The Phoenix

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Common Name: The Phoenix
Scientific Name: Phoenix ingitiana

Size: 43-56 inches (109–140 cm)

Habitat: Worldwide

Status: Mythical. Global population: unknown

Diet: Small mammals

Nesting: Unknown but since Phoenixes are reborn every 500 to 1000 years there’s probably no need to nest.

Myths, Stories & Legend: The phoenix is a mythical sacred firebird that can be found in the mythologies of the Persians, Greeks, Romans, Egyptians, Chinese, Phoenicians and American Indians.

A phoenix is a mythical bird that is a fire spirit with a colorful plumage and a tail of gold and scarlet (or purple, blue, and green according to some legends). It has a 500 to 1000 year life-cycle, near the end of which it builds itself a nest of twigs that then ignites; both nest and bird burn fiercely and are reduced to ashes, from which a new, young phoenix or phoenix egg arises, reborn anew to live again. The new phoenix is destined to live as long as its old self. In some stories, the new phoenix embalms the ashes of its old self in an egg made of myrrh and deposits it in the Egyptian city of Heliopolis (literally "sun-city" in Greek). It is said that the bird's cry is that of a beautiful song. In very few stories they are able to change into people.

One theory about the origins of the Phoenix legend is rather bizarre, but may be closer to the truth than some others: The original 'Phoenix' may have been a crow or raven dancing in a dying fire. Ravens and crows have been known to practice a peculiar form of behavior called 'Anting'. The bird will disturb an ant's nest, or sit over something sweet (like spilled honey or an almost empty soda-pop can), spread out its wings, and allow ants to run up and down its body. It is thought that the ants give the bird a sort of 'back massage' this way, or that they feast on feather mites which live on the bird and cause irritation. For whatever reason, they seem to enjoy the sensation and have been known to do it repeatedly.

In a similar way, some of these birds will sit over a hot surface, such as the dying embers of a fire, and spread out their wings. Perhaps they do it for the same reason we sit in a sauna - they just enjoy the heat - or perhaps they use the intense heat to encourage feather mites to find a different home.

However, if a bird such as a large raven sits on the embers of a fire, and for some reason chooses to flap its wings (maybe as a way to cool off, or maybe because it's ready to take to the air) then it could stir the fire to life again. The sudden resurgence of flames around it would almost certainly cause the bird to take off… and voila - you have a bird rising from the midst of flames and ashes.

Phoenix in Ancient Greek: Φοῖνιξ

The bird proudly willing to burn,
So that he may live again,
Chooses the flames of fires
That burn the aged Phoenix
The nature stands still
Till a new young bird starts again,
and begins the legend of the Phoenix.
- Claudian (Roman author)

The Roman poet Ovid wrote the following about the phoenix:

Most beings spring from other individuals; but there is a certain kind which reproduces itself. The Assyrians call it the Phoenix. It does not live on fruit or flowers, but on frankincense and odoriferous gums. When it has lived five hundred years, it builds itself a nest in the branches of an oak, or on the top of a palm tree. In this it collects cinnamon, and spikenard, and myrrh, and of these materials builds a pile on which it deposits itself, and dying, breathes out its last breath amidst odors. From the body of the parent bird, a young Phoenix issues forth, destined to live as long a life as its predecessor. When this has grown up and gained sufficient strength, it lifts its nest from the tree (its own cradle and its parent's sepulchre), and carries it to the city of Heliopolis in Egypt, and deposits it in the temple of the Sun.

French author Voltaire thus described the phoenix:

It was of the size of an eagle, but its eyes were as mild and tender as those of the eagle are fierce and threatening. Its beak was the color of a rose, and seemed to resemble, in some measure, the beautiful mouth of Formosante. Its neck resembled all the colors of the rainbow, but more brilliant and lively. A thousand shades of gold glistened on its plumage. Its feet seemed a mixture of purple and silver; and the tail of those beautiful birds which were afterwards fixed to the car of Juno, did not come near the beauty of its tail.

Found in Songbird ReMix Birds of Legend

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