Aesop's Fables, or the Aesopica, is a collection of fables credited to Aesop, a slave and storyteller believed to have lived in ancient Greece between 620 and 564 BCE. Of diverse origins, the stories associated with his name have descended to modern times through a number of sources and continue to be reinterpreted in different verbal registers and in popular as well as artistic media. The fables originally belonged to the oral tradition and were not collected for some three centuries after Aesop's death. By that time a variety of other stories, jokes and proverbs were being ascribed to him.
The Hawk and the Nightingale
A NIGHTINGALE, sitting aloft upon an oak, was seen by a Hawk, who made a swoop down and seized him. The Nightingale earnestly besought the Hawk to let him go, saying that he was not big enough to satisfy the hunger of a Hawk who ought to pursue the larger birds. The Hawk said: I should indeed have lost my senses if I should let go food ready to my hand, for the sake of pursuing birds which are not yet even within sight.
A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.
The moral 'A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush' means that it's better to hold onto something you have rather than take the risk of getting something better which may come to nothing.
The allusion of a bird in the hand being worth two in the bush may be to falconry where a bird in the hand (the falcon) was a valuable asset and worth more than two in the bush (the prey).
This proverbial saying is first found in English in John Capgrave's The Life of St Katharine of Alexandria, 1450:
"It is more sekyr [certain] a byrd in your fest, Than to haue three in the sky a‐boue."
The earliest English version of the proverb is from the Christian Bible translated into English by William Tyndale in 1528 and before Tyndale, by John Wycliffe in 1382:
Ecclesiastes IX - A living dog is better than a dead lion.
The Bird in Hand was adopted as a pub name in England in the Middle Ages and many with this name still survive.
English migrants to America took the expression with them and 'bird in hand' must have been known there by 1734 as this was the year in which a small town in Pennsylvania was founded with that name.
Other modern day European languages and cultures have their own version of this proverb:
In Czech - 'Lepsi vrabec v hrsti nez holub na strese'.
(A sparrow in the fist is better than a pigeon on the roof.)
In German - 'Der Spatz in der Hand ist besser als die Taube auf dem Dach'.
(The sparrow in the hand is better than the dove on the roof.)
I remember once having read a modern day equivalent that makes more sense:
A hair on the head is worth two on the brush.
I also remember a poem from my youth:
Here’s to America,
The land of the push,
Where a bird in the hand
Is worth two in the bush.
Here’s to Australia,
My own native land,
Where a push in the bush
Is worth two in the hand.