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I remember the proverb as something like, "Ein Spass in der Hand (versus) Ein Vögel, am Dach."

Or something like a sparrow in hand versus a bird on the roof.

The best support I could find was this link about something on the head (versus) a Spass.

I'm using a "mapping algorithm" that says that a roof may serve a similar function to a head (in being on top).

So I'm a bit confused about something in hand being compared to something on "top," as opposed to in the bush.

And a LOT more confused about the one-to-one relationship between a sparrow in hand, and the bird, or whatever, wherever.

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If you like Heinz Erhardt, the correct version is "Lieber 'ne Stumme im Bett als eine Taube auf dem Dach." –  OregonGhost Jul 25 '11 at 16:28
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up vote 15 down vote accepted

"Ein Spatz in der Hand ist besser als eine Taube auf dem Dach."

It means a small thing you have for sure is better than hoping for a big thing you might get (but probably won't).

"Spatz" is a sparrow, a smaller bird than a dove ("Taube").

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A dove is a small bird also. But I remember Taube as being a different, perhaps larger bird. –  Tom Au Jul 21 '11 at 21:53
    
It seems doves are very variable in size. Here in Germany the standard ones are substantially bigger than a sparrow, the bigger ones are the size of small chickens ("Ringeltaube"). –  starblue Jul 21 '11 at 22:01
    
Here, doves are much bigger than sparrows, not comparable really. –  user508 Jul 21 '11 at 22:06
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Pigeons/doves can also be eaten - and they were served as food in the times this saying originates. –  Takkat Jul 22 '11 at 6:25
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OK, it's a PIGEON (rather than a dove) that is much larger than a sparrow. And while English compares one bird to TWO birds, German compares a SMALL bird to a BIG(ger) bird. –  Tom Au Jul 22 '11 at 13:08
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