There always has been a tradition of birds being existent, of far
greater size than those usually visible.
The Maoris aver that at times they still hear the gigantic Moa in the
scrub--and, even, if extinct, we know, by the state of the bones found,
that its extinction must have been of comparatively recent date. But no
one credits the Moa with the power of flight, whilst the Griffin, which
must not be con
ounded with the gold-loving Arimaspian Gryphon, was a
noble bird. Mandeville knew him:--"In this land (Bactria) are many
gryffons, more than in other places, and some say they have the body
before as an Egle, and behinde as a Lyon, and it is trouth, for they be
made so; but the Griffen hath a body greater than viii Lyons, and stall
worthier (stouter, braver) than a hundred Egles. For certainly he
wyl beare to his nest flying, a horse and a man upon his back, or two
Oxen yoked togither as they go at plowgh, for he hath longe nayles on
hys fete, as great as it were hornes of Oxen, and of those they make
Cups there to drynke of, and of his rybes they make bowes to shoote
Olaus Magnus says they live in the far Northern mountains, that they
prey upon horses and men, and that of their nails drinking-cups were
made, as large as ostrich eggs. These enormous birds correspond in many
points to the Eastern Ruc or Rukh, or the Rok of the "Arabian Nights,"
of whose mighty powers of flight Sindbad took advantage.
Ser Marco Polo, speaking of Madagascar, says:--"'Tis said that in those
other Islands to the south, which the ships are unable to visit because
this strong current prevents their return, is found the bird Gryphon,
which appears there at certain seasons. The description given of it is,
however, entirely different from what our stories and pictures make it.
For persons who had been there and had seen it, told Messer Marco Polo
that it was for all the world like an eagle, but one indeed of enormous
size; so big in fact, that its wings covered an extent of 30 paces, and
its quills were 12 paces long, and thick in proportion. And it is so
strong that it will seize an Elephant in its talons, and carry him high
into the air, and drop him so that he is smashed to pieces: having so
killed him, the bird gryphon swoops down on him, and eats him at
leisure. The people of those isles call the bird Ruc, and it has no
other name. So I wot not if this be the real gryphon, or if there be
another manner of bird as great. But this I can tell you for certain,
that they are not half lion and half bird, as our stories do relate;
but, enormous as they be, they are fashioned just like an eagle.
"The Great Kaan sent to those parts to enquire about these curious
matters, and the story was told by those who went thither. He also sent
to procure the release of an envoy of his who had been despatched
thither, and had been detained; so both those envoys had many wonderful
things to tell the Great Kaan about those strange islands, and about the
birds I have mentioned. They brought (as I heard) to the Great Kaan, a
feather of the said Ruc, which was stated to measure 90 Spans, whilst
the quill part was two palms in circumference, a marvellous object! The
Great Kaan was delighted with it, and gave great presents to those who
This quill seems rather large; other travellers, however, perhaps not so
truthful as Ser Marco, speak of these enormous quills. The Moa of New
Zealand (Dinornis giganteus) is supposed to have been the largest bird
in Creation--and next to that is the AEpyornis maximus--whose bones
and egg have been found in Madagascar. An egg is in the British Museum,
and it has a liquid capacity of 2.35 gallons, but, alas, for the quill
story--this bird was wingless.
The Condor has been put forward as the real and veritable Ruc, but no
living specimens will compare with this bird as it has been
described--especially if we take the picture of it in Lane's "Arabian
Nights," where it is represented as taking up three elephants, one in
its beak, and one in each of its claws.
The Japanese have a legend of a great bird which carried off men--and
there is a very graphic picture now on view at the White Wing of the
British Museum, where one of these birds, having seized a man,
frightens, very naturally, the whole community.