In Sri Lankan folklore, a woman whose child was murdered by her husband went mad and ran off into the jungle to commit suicide. After her death, the gods transformed her into a creature called the ulama, or devil bird, whose horrible, human-sounding wail in the distance is a portent that something terrible is about to happen [source: Dole].
But was this a real animal? In the 1950s, ornithologist George Morton Henry, author of a definitive volume on the birds of Sri Lanka, decided that the devil bird actually was the spot-bellied eagle owl (Bubo nipalensis blighi)[source: Eberhart]. This predatory bird, which is also known as the forest eagle owl, is found in a swath of south Asia stretching from India to Burma. It is about 21 inches (53 centimeters) in length and has heart-shaped spots and prominent black-and-white ear tufts that give it a suitably eerie appearance. But people who are fearful of it shouldn't worry, because it eats only game birds (like pheasants), reptiles and fish [source: Harrison].