THE AL'SYRR SANDBIRD

APPEARANCE - SPECIAL ABILITIES - TERRITORY
HABITAT/BEHAVIOURDIET - MATING - USAGES

The Al'Syrr Sandbird is a symbol of desert survival! It spends its whole life in various parts of the great Ráhaz-Dáth Desert and outlying regions, despite the inhospitality. It moves with the seasons, adapting its behaviour and diet to match current temperature, amount of rain and available food sources, like a true survivor. - After years of study, following in the footsteps of Thuja (the first to document Al'Syrr), we can't help but admire such a seemingly ordinary bird. To follow are the notes of the extensive research.

Appearance. The Al'Syrr, also known simply as the Sandbird, are typically a fore in length, although this can vary by almost a palmspan. Such variations will depend on an individual's life. With an abundance of food and water during its adolescence, this bird will just keep growing. One has to wonder just how big it could get if it lived outside of such an arid climate, although clearly it's no Sarvonian mathmoor!

The species can be split into two distinct populations, based on migration habits. To make classification simple, we refer to these simply as the Eastern Al'Syrr and the Western.

Both species are very similar in appearance. They are a rounded, short-legged bird with a yellowish brown color to the body. The throat, fore breast, ear area and crown feathers are all a light grey. The face, eyes and cheeks start a light yellow at the beak and blend into a dusky orange in males. In females, the blend matches the main shading of their body. Their backs and wings are barred by thin, light brown stripes. The beak is a dull grey, blunt and rounded with a slight hook to the top bill.

Predominately a ground bird, both species feature strong legs about eight nailsbreath long, and are very capable on land. When pressured they can move at quite a pace, using their legs and flaps of their wings, to cover distance in a series of long jumps. If not in danger this becomes a more leisurely walk, albeit with a slight waddle when they have their pre-migration fats built up.

The birds are typically a couple of palmspans, to a fore in height. The females a little smaller. Their weight varies, depending on how recent a migration was. They can be as much as two or three ods with their full fats stored, and this will drop to an od, five mut or so toward the end of a seasonal flight.

Special Abilities. The Al'Syrr feature a number of specialisms allowing them to survive the way they do. - The Injèrá is the biggest threat to most within a desert. As the heat pounds down, all creatures have to cope some way. Most hide during the hottest hours, and many only emerge at night.

The Al'Syrr is one of the rare species active throughout the day (although during the height of Sunblaze this activity might be restricted to drinking, bathing or feeding within a shaded spot). It can do this because of a special oil secreted from its body (we haven't managed to discover where from) which coats its feathers and prevents water loss from the skin. A large portion of each daybreak is spent preening, which is assumed to spread this oil evenly and ensure full protection. The oil dries quickly in the morning sun to leave no visible trace, although the feathers do feel slightly sticky to the touch.

Fruit from various bushes (especially from the desert rose) serves as a large part of the Al'Syrr diet. Whilst many fruits do fall to the ground, an enterprising Al'syrr can reap much greater harvests by jumping and using their long necks to their advantage. Strong legs and careful flaps of wings allow impressive jumps straight up. On average no more than a ped was reached, but in some instances (Western Al'Syrr only) they could go as high as two peds. Quite the sight to see amongst the monoliths of the Yar Dangs! A sore shame there was no artist available to capture such a spectacle.

It is their hooked bill which allows them to rip into the tough stalks of the various grasses they feast on. It also allows them to dig into the thin soil and pull out the much more satisfying root tubers. Significantly more water can be found this way, allowing the Al'Syrr to go a considerable time without drinking if the grazing is good.

Al'Syrr also has very well adapted camouflage, which forms their only real defense from the many desert predators. When there is danger they will flatten out and not move, relying on their colouring to hide. As a last resort, Al'Syrr will take to the air and fly away.
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Territory. Tracking these birds proved to be a great challenge. Both species have entirely independent migration paths. If it wasn't for Shendar guides, and experts, there would have been no chance of following them.

The Western Al'Syrr's movements are complicated, but in simple terms these birds spend their time between the spectacular Aj'Nuvic Grounds in the north, and the warm, comfortable water pools to the southeast of the Yar'Dangs. The year begins in deep winter. The colony is all together enjoying the warmth of the Yar Dangs, the only time of the year they gather in any numbers. In late spring/early summer, depending on how long the food and water last in the Yar'Dangs, they will all fly north, separating as they travel, to spend several months in the Aj'Nuvic Grounds feeding in solitary. Breeding pairs will stay together.

The Eastern Al'Syrrs also summer and autumn in the north, but on the cliffs and grasslands of the Narfost Plains instead. Their wintering ground is in the collection of year round lakes known as the Jewels. The year begins in deep winter. Breeding pairs or young solitary birds yet to find a mate, will be spread out amongst the multitude of lakes that make up the Jewels. In early spring they will begin their migration north, meeting up with other birds as they fly. By the time they reach the cliffs of the Narfost Plains, the whole colony is together. All along the bottom of the cliffs they will scrape out their shallow nests in the sand, or within holes between the rocky base, relying on their camouflage and the leaves of the surrounding desert rose and false heart to hide their eggs. They begin a breeding frenzy. In just a few short months they give birth to their young and let them grow enough to make the long journey back south to the Jewels for the winter.
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Habitat/Behaviour. The habitat and behaviour of the two species of Sandbirds are best described seperatel:

Diet. As has been covered in various parts of these notes so far, the Al'Syrr is not too fussy about what it eats. It will adapt its diet to take advantage of what is available. This is restricted to grasses, fruits and seeds in general, but some sources like the fish of the Yar'Dangs and the desert rose hips form a particularly important boost at certain parts of the year. And as we have discovered this has built into a special relationship between rose and bird. Indeed, aside from a species of desert butterfly which pollinates the flowers, Al'Syrr is the most important creature to the desert rose, for spreading the seed.

For those who spend the summer in the northern parts of the Aj'Nuvic Grounds, the bounty of the many species of cacti is there for them to enjoy, in particular the crucial fruit from the már'kál cactus which contains drinkable water.

The other major food source, particularly for the eastern species, is grass shoots and bulbs. Mainly the alth'ho grass which forms much of the Narfost Plains.
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An Al'syrr Egg

View picture in full size  An Al'syrr  egg, easy to recognize. Picture by Bard Judith.

Mating. Despite their separation, the two species still follow distinctly similar mating behaviours. By far the biggest difference between them is in the timings of the mating season. The Western Al'Syrr is mating early, in their wintering grounds before heading north. The Eastern is waiting until in their spring/summer habitat. Aside from that, they're almost identical.

In both cases, each of the species, at the time of mating, are gathered together in a large colony to help protect the majority of their young from predators. Predominately a solitary bird, this can lead to fairly nasty squabbles amongst neighbours and particularly with the young males, competing for a mate, whom they will stay with for life.

Once a male has established his position amongst the other males, he will court his chosen female on the ground, pursuing her with his neck feathers expanded. His head will bob in time to a continuous and monotonous low whistling. If she finds him acceptable, they will mate and the next male in line can approach a female. The female will lay three or four eggs in a shallow scrape on the ground. The eggs are yellow and brown, matching well the colouration of their sandy nest. Both parents take it in turn to sit on the eggs, whilst the other goes to feed, and they continue this pattern once the chicks have hatched. One parent will defend, whilst the other brings back food to the hungry young.

Especially for the Western Al'syrr, there is an urgency to get their young strong enough for the migration north before the food runs out. As such, they will continue throughout the night, in a non-stop feeding process, taking time to rest whilst the other gathers food. So strenuous is this on the parents, it is quite common for them to lay fewer eggs, and for one or more chicks to simply die as their stronger siblings beat them to the food their parents bring back. As mentioned, the unusual addition of fish to their diet at this time proves to be a crucial boost to this late season feeding.
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Usages. The birds themselves aren't particularly useful to the Shendar. The oil secreted over their feathers throughout their lives makes their meat unpleasant to the taste, although that doesn't seem to bother the various predators whom prey of them. In tough times, the Shendar won't ignore a food supply and with enough boiling and liberal use of herbs, can remove most of the oil, and make the meat edible.

Their eggs, however, are very tasty, and quite a delicacy. The Shendar will take a few each season for special occasions, but never enough to damage the population and are very harsh to any poachers they catch robbing nests.

In addition, a recent discovery has found that the long feathers from an Al'Syrr's wing make quite adequate quills. It seems the regular coating of the oil on their feathers makes them tough, waterproof and durable as writing implements.
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 Date of last edit 20th Rising Sun 1668 a.S.

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