Origin of phrase "Bird on a Wire"

What is the meaning of the phrase “Bird on a wire” and where and how did it originate?

Off the top of my head I think it is something to do with the practice of putting ‘lime’ on wire fences or creating wire perches in order to trap songbirds - their feet stuck to the lime. Hence the image of something fragile struggling in vain to escape.

I think the technique originated in the middle ages but I’m not sure how long it continued - it might be worth doing a search to see if good old Will Shakespeare used the phrase at all, that’s where a lot of our metaphors come from. (Not sure if the birdies were captured to provide (shortlived) domestic entertainment or for food.)


For future reference, Beachcomber you might try putting a more descriptive title on your threads. People are more likely to read and respond if they know what the thread is about. And welcome to the SDMB.

i’ve changed the title of the thread.

DrMatrix - GQ Moderator


Lyrics and more discussion here.


Humble apologies for being so vague with my post. It was my first time and have not quite got the hang of it. Thanks for gentle rebukes will take note and try to do better.
Thanks also for replies to the question. I have been mystified for long time, since hearing the Rita Coolidge song, but could not get satisfactory answers. Have done extensive Internet search but only came up with the movie and song lyrics, no meanings or origin.
SDMB has provided some answers but still nobody seems to know for sure. Still :confused:

I always heard that the ‘wire’ was a telephone line, not a tether. “Like bird on a wire” meant someone who knew what was going on as if they overheard your phone conversations.

Well I don’t know much about his lyrics so maybe I can’t help you out but I have tried in my way to be free suggets he is looking and working towards freedom.

So either (a) the bird and the drunk are already free and he wants to be like them or (b) that they are both looking for freedom just like he is.

So for (a) ‘bird on the wire’ is just a bird on a telephone line. A bird who is free to do as it pleases. It can take off and land as it feels.
Or (b) ‘bird on the wire’ is as CatJones suggested, a trapped bird. People use birdlime made from holly to stick birds feet to whatever they happen to land on.