The Ossifris is named for the helmet-like bone structure of its beak. Despite appearances, it bears no relation to the Hornbill family. It instead shares its genetics with the common North American Blue jay, and the elusive European Prispette.
The Ossifris is a predatory bird, living along wooden shorelines and utilizing the protection of its great helm as it burrows in the sand for mollusks, its favorite repast. Once found, it again makes use of its unusual bill and with it crushes the mollusks, as if wielding a hammer. When shellfish are rare, it will also consume frogs, small fish and voles.
As among many predatory birds, the female Ossifris is notably larger than the male, though somewhat duller in plumage. Pairs mate for life, a healthy span of nearly thirty years in the wild (a specimen has never been successfully raised in captivity, so its maximum possible lifespan is not known). Surprisingly, though perhaps because of its long life, the Ossifris will typically only produce two to three clutches of eggs in that time. They nest among the exposed roots of trees that overhang the water.
A complete mute, vocally, the Ossifris has a unique method of aural communication. Its bone helm is riddled with shallow channels and cavities. The bird will hold its head at a particular angle, beak held high and approximately 5 or 10 degrees from being directly vertical, and wait for the tiniest stirring of the air. At the appearance of the first zephyr, the unique system of channels begins to work, suctioning air through the beak end and out near the base of the skull. Once the process has begun, the bird can vary the sound and pitch by tilting its head or knocking it against nearby objects. The entire spectacle appears much like a dance. The resulting song is eerie, ranging from metallic to flutelike in tone. The birds fly with a strange bobbing motion, which also causes them to ‘sing’ at times—though the song tends to be far less elaborate. Both males and females perform the ‘song’, regardless of whether they have a mate or not (though mated pairs have been seen to ‘sing’ together, on occasion).
It is held that if one manages to obtain the skull of an Ossifris it can be played like an ocarina. If played by human lips, they say, one must be cautious—for it can wake the dead. Not just dead humans and animals, but dead plant matter as well. There exist legends that describe these occasions, where the Ossifris’ flute has been played and the foolish player’s house, dinner and dead relatives have all awoken back into life. The story generally ends with the reanimated beings striving to go about their ordinary tasks once more, despite their altered forms. As is usual in cautionary tales, the end for the protagonist is not a kind one. He either is driven mad by the advances of his skeletal darling, or is trapped within the new growth of his house as it strives again for tree-hood. It is interesting to note the frequent mythic ties between birds and the dead. The Institute has yet to obtain the remains of an Ossifris.