80 Trendy Swallow Tattoo Ideas – What’s Making Them So Popular?

Swallow tattoos seem to be everywhere; their popularity has soared over the past few years and looks set to continue to do so. With these tattoos becoming so fashionable you may be wondering about their origins and whether or not a swallow is a right tattoo for you. Well, you’re in luck because today we’re going in depth with this design and learning more about what’s making it so trendy. The swallow is not a new design; in fact, it has its origins with English sailors.

Back in the day sailing was a dangerous and difficult endeavor, remember they had none of the advanced equipment that we have today. So when a sailor spotted a swallow, he knew that land was close and that he was almost home free. So they began to use swallow tattoos to show their sailing experience. The number of these birds they inked on themselves was determined by the amount of miles they had sailed or the challenges they’d overcome; such as crossing the equator or sailing through all seven seas. These sailors used the image of a barn swallow for their designs which were usually placed on the chest, hands, or neck.


What Does This Tattoo Mean?

The swallow’s behavior that made them iconic to sailors. The birds return to the same place every year and so the sailors believed that having a swallow tattoo would provide them with safe passage and guarantee their safe return home. In the last few years nautical tattoo themes have become increasing popular again and with them the swallow design. This could be due to the rise in international traveling, as more young people explore the world they feel connections with old world tattoos such as this, used for protection by the travelers of yesteryear.


Here is a summary of the meanings associated with this tattoo:

Safe Travelling: The swallow is considered a totem for a safe journey and a safe return. English sailors would not only tattoo swallows on their bodies, but they painted them on their ships as well to ensure safe passage. Today it’s also considered a symbol of good luck for the journey of life.

Wealth and Prosperity: In some cultures, it is a sign of good fortune and prosperity to see the first swallow of spring.

Loyalty: Swallow birds mate for life and so this bird is also considered a symbol of love and loyalty.

Renewal: Before weather forecasting equipment people would look to nature to try and determine what would happen with the weather. Seeing a group of swallows flying low was considered as a sign that rain was imminent and so the swallow also became associated with blessings and renewal.

Surviving Hardship: Sailors did not have it easy back in the day and the conditions they endured (if they survived) were hard, to say the least. Their swallow tattoos were also seen as a symbol of their hardiness and courage. Today these tattoos are used in a similar way to represent someone who has overcome obstacles or hardships in their lives and lived to tell about it.

Freedom: Birds, like the swallow, have always been used as a representation of freedom, as their wings enable them to go where they please. Someone who chooses a tattoo like this may do so as a celebration or a reminder of their own personal freedom.

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Swallow Combinations

Swallow tattoos fall under the theme of nautical tattoos, in particular, a style of tattooing made famous by Norman Collins, an American tattoo artist, well known for tattooing sailors. His style, sometimes known as Sailor Jerry tattoos, had a massive influence on the nautical designs and old school style that we know today. Often included alongside swallow tattoos are other nautical subjects such as stars, compasses, arrows, and old-school type banners with words or sayings inside.

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Different Swallow Designs

The swallow is a fairly simple design, but it can be personalized in many different ways. Here are a few of the most common swallow designs for tattoos:

Objects In The Beak: Some swallow designs show the bird carrying an object such a cross or rosary in its beak. These could be linked to Christianity. This is a great way to personalize your tattoo because you could choose any object that had special meaning to you.

Bilateral: Just like the sailors did, you could choose to have more than one swallow tattoo. An awesome idea is to have two swallows as a mirror image of each other, one on each shoulder, hand, or foot looks incredible.

With Compass: Out of all the possible nautical elements that could be paired with a swallow, the compass is probably the best. A compass shows direction and together with a swallow it’s considered a lucky tattoo, a symbol of direction during your journey.

Flock: Sometimes even two swallows won’t be enough and you may wish to make a larger design with a number of swallows. Often these designs have an almost 3D feel to them as some birds are “closer” and others are small i.e “further away.” This design is good for someone who doesn’t want a color tattoo as it looks striking in black however you could add color if you wish (it is after all your tattoo).

Watercolor: If you are looking for something different you could consider a watercolor style tattoo of a swallow. Just make sure you find an artist who is skilled in this type of tattoo and look at his/her portfolio before you commit.

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Placement and Size

This tattoo works well as a small to medium design as it is not complicated and most designs are not intricate. Ideas for good placements include the hip, chest, lower back, front and back of the shoulders, hands, wrists, feet, neck, and behind the ear.

The swallow is an excellent choice for a tattoo, especially for those who love sea/sailing themes. It’s symbolic of safety, love, and loyalty and can also be used to show others that you are tough enough to survive whatever life hands you. It can be personalized easily, so even though it is a popular tattoo you can have a unique piece, and what’s better than that?


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