Devil Bird

Myst ery Bird of t he Indian subcont inent.

Physical description: Pigeon-sized bird t hat is rarely seen but oft en heard. Long t ail.

Behavior: Noct urnal. Cry is a hideous, st ran-gling sound, said t o be heard in cemet eries. Distribution: Sri Lanka. Significant sighting: Mit ford of t he Ceylon Civil Service saw a big black bird by moonlight at Kurunegala in t he ninet eent h cent ury. It s cry was like a boy being t ort ured and st rangled. He thought it was a nightjar of some type.

Possible explanations: None of t he following emit anyt hing like t he report ed cry of t he Devil bird, but many are similar in shape and plumage:

(1) The Brown wood owl (Strix leptogrammica indranee) was assumed by Charles Pridham and James Tennent to be the Devil bird. It measures 14-21 inches, and it s call is a series of t hree or four short hoot s. Some hold it responsible for an eerie scream.

(2) The Forest eagle owl (Bubo nipalensis blighi), suggest ed by G. M. Henry. It s call is a deep hoot , while it s mat ing calls are said by some t o consist of shrieks like t hose of a woman being st rangled.

(3) The Sri Lanka frogmout h (Batrachostomus moniliger) only at t ains a lengt h of 9 inches, and it s call consist s of liquid chuckles or soft "karoo" or "whoo" cries. It is shy and not oft en vocal.

(4) The Gray nightjar (Caprimulgus indicus), proposed by William Vincent Legge, makes rest rained "chunk-chunk-chunk" calls.

(5) The Sri Lankan Changeable hawk-eagle (Spizaetus cirrhatus ceylanensis) has a ringing scream "kleee-klee-ek," whether perched or on t he wing. It also has a rapid "ki-ki-ki-ki-ki-ki-ki-keeee," beginning short, rising in crescendo, and ending in a scream.

(6) The Mount ain hawk-eagle (Spizaetus nipalensis kelaarti) has a noisy "klu-weet -weet " call.

(7) The Orient al honey buzzard (Pernis ptilorhynchus ruficollis) emit s loud and high-pit ched ringing not es.

(8) A composit e bird creat ed from t he calls of several species.

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(9) An unknown owl. A new species of owl is said t o have been discovered in Sri Lanka in January 2001 by an ornit hologist who had been t racking it s unfamiliar call for several years.

(10) An unknown species of hawk-eagle.

(11) An unknown species of nightjar, suggest ed by Karl Shuker.

Sources: Charles Pridham, An Historical, Political, and Statistical Account ofCeylon and Its Dependencies (London: T. and W. Boone, 1849), pp. 737-738; James Emerson Tennent, Sketches of the Natural History ofCeylon (London: Longman, Green, Longman, and Roberts, 1861); William Vincent Legge, A History of the Birds ofCeylon (London, 1880); George Morrison Henry, A Guide to the Birds ofCeylon (London: Godfrey Cumberledge, 1955); Richard L. Spit t el, The Devil Birds of Ceylon, suppl. to Loris 11 (December 1968): 1-14; Salim Ali, Indian Hill Birds (Mumbai, India: Oxford University Press, 1987); Karl Shuker, "Horned Jackals and Devil Birds," Fate 42 (January 1989): 57-64; "New Bird Discovered in Sri Lanka," BBC News Online, February 26, 2001.

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