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Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Gwiber-Wyvern by Tim Morris

"Gwiber or Welsh Flying Serpent by Pristichampsus (Tim Morris) on Deviant Art: It has been theorised that century old reports of feathered flying serpents in Wales may have been some sort of unusual bird, perhaps a pheasant. It makes sense, unlikely as it seems, the Quetzal bird was worshiped as a flying serpent by the Mayans, because it appears serpentine in flight. Like the Quetzal and the peacock, it is said to glitter and shine, with eyed wings and tail appearing like jewels. The birds were reported to raid chicken coops, either this is scapegoating, and the culprit was a fox. Alternately, some large birds, including pheasants, are very aggressive towards chickens (also, large birds invariably attack each other), and many kinds of domestic pheasant are cannibalistic.

"Thanks to Karl Shuker for introducing me to this Cryptid."
Thanks do go to Karl for pointing this creature out, since it is one of the featured creatures of From Flying Toads to Snakes With Wings. However the identification is mine as well as very nearly the same wording I used
I did say "Some domestic fowl can be cannibalistic" because actually this does include even chickens-allegedly some fighting cocks enjoy eating the losers in fights, and so on.
Darren Naish posted a reference to cannibalism in pheasants on Tet Zoo before:
http://scienceblogs.com/tetrapodzoology/2010/03/pheasant_cannibalism.php

English Water Jug 1100s
North German Water Jug, 1200s
Illuminated Boewulf Manuscript from the 1300s
I have done an article on this for the CFZ and it has been reprinted in Richard Muirhead's journal FLYING SERPENT. Essentially I was the one to come up with the complete theory on this, although someting of the same idea has been around for years. My idea was that the Gwiber was the same as the Wyvern and also the Cockatrice, and was a large pheasant-like bird with a long feathered tail. Traditionally, it was up to nine feet long. It was definitely a bird because it had feathered wings and only two legs with clawed and scaly feet. It also turns out that it is THE Traditional Western European Winged Dragon, and that all Western Winged Dragons were really birds, albeit very large and agressive birds that were rumoured to be venomous. I added photos showing that a pheasant with a very long tail could actually curl it around as if it were a snake's tail. Furthermore it was such a size that the hen of this pheasant was about the size and shape as the cock of a smaller species of pheasant, hence giving rise to those stories about a cock laying eggs.
A Wyvern.
Supporting this idea is the fact that the artistic depictions of dragons, Wyverns and Cockatrices are all pretty much similar, and even the dragons are often shown with bird beaks (and pretty much chicken-beak-shaped-beaks at that) And some types of pheasants do have feathered crests at the back of the head looking like horns or ears, so that part of the traditional descriptions match up also. The traditional descriptions did remain very closely similar from the 1100s up into the 1700s.
They are occasionally still being reported in parts of Wales and in other places.
dragon-art-lindworm-wappen-at-klagenfurt-gaertner

1420 Moors Subduing a Dragon
Winged Dragons Gesner 1589 and Spanish Flying Dragon 1560
Dragon skeleton reconstruction made in Rome in 1691. Not exactly accurate but it does illustrate what the overall shape was still supposed to be. The head looks as if it is a dog's skull.
Rafael, Renaissance Italy, St George and the Dragon.
Once again the traditional size and shape is approximated
And is about right for a large pheasant-like bird with a long tail
Cockatrice-Dragon 1628
The corresponding Russian tradition might be the Firebird and there could be a Western European green phase for the original bitd and an Eastern European red phase. Both bitds are represented as having peacock-like tail feathers marked with prominent ocelli (eyespots) the Lithuanian dragon also manifests as a sort of a large fowl with a tail made out of fire.
 The original posting was on  http://forteanzoology.blogspot.com/2011/01/dale-drinnon.html

41 comments:

  1. Dale, I know that this may sound somewhat like a broken record, but could these birds resemble small dinosaurs, like Troodon? Also, are they capable of flight, and would they be able to kill a human?

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    1. These birds actually ARE small dinosaurs, if you subscribe to that theory. They do not have any especially troodontid features BUT the locals do say they are capable of killing people with the claws on their feet and by biting (although the poisonous bite is only alleged out of superstition)

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    2. Actually, they do have some especially troodontid-like features. For example, they sleep coiled up. And there was a fossil of a troodontid called Mei long which preserved it sleeping while coiled up. Also, they just look similar to troodontids to me.

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  2. Also, are their tails actually long, or do they just have long tail feathers?

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  3. It would seem they are actually pheasants and the long tails are only made up of feathers

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  4. Are they carnivorous, omnivorous, or herbivorous? How big are they, and can they fly?

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    1. A) Omnivorous but favouring seeds, nuts and insects: Males will eat other pheasant-like birds they feel are their competition and so they must be capable of killing and eating small mammals and birds up to their own size. (B) they are consistently said to grow up to nine feet long, including the tail feathers (C) they can fly well but they apparently ordinarily fly high or fly far. They can do such things as fly up into and down out of trees.

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    2. The wingspan is not great relative to the length, possibly five feet

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  5. Are there any reports of large, long-tailed predatory birds that look like non-avian dinosaurs?

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  6. Presumably in the range of 5 to 25 pounds for the male (est). And there is no good answer for the other question before that, it calls for a judgment that most witnesses would not be making or even feel capable of making.

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    1. The figure of 5 to 25 pounds is normal for the wild turkey of North America, an animal I consider to be comparable in size. That would be a normal weight., the record weights go as high as 30-40 pounds. The females are much smaller, normally about 2.5 to 5 pounds.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wild_Turkey

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    2. Yes, but I would imagine they look much larger than turkeys, since they are longer and taller.

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    3. Also, they are much more aggressive than turkeys.

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    4. Yes, both things would be true.
      I may be doing an update blog on the topic in the next few days, since your renewed interest has caused me to look a few things up and I should clarify a few points.

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    5. That's great. I'm looking forward to reading more about these animals.

      By the way, if these animals are comparable in size to turkeys, then the largest males would probably be between 30-40 pounds. That's actually bigger than a Velociraptor (in real life, they probably could not weigh much more than about 33 pounds).

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  7. Is that large enough for them to be considered 'large predators'?

    And also, are the feathers that make up the tail considered part of the skeleton?

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  8. I do not think the feathered part of the tail has a skeleton but then we have never captured them. The size is entirely based on known pheasants of a large size and they kill all lesser breeds of pheasants and barnyard fowl. Because of the latter they are spoken of as predators, actually it probably has more to do with dominance between closely related species.

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  9. By the way, these are now my favourite cryptids. I am planning to write about them on my blog someday.

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  10. I would imagine that these birds would be significantly taller than ordinary pheasants, since they are much larger and appear to have a much longer neck.

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    1. Very likely so. I do not believe we have an accurate statement as to the height or the length of the neck. An estimate could be that they stand as much as 40 to 48 inches tall going by depictions that are probably not very accurate.

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  11. What is the westernmost area where these birds have been sighted? Have there been any sightings in Ireland, for example?

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  12. Interesting question. As to Ireland, not that I know of.

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  13. What are these birds' claws like? Do they have sharp foot claws, like troodontids?

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    1. They are very vaguely spoken of as having sharp claws, but the shape was not described. They were also sometimes said not to have regular legs and feet, but the claws were still mentioned. This did not actually make a lot of sense.

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  15. Do these animals look like the picture above of a Cockatrice-Dragon from 1628? Is that an accurate drawing?

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    1. I am working on a new review article and I shall address the question then

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    2. The introduction to that article has already been published. I suppose that 1628 one is generally consistent with the others but it is not one that I would have chosen to say was a particularly good likeness. I imagine the creatures were becoming much scarcer by that time.

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  16. How much sexual dimorphism do these creatures exhibit?

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  17. About as much as turkeys. The female bird is about as large as an ordinary rooster which is probably part of the story about cockatrices being hatched from eggs that had been laid by cocks (roosters)

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    1. Oh, really? Would the females appear larger than an ordinary rooster, though?

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  18. There is no need for that, the females would only have to be about the same size as the common roosters in the area at the time the legend was current

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  19. Are they as big as a male Reeve's Pheasant?

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    1. The female, perhaps: that is still big enough to be comparable to common types of roosters

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    2. Would the females be large enough to be considered 'large' creatures?

      And would they be capable of killing a human?

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    3. No and No. The females would be about the same size as large chickens. They are believed to possess the power of The Evil Eye and are thus a source of superstitious dread. It must because their long feathers are decorated with ocelli, as is also the case in Peacocks (Similary associated with Evil Eye superstitions)

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  20. Are there any other birds which look like these, but do not have sexual dimorphism?

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  21. Which ancient depiction of these animals do you think would be the most accurate?

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