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This Colorful Bird is the Real-Life Ibong Adarna from Philippine Myth

Birders nicknamed the species ‘Ibong Adarna.’
IMAGE Jonet Carpio and Miguel David De Leon
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If you ask local birders about Ibong Adarna, they will most likely point you to an actual bird and not an epic poem you read when you were a freshman in high school. 

In Philippine folklore, the Ibong Adarna is a mythical bird that is described as the most colorful bird in the fictional Kingdom of Berbania. It is the main figure in the Filipino epic poem, Korido at Buhay na Pinagdaanan ng Tatlong Prinsipeng Magkakapatid na Anak ni Haring Fernando at ni Reyna Valeriana sa Kahariang Berbanya—but people are more familiar with its shortened title, Ibong Adarna.

According to the epic poem, the mythical bird’s plumage consists of the brightest hues. It can be found in a place called Mt. Tabor where it roosts in a white tree called piedras platas. When it sings, those who hear its lullaby will fall into a deep sleep and may also turn into stone if the Ibong Adarna deposits its poo on them.

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According to U.P. professor and Palanca awardee Reuel Aguila, literary scholars believe the story of Ibong Adarna has European origins, owing to the name of the elements in the story, such as its kingdoms, princes, and princesses. Some suggest that the description of the Ibong Adarna bears striking resemblance to the Sarimanok, a legendary bird of the Maranao people, or even the phoenix from Ancient Greek folklore.

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Local birders associate the Ibong Adarna with the Philippine Trogon (Harpactes ardens), one of the most colorful birds endemic in the Philippines.

An 'Ibong Adarna' Hiding in the Dark Parts of a Forest in the Philippines

Photo by Jonet Carpio.
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Miguel David De Leon, a Filipino field biologist and director of the Robert S. Kennedy Bird Conservancy, is part of the team that photographed the trogon. They were also the team that produced the first photographs of a fledgling of the ultra-rare Philippine dwarf kingfisher.

“The specific epithet ardens is Latin for flaming, burning, or brilliant, likely in reference to the bird’s flaming colors,” De Leon explains.

 

Ibong Adarna’s Behavior

Just like the mythical bird it was nicknamed after, the Philippine trogon is elusive. It lives in the forests and does not like people.

“The birds are shy and prefer to stay in the darker sections of the forest,” said De Leon.

“When perched, they stay motionless for two to 20 minutes with just their head rotating very, very slowly to survey their surroundings. They are particularly sensitive to sounds.”

An 'Ibong Adarna' Guarding Its Nest

Photo by Miguel David De Leon.
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Just like the mythical Ibong Adarna, the trogon does not do well in captivity and dies if it is kept in a cage for too long.

“I have not seen it in the illegal wildlife trade nor as a caged bird. I’ve been told that it doesn’t do well in captivity,” said De Leon. “It is considered common and listed by IUCN as “Least Concern,” but we believe it’s become less common due to habitat loss and hunting.”

But unlike the mythical Ibong Adarna, the Philippine trogon will not sing you to sleep with a lullaby.

“Its call or sound is akin to a horse’s neigh, but soft and seemingly laughing,” said De Leon.

De Leon and his team of researchers say that the most significant threats to the bird’s survival are habitat destruction and hunting.

“Public awareness is always a two-edged sword. It can spur people to protect them, but it can also entice illegal collectors to snatch them from the wild,” said De Leon.

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Below are more photos of the Philippine trogon, whose vivid colors earned it the nickname "Ibong Adarna." 

A Female Philippine Trogon is Less Colorful Than the Male

Photo by Miguel David De Leon.

A Female and Male Philippine Trogon

Photo by Jonet Carpio.
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The Male Philippine Trogon and Its Flaming Chest

Photo by Jonet Carpio.

A Female Philippine Trogon Feeds Her Offspring

Photo by Jonet Carpio.
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Mario Alvaro Limos
Features Editor, Esquire Philippines
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