Another meaning is: It’s better to have a realistic small advantage than the possibility of a greater one.
Where does this saying come from?
This proverb dates back to the days of medieval falconry where a bird in the hand (the falcon) was a valuable asset and certainly worth more than the two in the bush (the prey).
The phrase seems to have originated at some point in the 13th century, in a related Latin form:
Plus valet in manibus avis unica quam dupla silvis.
This can be loosely translated as, “A bird in the hand is worth more than two in the woods.”
Another citation of the expression in print is found in John Ray‘s A Hand-book of Proverbs, 1670, which he lists it as:
“A [also ‘one’] bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.”
The term must have been in use around 1734 as a town in Pennsylvania existed at that time called “Bird In Hand.”
(Suggested and contributed by Nico Windwalker)