other clues in the dream. Something is trying to call your attention!
A bird in flight. Feelings of soaring which is power and freedom.
A bird with damaged wing. Inability to take off due to a personal limitation.
Caged birds. A group or association is being limited.
Flock of birds. Being in a group or association that has strength in numbers. Check the feelings of the flock. Is it skittish and fearful? Powerful and soaring?
Birds in formation. Falling into beautiful cooperation to achieve a goal. To fit in with a group.
One bird leaving the flock. Breaking away from a group.
Bird caught in your hair. Dreamer's ability to fly (achieve his goals) is being tangled by his own public image or persona.
Bird being attacked. Ability to experience freedom and achievement is under attack. See what is attacking this dream bird for further clues.
Bird flying into a closed window. Dreamer is closed to receiving spiritual insight or messages.
Bird pecking out your eyes. Your goals are affecting your ability to see the Big Picture or what is right before your eyes, the obvious.
Being attacked by many birds. Everyone else's (or a group's) goals are suppressing your own. Affecting your own life.
Riding atop a large bird. Dreamer is receiving some "big" assistance in his journey. It could be a waking life resource or divine aid. Where is this bird taking you?
Being rescued by a bird. Being helped during a desperate time of need. Can you describe this bird?
Rescuing a bird. Saving your own hopes and aspirations.
Types of birds
Albatross. To see an albatross in a dream often indicates that much effort will be required to get a project off the ground. But once it takes off, it can be of enduring success. If there is a dead albatross in the dream, beware of bad luck.
Bluebird/bluejay. The symbol for happiness and peace.
Canary. Sweet harmony in life. Take care as this state is fragile!
Cardinal. These stunning red birds are robust and strong. Look for a prominent person in dreamer's waking life who represents this cardinal. He/she will have positive guidance, if the dream feeling is uplifting. If feeling is negative, this leader uses his power inappropriately.
Chicken. Chickens can represent abundance and many new projects (eggs) but their timid nature lends them a cowardly trait. Look for other contextual clues in the dream for clarification.
Cockatiel. Beauty. A graceful companion with a spiritual quality.
Crane. Long life in Japanese folklore. Old age.
Crow. Look for an important message to come.
A flock of crows. Seeing a flock of crows can indicate that dreamer may come up against judgment by his peers. Crows are known to "judge" their flock mates by encircling them and cackling. If the verdict is innocent, the flock flies away and resumes normalcy. If the verdict is guilty, the flock will attack and execute the crow defendant. Hence, a flock of crows is called "a murder" of crows.
Dove. Peace. Peace is on it way or it is being called for and you must be the peace-maker in your life.
Duck. What is quacking for your attention in your waking life? Are you a sitting duck? Make a decision and do something before you regret not being proactive!
Eagle. The highest flying bird, when an eagle appears, the dreamer is flying high in his waking life or will be. Be on the look-out for divine or heavenly messages that will appear.
Falcon. A bird of prey, a falcon indicates that someone (even the dreamer perhaps) is taking advantage of the weak.
Finches. Chirpy and cheerful, finches symbolize a very social group in one's waking life. Are they caged or free? Are they annoying or uplifting?
Hawk. Like a falcon, the hawk is a bird of prey but in dreams, a hawk is more about having a "hawk's eye" and being exceptionally watchful. The dreamer might be under surveillance or should be paying attention to important details in his life.
Lovebirds. Contentment in a relationship.
Ostrich. A large, flightless bird that hides by burying its head in the sand. Is the dreamer choosing to ignore something obvious? The dreamer tends to be effective in some areas of his life but is avoiding something.
Owl. Although the owl is associated with wisdom, there are other aspects of the owl to consider. It is a bird of prey. Nocturnal. What is the owl doing in the dream?
Parrot. There is someone in waking life that only "parrots" what dreamer is saying. Unoriginal. A lackey.
Peacock. Someone who is ostentatious or showy. Arrogance. Attention-seeking.
Pelican. Endurance. Abundance. When a pelican appears in a dream, it often represents financial support.
Pigeons. This bird has different cultural meanings. Pigeons can be messengers (homing pigeons), thoughtless or dim-witted people (stool pigeons) or waste-creators (pigeon poo) in a dreamer's life. They also can represent a blur of detached lovers. The feeling of the dream and other contextual clues are most important! To feed pigeons often indicates that one is giving endless resources away.
Penguin. These remarkable sea birds fly in the ocean and endure serious sacrifices to care for their young. But their waddling on land suggests that the dreamer need to reconsider his element. Is the penguin swimming or walking on land? Are you in your best element? To see a penguin swimming indicates that the dreamer feels completely comfortable with his emotions; in fact, he masters them beautifully, making them work to his advantage.
Raven. Because of myths and legends, the raven is associated with the occult and death. If a raven appears, be vigilant for some bad news.
Robin. Contentment, cheerfulness. Family. Productive, fulfilling work.
Seagull. Soaring over one's emotions. Feeling slightly but healthfully detached from emotions when they threaten to overwhelm. Freedom. Seeking abundance.
Sparrow. Small but pleasant distractions in life. Is there someone who needs your attention?
Swan. Grace, devoted companionship. This may be the grace of God. The coming of a loyal companion.
Thunderbird. Often a symbol at the top of a totem pole, the Thunderbird is a fearsome bird that shoots lightning from its eyes. Your spiritual message is one of admonition. Be warned.
Turkey. Gullible. Simpleton. If it is cooked and on a table, it represents abundance.
Vulture. A vulture is not a bird of prey but a scavenger that feeds on the leftovers of true predators. They often hover near predators so when you see people who seem to be harmless in life, watch who they are close to. Usually, these are lackeys who will pick off your flesh after someone else has attacked you. They are not your friends.
Woodpecker. Something is trying to get your attention with all that peck, peck, pecking. This person has his own interests at heart, not yours. He's just using you for his own gain.
Common bird idioms and sayings
"A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush." Appreciating what you have instead of what you don't.
"Bird brain." A small-minded, dumb person.
"Killing two birds with one stone." Conveniently taking care of two issues with one action.
"And old bird." An old woman.
"Happy as a lark." Carefreeness.
"A bat out of hell." Speeding quickly.
"The birds and the bees." Sex and procreation.
"Birds of a feather flock together." Like attracts like when it comes to people. If you want to know more about a person, look at his friends.
"Bird's eye view." Taking a step back and looking at things from a broader perspective.
"Cook his goose." Revenge.
"Early bird catches the worm." Proactiveness beats out the competition.
"Eat like a bird." To eat very little. However, this is a misconception because birds not only eat continuously throughout the day, they eat up to half their body weight daily.
"Don't kill the goose that lays the golden eggs." Don't get rid of what is supplying you or taking care of you.
"Canary in a cave." A sacrificial person to test out the safety of an area.
"Having an albatross around your neck." Bad luck.
"He's a turkey." An old 70s slang that meant loser.