Stymphalian Bird

Unknown Bird of Southern Europe. Etymology: After the lake. Physical description: Ibislike. Size of a stork or crane. Sharp, hooked beak. Sharp talons.

Behavior: Nests in reeds or on cliffs. Screechlike call. Said to eat humans. Habitat: Marshes.

Distribution: Lake Stymphalos, Arcadia, Greece. Said to breed in the Arabian Desert.

Significant sighting: One of the labors of the ancient Greek hero Herakles was to rid Greece of these noisy birds, which he did by scaring them off with rattles. Possible explanations:

(1) A personification of the diseases that infest marshy areas.

(2) The Northern bald ibis (Geronticus eremita), suggested by Michel Desfayes. Not found in Greece any longer and by no means ferocious, this bird is dark green with a bright-red bill and breeds on cliffs. it lingered in Turkey in small numbers but became extinct there in 1989.

Sources: Pausanias, A Description of Greece, trans. W. H. S. Jones (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1918) (viii. 22. 4-6); Michel Desfayes, A Thesaurus of Bird Names: Etymology ofEuropean Lexis through Paradigms (Sion, Switzerland: Musée Cantonal d'Histoire Naturelle, 1998).

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