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The Devil Bird, locally known as Ulama, is a cryptid of Sri Lanka said to emit bloodcurdling human-sounding shrieks in the night from within the jungles. In Sri Lankan folklore, it is believed that the cry of this bird is an omen that portends death. Its precise identity is still a matter of debate although the spot-bellied eagle-owl matches the profile of Devil Bird to a large extent, according to a finding in the year 2001.
As the bird is not usually seen and its cry only described in vague terms, Ulama records might refer to the Ceylon highland nightjar (Caprimulgus indicus kelaarti); the males of the latter are known to have a screaming flight-call atypical for nightjars.
"Devil Bird or Ulama or Ulalena. The precise identity of this bird is one of the mysteries of the Ceylon jungles. Its eerie cries have been attributed to a variety of birds. The most likely candidates however are: the forest eagle-owl (Bubo nipalensis) for the up country area, the hawk-eagles and the crested honey-buzzard (Pernis ptilorhynchus ruficollis) in the lowland jungles."
There has been a systematic investigation to the identification of this bird by Dr. R.L. Spittel in his book 'The Far off Things'. Accordingly, the spot-bellied eagle owl is one possible contender but changeable hawk-eagle (Nisaetus cirrhatus ceylanensis) and Oriental honey buzzard (Pernis ptilorhynchus) are more likely contenders to be the "Devil Bird".
A spot-bellied eagle-owl (Bubo nipalensis) specimen found by villagers in 2001 received much publicity in the press as the final resolution of the bird's identity but the natives who actually have heard the 'true' cry of the Ulama and had seen the bird in action, are certain that it is a changeable hawk-eagle, which is more in agreement with the description of the bird in the local folklore. The reason for the confusion is probably the fact that most Sri Lankans have a mistaken perception as to the true cry of the Ulama.
One problem with the spot-bellied eagle-owl being the Devil Bird is that in most legends involving the bird, the original Devil Bird was a person in anguish who fled into the forest clutching their head with one hand only indicating that the bird had a crest as opposed to two ear-tufts. Since the spot-bellied eagle-owl has very prominent ear-tufts, it may not be the Devil Bird. However, all the legends may have stemmed from one, and all may have got that detail incorrect.
According to R.L Spittel in his book "Far-off Things", the steps that should be taken to identify the bird are; "(a) The cry should be clearly recognized and defined, and not be confused with many weird cries of the jungle. (b) The bird should be shot while actually making the cry, or on the tree from which the cry comes. (c) It should be identified after death by an ornithologist."
- Banshee, a similar omen in Irish mythology that portends death.
- Hakawai, a similar omen in Māori mythology that portends death.
- "New Page 1". lankalibrary.com.
- Karl Shuker (1997). From Flying Toads To Snakes With Wings. Llewellyn, St Paul.
- Karl Shuker (2007). Extraordinary Animals Revisited. CFZ Press, Bideford.
- Vanished Trails, The last of the Veddas by R.L. Spittel