One day the birds of the world gather in conference together. The Hoopoe leads the discussion by proclaiming that she is disappointed in the state into which the birds of the world have fallen. They fight, quarrel, and start wars over nothing. The Hoopoe is wise and has traveled far, and she tells the birds of the world that they have a King. They must find this king or otherwise they are lost. The King’s name is the Simorgh, and the way to him is unknown. Only one of strong heart and dedication can reach him. The Hoopoe says that she cannot take the journey alone because if she fails, she will die of shame.
The Sparrow is the first to volunteer, but the Falcon quickly scoffs at the idea. The Falcon proclaims that he has the King’s hand for a home and this is honor enough for him. The Hoopoe tells the Falcon and the others three stories about tyrant kings and their cruelty to their slaves. As each bird debates whether or not they will undertake the journey, the Hoopoe continues to tell them stories. Because of her stories, the Falcon changes his mind and decides to join her. The Dove, the Sparrow, the Exotic Birds, the Heron, and a number of other birds join as well. However, the Duck, the Peacock, the Nightingale, the Parrot, the Partridge, and the Owl all reject the challenge. Wrapped up in their own obsessions, vanities, and fears, they are unable to leave their homes.
The Hoopoe and her followers first fly through a scorching, endless desert. Many of the birds tire and want to give up, but the Hoopoe continues to challenge and encourage them and tell them stories. The birds encounter strange characters in the desert, including a bat searching for the sun and a hermit obsessed with his beard. The birds reach the end of the desert and learn that it was only the beginning of their journey. They must still cross the Seven Valleys. Each valley has a different name and a secret they must understand.
The birds journey through the Valleys of the Quest, Love, Understanding, Annihilation, Unity, Amazement, and Death. Finally, the birds are out of the valleys and expect to see the Simorgh. However, they are in the same place they were before they entered the valleys. Some of the birds die of despair, but the others take off and continue to search. They travel for years and many of them die of thirst and sunstroke, or are eaten by wild beasts. Others give up or forget the object of their search and are lost. Only thirty broken, tired, old birds reached their goal.
The Chamberlain to the Simorgh initially rejects the birds and slams the door in their faces. Even the Hoopoe falls down in despair, but the birds do not leave. The Chamberlain returns and tells them that they have passed the final test of devotion. He opens the door to them and hundreds of curtains are drawn. The sun of the Simorgh’s majesty is a mirror. The birds see themselves reflected in the Simorgh and see that they are the Simorgh, and the Simorgh is them. The birds then lose themselves forever in the Simorgh, and they and the Simorgh become one.