Learn Australia English in this post where I teach you how to use another 10 Commonly Used Bird Idioms that I either frequently hear or use myself.
1. Like water off a duck’s back
Figurative meaning: To have no apparent effect.
Literal meaning: This expression alludes to the fact that when water falls onto a duck’s back it just rolls off the oil coated feathers.
Example: When you insult me it’s like water off a duck’s back.
2. A night owl
Figurative meaning: someone who is often awake and active late at night.
Literal meaning: Owls are nocturnal animals, which sleep during the day and are active late at night when they hunt.
Example: His dad’s a night owl and works late each night.
3. The pecking order
Figurative meaning: The hierarchy of authority in a group.
Literal meaning: The expression originated from the 1920s when biologists discovered that chickens maintain a hierarchy with one bird pecking another of lower status. It began to be used to refer to human behaviour in the 1950s.
Example: On a covert mission navy seals will have a definite pecking order.
4. To play chicken
Figurative meaning: To play a dangerous game in order to discover who is the bravest.
Literal meaning: If someone is a ‘chicken’ is means they are a coward. So to play chicken implies that you are testing to see who has less courage and is ‘the chicken’.
Example: Two teenagers got into a car accident on the highway while playing chicken.
Other forms: To play the game of chicken.
5. To ruffle someone’s feathers
Figurative meaning: To irritate or annoy someone.
Literal meaning: This idiom is based on the idea of a bird whose feathers are not sitting neat and smooth because of fear, irritation or excitement.
Example: When I took my new job I didn’t mean to come in and ruffle anyone’s feathers.
6. To run around like a chicken with its head cut off
Figurative meaning: To run around frantically and aimlessly; to be in a state of chaos.
Literal meaning: The idea in this idiom is to liken someone’s behaviour to what happens to a chicken when it gets decapitated and continues to kick and flap about frantically.
Example: Every time there’s a crisis she runs around like a chicken with its head cut off.
Other forms: To run around like a headless chicken/chook.
7. To be a sitting duck
Figurative meaning: Someone or something vulnerable to attack, physical or verbal.
Literal meaning: This idiom alludes to an unsuspecting duck floating on the water whilst being hunted by a person or predator.
Example: The deer stood in the clearing like a sitting duck while the hunter loaded his rifle.
8. To spread your wings
Figurative meaning: To start to do new and exciting things for the first time in your life.
Literal meaning: This idiom alludes a fledgling bird learning to fly for the first time.
Example: Once he graduated from high school he could spread his wings and move out of his parents’ house.
9. To be an ugly ducking
Figurative meaning: Someone unattractive or unpromising who grows into an attractive or talented person.
Literal meaning: This idiom alludes to the fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen where a cygnet hatches with group of ducklings and is despised for its clumsiness until it grows into a beautiful swan.
Example: He always felt like the ugly duckling growing up in his family with three brothers.
10. To watch like a hawk.
Figurative meaning: To watch someone or something carefully or intensely.
Literal meaning: The idea in this idiom is that someone has the keen eyesight of a hawk and is watching something as a hawk would watch its prey whilst hunting.
Example: Ever since she got out of prison the police have been watching her like a hawk.