Friday, 27 February 2009

The Liver Birds

This is the Pier Head, the famous Liverpool waterfront.

The Liver Buildings – the sooty one which has since been cleaned up - has the two famous Liver Birds on top. (Note that whilst Liverpool is pronounced as in the part of the anatomy, the Liver birds are pronounced to rhyme with driver).

The birds are the most evocative symbol of Liverpool (and equally importantly of Liverpool Football Club).

To quote the Great God Wiki -

"The bird's species has long been the subject of confusion and controversy.

The earliest known use of a bird to represent the then town of Liverpool is on its corporate seal, dating from the 1350s, which is now in the British Museum. The bird shown is generic, but the wording of the seal contains references to King John, who granted the town’s charter in 1207. John, in honour of his patron saint, frequently used the device of an eagle - long associated with St. John. Further indication that the seal was an homage to King John is found in the sprig of broom initially shown in the bird’s beak, broom being a symbol of the royal family of Plantagenet.

By the 17th century, the origins of the bird had begun to be forgotten, with references to the bird as a cormorant, still a common bird in the coastal waters near Liverpool. The Earl of Derby in 1668 gifted the town council a mace "engraved with ...a leaver" - the first known reference to a liver bird by this name. A manual on heraldry from later in the century confuses matters further by assuming this term is related to the Dutch word lefler, meaning spoonbill - a bird rarely found in northern England.

When the College of Arms granted official arms to Liverpool in 1797, they refer to the bird as a cormorant, adding that the sprig in the mouth is of laver, a type of seaweed, thus implying that the bird's appellation comes from the sprig.

The bird thus appears to have originally been intended to be an eagle, but is now officially a cormorant. Many modern interpretations of the symbol are of a cormorant, although several - notably that on the emblem of Liverpool Football Club - distinctly show the short head and curved beak more readily associated with a bird of prey."

According to local legend, the one looking out to sea is female and is watching for the seamen to return safely home whilst the male looks towards the city, making sure the pubs are open. In addition local myth says that if the pair ever mate and fly away the city will cease to exist. A further saying is that whenever a female virgin passes by the Liver Buildings, the Liver Birds will flap their wings. (A similar story in Nottingham suggest the pair of lions outside the Town Hall will roar!)


  1. Beautiful waterfront. By all means we don't want the birds to fly away. If my little podunk part of the world ceased to exist few would even notice, but Liverpool is a whole different story. I would love to live somewhere with so much history. Thanks for sharing the article. I love reading things like this but rarely take the time these days to look anything up on my own.


  3. Yes, Papercages, I think that is one of the great things about blogs. Intentionally and unintentionally people tell us all sorts of things that are quite fascinating and which we would never otherwise come across.
    P.S. My den still looks similar to yours!

  4. Very interesting reading. This kind of stuff always fascinates me. Thank you for sharing (as I would have never known this if it wasn't for your post).

    Could you imagine if they actually were able to flap their wings when a female virgin passed? Whether you are one or not, talk about uncomfortable... :)

  5. That is really interesting, and quite funny, Sir - I always wondered what the Liver Birds were, but hadn't looked it up yet - They do look a lot like black cormorants, in fact...


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