Avifaunal remains from archaeological sites have a largely unrecognized explanatory potential. Archaeological, ethnohistoric, and ethnographic records have shown that, especially in Mesoamerica, birds and their products have served a wide range of utilitarian, decorative, and symbolic purposes. Despite their ability to inform research on many aspects of prehistoric life, avifaunal remains from archaeological contexts remain under-studied. This paper demonstrates how a holistic approach to their analysis—one that explores several types of human-bird interaction—can move beyond studies of subsistence. A previously reported and newly updated avifaunal collection was reanalyzed to shed light on the relationship between the many uses of birds and the establishment of hereditary inequality at Paso de la Amada, an Early Formative period ceremonial center on the Pacific coast of Chiapas, Mexico. Results indicate that Early Formative people used birds as a source of food, feathers, and bone, and that the ritual use of birds was an important component of status display. Even at this early date, birds were symbolically valuable and played a role in ritual performance, suggesting that their later significance in Mesoamerican ritual, religion, and iconography has an antecedent beginning no later than 1700 BC.