There are few lucky enough to eyewitness a North American thunderbird (thun-DER-berd), and those that do so are forever changed by the experience. To say that they are awe-inspiring is an understatement. One of the largest flying beasts on the planet, thunderbirds are ancient creatures stemming from more than 65 million mundane calendar years ago. The thunderbird has a wingspan of up to 35 feet and weighs 200 pounds or more. Thunderbirds have long necks and protruding hooked beaks lined with tiny teeth. Their prominent eyes have large pupils and appear intelligent, alert, and piercing. Their feathers can be multi-colored, but are predominantly blue, green, black, and silver. Male thunderbirds are also often adorned with red feathers, particularly around the face and neck.
Thunderbirds can conjure great and powerful storms, winds, and weather events. The flap of their enormous wings produces a deafening thunderclap, and a blink of their eyes can produce flashes of lightning. Mature specimens can discharge lightning from their eyes, and the most powerful among them can control the intensity and direction of the lightning, using it as a kind of defense or weapon that immolates or electrocutes an enemy or obstacle. Beating their wings in rapid succession can conjure gusts and gales, or blow rain or hail directionally. Two thunderbirds acting in concert by flying in circles in the same direction can create a tornado or waterspout, depending on if over land or water. The “El Niño” storm events are believed to be instigated by thunderbirds who appear to be using the storms to alter the migratory patterns of their food sources and drive them toward the shore.
Thunderbirds and mishipeshu, or water panthers, are mortal enemies. In rare instances, thunderbirds and mishipeshu can co-exist in the same geographical area, but only through careful avoidance of each other. Every few years, a cataclysmic battle between thunderbirds and water panthers takes place to establish dominance and redraw territorial lines. These battles result in terrible storms, gale-force winds, torrential rains, flooding, mudslides, and occasionally widespread wildfires sparked by the thunderbird’s lightning. When these occur, Magimundi astromancers will use elemental magic to protect their communities, and specially trained forces will head into the heart of the storm to conduct a ritual and offer gifts to the dueling entities.
Thunderbirds are highly respected by the Magimundi, as legend holds that they came to the assistance of their ancestors in the Pacific Northwest by gifting fire to the ancient people. Some believe the origin of magic in humans was also a gift of the thunderbirds millennia ago, though that cannot be corroborated scientifically. They are a protected species by edict of the Council of Five, and should not be harmed or deliberately killed. A dying thunderbird will sing a song that attuned Magimundi astromancers can hear. The song reveals its location and Wizards will mount an expedition to provide hospice care for the bird and to conduct rituals as it crosses over to the Spirit World. The thunderbird then gifts its body to the Wizards, who vow to use it with devotion, care, and ritual purification to create magical potions, poultices, palliatives, artifacts, and art. Due to the long life-span of a thunderbird, many magi have never been part of a Thunderbird Ritual.
Like their much smaller cousin, the raven, thunderbirds can mimic sounds in their environment, including human speech. The song of the thunderbird approaches a low rumble or growl, but with a musical timbre. It often precedes the clap of the thunderbird’s wings. Female thunderbirds also make clicking sounds for currently unknown reasons. Thunderbirds tend to mate for life, though male thunderbirds live mostly solitary lives and female thunderbirds congregate in matriarchal societies with delimited roles, shared egg-sitting, and communal fledgling-rearing. Members of bonded pairs communicate over great distances through the rumbling and flashes of light, and one mate can reproduce the call of its partner to summon it to its side.
A juvenile thunderbird is called a fledgling. The collective noun for a group of thunderbirds is a murder. Thunderbirds have a natural lifespan of up to 1000 years.
Due to their great size, thunderbirds require a good deal of space. Because of their propensity for water hunting, most thunderbirds live near the coast or other large bodies of water. They have been found in the high deserts, but are not fond of densely wooded areas due to their inability to maneuver well in the close spaces.
Thunderbirds are great birds of prey with a wingspan of up to 35 feet. Their large, pointed, golden beaks are lined with tiny yet razor- sharp teeth. Thunderbird talons are sharp and able to grip the trunks of large trees. The second toe in particular is pointed and dagger-like, and the thunderbird can use it to rake or stab in a fight. Tail feathers are particularly long, lustrous, and colorful and a single feather can be the height of a full-grown mage. Thunderbirds have prominent nares on their large beaks, which allows them to take in large amounts of air. Unlike mammals, thunderbirds have unidirectional airflow through their lungs and heterogeneously partitioned parabronchial lungs. This efficient breathing system allows them to get oxygen even when exhaling, and to be able to breathe at great heights. It is believed that a thunderbird can take a deep breath and remain underwater for as long as an hour, something it does to pursue a mishipeshu retreating to its submarine lair.
Thunderbirds feed on large marine creatures such as seals, sea lions, dolphins, orca, and wasco. They hunt their prey with their keen eyesight, dive at terrific speeds, plunge into the water, and emerge hundreds of yards later with their kill in the grasp of their enormous dagger-like talons. Thunderbirds prefer to hunt at night, and it is believed that they use a form of echolocation to pinpoint the whereabouts of their intended prey.
Thunderbird bones and feathers are imbued with magical properties that are especially useful in elemental magic. Their giant talons are valued as talismans.
Occasionally, a mage will come across a dropped thunderbird feather, especially after a cataclysmic battle with mishipeshu. After the proper ritual is conducted, the feather may be used to craft an artifact. Cryptozoologists can examine the feather for magical residue and determine if it was plucked forcibly by a mage or shed by the thunderbird itself. Poultices and potions made from their blood or tears are very valuable, but the ingredients are quite rare since they can only be found after a thunderbird dies and gifts its body to the attending Wizards. These ingredients are strictly controlled by the Bureau of Alchemical Ingredients and Reagents Control.
Note: Thunderbirds are a protected species by edict of the Council of Five. The deliberate harming or killing of a thunderbird carries the maximum sentence of life imprisonment in Avernus.
Thunderbirds do not typically attack humans and the two species rarely have direct contact, with the exception of the death ritual explained above. Should a Wizard come upon a thunderbird nest, they are advised to exit the area immediately as they are in great danger. Thunderbirds are fiercely protective of their young and will exterminate any creature they feel is a threat. To approach a thunderbird directly, the Wizard should drop their wand, staff, or orb, shed their cloak, genuflect, lower their eyes, and hum. If the bird answers their call, they may raise their head, and if the bird nods, they may stand. Thunderbirds will accept gifts from Wizards and seem to have developed a taste for sockeye salmon jerky, which is a kind of candy for them, as the smoking process introducing flavors not found in the wild.