Select Bird/Byrd Surname Genealogy

The Bird surname derived from the Old English bridde, meaning “bird,” and was originally in England a nickname for someone who was thought to have bird-like qualities (in their gait or because of their singing voice).  Occasionally Bird or a variant may have been an occupational name for a bird catcher.Hugo le Bird – the name coming from the French l’oiseau and deriving perhaps from his skill at falconry – was said to have arrived with William the Conqueror in 1066.  Early appearances of the surname in England were Ralph le Brid in Essex in 1231 and Richard Bird in Cambridgeshire in 1260.

Spellings are Bird and Byrd.  The Bird spelling is most common in England, Byrd in America.

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Select Burd/Byrd Ancestry

England.  Although the Bird form was first found in the Northumbrian dialect of English, early Bird families came from Cheshire (Braxton) and Staffordshire (Metley).  The name spread to Lancashire, the Midlands, London and East Anglia.

Alfred Bird of Bird’s custard fame was born in Gloucestershire, but started his business in Birmingham in the 1840’s.  Birds is also a bakery company begun in Derby in 1919 by three Bird brothers – Frank, Thomas and Reginald – after their return from World War One.  It is now run by the third generation of Birds.

Byrd as a spelling may have started in the 15th century.  William
Byrd, born in London, was Queen Elizabeth’s favorite musician and composer.  Another William Byrd, the forebear of the Byrds in Virginia, was the son of a London goldsmith.  A Byrd family was one of the big landowners at Badsey of the Vale of Evesham in Worcestershire in the 18th century.  The Byrd spelling persisted in the west country, although the Byrd numbers here were quite small by the time of the 1891 census.

Ireland.  Bird appeared as a surname in Ireland as an anglicization of the Irish McEneaney, although this was apparently a mistranslation.  Some Birds in Ireland, however, were of English extraction – like Samuel Bird who went to Ireland with William’s army in 1690 and then settled in Donegal.

AmericaWilliam Byrd came to Virginia from London in the 1670’s and was granted land on the James river, the site of the town of Richmond that was founded by his son, William II.  These Byrds were one of the “First Families of Virginia.”  This family survived the dissipation and eventual suicide of the grandson, William Byrd III, in 1777. 

Byrd Park in Richmond was named after William Byrd II.  Later Byrds of the family included the aviator and explorer Richard Evelyn Byrd, as well as Virginia Governor and US Senator Harry F. Byrd and US Senator Harry F. Byrd Jr.  These two Byrds were to dominate Virginia political life for much of the 20th century. 

A number of immigrants came to Virginia as Birds.  John Bird, for instance, was born there in 1742 and fought in the Revolutionary War.  His descendants later moved as Birds to the Carolinas and then to Georgia.But others who made the same journey were or became Byrds.  This was also the case with Abraham and Jesse Byrd who migrated west to Tennessee in the 1790’s.  James Byrd moved his family from Tennessee to Missouri and the family ended up after the Civil War in Brown county, Texas.  These Byrds were augmented by some native Indians who adopted the Byrd name.

Caribbean.  Vere Bird was born in a poor area of Antigua in the British West Indies but rose to became its first independent Prime Minister in 1981.  His son Lester succeeded him in 1994.


CanadaSamuel Bird left Donegal with his family in 1825 for New Brunswick in Canada.   They homesteaded at Birdton (the Bird settlement) in Douglas parish.  The family history was recorded in Austin Squires’ 1971 book The Bird Family in Central New Brunswick.

Select Bird/Byrd Miscellany

If you would like to read more, click on the miscellany page for
further stories and accounts:

Select Bird/Byrd Names

Alfred Bird was the inventor of custard and the founder of Bird’s Custard Company in 1840.
Harry F.  Byrd, Governor and Senator, was a leading figure in Virginia political life in the first half of the 20th century.
Charlie Byrd was an American jazz guitarist.  His best-known work was a 1962 collaboration with Stan Getz entitled Jazz Samba.
The Byrds, sometimes Bob Dylan’s backup band, were one of the most influential American bands of the 1960’s.
Vere Bird was the first independent Prime Minister of Antigua in 1981.
Larry Bird was one of the great American basketball players of the 1980’s with the Boston Celtics.
Dickie Bird was a popular cricket umpire in England.

Select Birds/Byrds Today

  • 36,000 in the UK (most numerous in Wiltshire)
  • 42,000 in America (most numerous in North Carolina)
  • 28,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada)


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