Little birds

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Little birds © Donato Giancola

Little birds are what Varys calls his network of spies all over the Seven Kingdoms and perhaps beyond. The little birds supply Varys with much of his intelligence.

Mice in Pentos

Varys originally started out as a thief in Myr, but after a rival thief informed on him, he fled to Pentos. There, Varys met Illyrio Mopatis, and together they formed a team. Varys would spy on lesser thieves and steal from them, whilst Illyrio offered help to the victims of those thieves, for a reward.[1]

After a while, Varys stopped spying and stealing himself, but started to train his "mice". Varys preferred the orphan boys and young girls, the smallest, those who were quickest and quiet. He taught them to climb walls and slip down chimneys. He also taught them how to read.[1]

When Varys explained to Illyrio how secrets were worth more than silver or sapphires, the mice started stealing letters, ledgers and charts. Even later, the mice were taught to read the letters and leave them where they were.[1]

Birds in King's Landing

A little bird © FFG

Word of Varys' talents reached the Red Keep in King's Landing, where King Aerys II Targaryen had grown mistrustful of his heir, wife and Hand. Varys thus came to King's Landing to serve Aerys, as the Master of Whispers.[1] Whilst no longer living in the same city, Varys and Illyrio kept working together. It is Illyrio who provides Varys with his new spies, called little birds in King's Landing. It is hinted that the children who become little birds have their tongues cut out, to prevent them from telling their secrets to others.[2] The birds are provided to Varys in those conditions.[3]

Revent Events

A Game of Thrones

The birds warn Varys about the sudden arrival of Catelyn Stark in King's Landing.[4]

Petyr Baelish warns Eddard Stark that Varys' birds are watching him. This particular bird is a young boy, who was squatting by the steps of the armory door, honing a sword with an oilstone. He had a view of the Tower of the Hand from this position.[5]

Arya Stark overhears Varys telling Illyrio Mopatis in the dungeons of the Red Keep that he needs new birds, though she does not know who is speaking or understand the conversation.[2]

A Clash of Kings

Varys is warned by his birds about Shae, the whore Tyrion Lannister had tried to sneak into King's Landing, since his father had forbidden him to take the girl to court with him.[6]

A Storm of Swords

While questioning Sansa Stark about Joffrey Baratheon, Lady Olenna Tyrell demands her fool Butterbumps to sing as loud as he possibly can, to prevent others, including Varys's birds, from hearing anything that is being said.[7] This is successful, as the one to tell Tywin Lannister about the Tyrell secret plan to marry Sansa to Willas Tyrell is Littlefinger (informed by his spy Dontos Hollard[8]), not Varys.[9]

Petyr Baelish reveals to Sansa that he had Dontos Hollard meet her in the Red Keep's godswood because it is the only place in the castle that cannot be spied upon by Varys's little birds.[10]

A Feast for Crows

Cersei Lannister, fearing that her brother Tyrion is hiding inside the hidden passages of the Red Keep, doesn't realise the people she hears are actually Varys's birds, who are still operating from behind the walls.[11]

A Dance with Dragons

Varys sends one of his birds to fetch Kevan Lannister and bring him to the chambers of Grand Maester Pycelle. Once there, Varys mortally wounds Kevan, and has several of his little birds finish the job.[12]


Nothing happens in this city without Varys knowing. Oftimes he knows about it before it happens. He has informants everywhere. His little birds, he calls them.[4]

Varys: I must have gold, and another fifty birds.
Illyrio Mopatis: So many? The ones you need are hard to find... so young, to know their letters... perhaps older... not die so easy...
Varys: No. The younger are safer... treat them gently...
Illyrio Mopatis: ...if they kept their tongues...
Varys: ...the risk...[2]

Mice in the walls, she would tell herself, no more than that.[11]

It had to be the godswood. No other place in the Red Keep is safe from the eunuch's little birds... or little rats, as I call them. There are trees in the godswood instead of walls. Sky above instead of ceiling. Roots and dirt and rock in place of floor. The rats have no place to scurry. Rats need to hide, lest men skewer them with swords.[10]

It is one thing to deceive a king, and quite another to hide from the cricket in the rushes and the little bird in the chimney.[13]