Every year around Thanksgiving, someone usually asks me, “What is the difference between ‘bird’ and ‘fowl’?” And it’s finally time to address it in writing.
“Fowl” comes from the from the Old English word fugel, which is related to the Latin word flēogan, which means to fly. A long time ago, “fowl” was used to represent birds of any kind, and this usage still sneaks out today; however, most sources seem to agree that there is a difference between these two words.
- “Fowl” is used to refer to waterfowl, such as ducks, swans, and geese; game fowl, such as turkey or pheasant; or domesticated barnyard birds like chickens. In the food industry, “fowl” is often used to reference birds that are commonly eaten or the meat of these birds in a way that’s synonymous with “poultry.”
- “Birds” are any members of the animal class Aves. They are warm-blooded, lay eggs, have feathers, and usually fly.
Thus, that Thanksgiving turkey is both a fowl and a bird, but that songbird outside your window is a bird, most likely not a fowl. Unless you have a singing chicken, which would be pretty cool and perhaps the inspiration for a new animated film. That animated film’s name could be “Fowl,” which could be a fun play on the word “foul,” which would most likely be a good descriptor of the animal’s singing voice. (For more details on this pair, see Get a Grip on Your Grammar).
I hope this solves it for you.