Thursday, May 8, 2014

Birdlore: The Roc

In my search for birds of myth and legend, I've been amazed by the number of stories concerning massive birds-of-prey in all parts of the world.

Starting my search with the Thunderbird and Piasa of North America, I've stumbled across many others, like the Phoenix in either Greek or Egyptian mythology, the Garuda of India, the Hungarian Turul, the Hokioi of Maori legend, and the Simurgh of Persia (to name just a few).

My legend of choice for this month is the Roc or Rukh, the mythological bird of Arabia.  In Arabic tradition, the roc flies over the earth and would only land on the mountain Qaf, the center of the world.

The Roc is a raptor (another name for bird of prey) of immense size and predominantly white in color.  With a supposed wingspan of 48 feet and feathers the size of palm leaves, the Roc could carry away adult elephants with ease.
A Roc carrying an elephant and a rhino in each talon (photo:  The Wikipedia Files)
The Roc gained much of its renown from accounts in the Arabic tales, The Thousand and One Nights, and Marco Polo's exaggerated travel journals.  In one of the Arabic tales, Sinbad the Sailor encounters the Roc's nest after being stranded on an island.  At first, he stood mesmerized by a large, smooth, and white object within the nest and proceeded to walk around it.  Sinbad counted 50 paces around the oblong object when a great dark shadow overtook him.  Discovering the shadow belonged to a bird known among sailors as the Roc, Sinbad realized the white object that puzzled him was in fact the Roc's egg.  The Roc settled upon the nest, unaware of Sinbad huddled next to its egg.  Noticing the trunk-sized feet before him, Sinbad devised a daring and dangerous plan to excape the island.  He tied himself to the Roc's feet with his turban, so he would be carried away from the island the next time the Roc left in search of food.

In other voyages of Sinbad the Sailor, he would observe an angry Roc dropping boulders from its talons on his ship after passengers shattered the Roc's egg and made a meal of the chick within.
Mommy's not going to be happy...(Photo:  The Wikipedia Files)
According to the 13th century world traveler, Marco Polo, the Roc lived on the island of Madagascar.  He describes the Roc as having a wingspan of 16 yards and feathers as long as 8 yards.  The Roc's egg measured out at 50 yards in circumference.  The Roc killed the elephants it hunted by dropping them to their deaths on the rocks of the earth.

Considering that Marco Polo's journeys were embellished in his travel log, it is likely that his account of the Roc was inspired from observing Madagascar's Elephant Bird, Aepyornis maximus.  Now extinct, the Elephant Bird lived on the island up until the 1600's.

While the World Bird Sanctuary does not have any birds as enormous as the Roc, we do have a juvenile Andean Condor named Dorothy whose size is quite impressive.  Be sure to take a walk down our paved trail to see her the next time you visit.

Submitted by Jessica Bunke, World Bird Sanctuary Trainer

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