In mythology, symbolism, and tattoo, birds traditionally have mostly positive associations. The flight of birds leads them, naturally, to serve as symbols of the links between heaven and earth and to symbolize spiritual and emotional states. However, each bird, real or mythological, carries its own very specific symbolism — the dove, the stork, and the Japanese crane being just a few examples.
For example, In the United States, the eagle has become virtually synomous with the country itself (where it is the national bird) and it is often used in patriotic designs such as Heroes, Gone But Not Forgotten.
The grace and beauty of the dove, combined with its pure white plumage and gentle cooing sound, has made it a favorite symbol of love and tenderness from ancient times to the present. In Judeo-Christian symbolism, the dove brings an olive branch to Noah as the flood recedes and in the New Testament it embodies the Holy Spirit. Tattoo art draws on all of these themes, favoring the symbolism of peace and tranquility.
For the most part, the swallow is a symbol of good luck and is a favorite bird in traditional tattoo design, typically done in blue and also commonly appearing in pairs. The source of this symbolism likely lies in its association with the coming of Spring. The swallow is associated with homecoming and also resurrection, no doubt from its natural behavior.
Although ravens (and crows) are typically used in tattoos as omens of ill will or the dark side of the psyche, they have not always had this association. In Japan and China it is a symbol of family affection, while in the Book of Genesis the bird is a symbol of clear-sightedness. It is, however, a bird of prey and in this respect in was affiliated with the gods as their messenger, especially in terms of bringing death or conveying souls (as with Odin and the Valkyrie).