A bird that occupies the shadowy borderland between myth and reality is the Sri Lankan devil-bird.
According to a popular myth of that country, retold in Sir J. Emerson Tennent's Sketches of the Natural History of Ceylon (1861), a jealous husband, doubting the paternity of his son, killed the child and made a curry of the flesh, which his unsuspecting wife began to eat. Finding her son's finger in the dish, the horrified woman fled to the forest, where she killed herself. According to Buddhist belief, she was then changed into an ulama, or devil-bird, which utters spine-chilling screams of grief.
Such a creature would appear to be pure myth, yet there is said to be an actual bird in Sri Lanka that emits hideous screams. In Tennent's book, a Mr. Mitford, who was reputedly an expert on the island's bird life, gave a graphic description of the bird's cry as "indescribable, the most appalling that can be imagined, and scarcely to be heard without shuddering; I can only compare it to a boy in torture, whose screams are being stopped by being strangled.
Although many people have heard the devilbird's bloodcurdling shrieks, very few have apparently seen the creature, and its true identity remains a mystery. Some ornithologists have suggested that the bird is simply the brown wood owl, but witnesses who claim to have seen the devil-bird say that it has a long tail and cuckoo-shaped body and resembles a nightjar, not an owl. Yet there is no known species of nightjar that screams. So the question remains. Is the devil-bird a figment of the imagination or an actual creature?
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Sources: Article is scheduled to be reviewed.
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