Stop What You’re Doing as There’s a Storm Brewing and it’ll Bring With it Everything You Need to Know About the Mythical Lightning Bird!

The skies are dark and stormy then suddenly there’s a flash of lightning! A magnificent bird becomes visible as it soars through the sky… or so goes the myth.

Don’t be fooled by its enchanting appearance, as this bird isn’t believed to bring good fortune. Instead, it’s a symbol of quite the opposite. 

Far more than having the powers to produce thunder and lightning from its wings and talons, it’s also said to be a symbol of ill-fate. 

In South African Folklore this bird is greatly feared, as it brings with it far more significance than just being a bird capable of conjuring up powerful storms. 

What is a Lightning Bird? 

The Lightning Bird is a mythical bird that is viewed as a bad omen in many African Folklores, such as Mpondo, Xhosa, Bhaca, Nguni, Ndebele and Zulu.  

Other names it’s known by are ‘Impundulu’ and ‘birds of heaven,’ although there’s very little considered to be heavenly about it. 

Source of Myth

The Hamerkop Bird is believed by some African cultures to actually be a manifestation of the Lightning Bird.

Hamerkop Bird

Many believe that if you destroy a Hamerkop Bird’s nest it will seek out your home, sit on your roof and call down lightning to strike your home…yikes!

Their impressive nests are the cause of many myths, as they can weigh up to 200kg and take months to build.

Their unique appearance also helps fuel these beliefs, as they have a curved bill and a long shaggy crest. 

Some believe that if you hear the call of a Hamerktop in the morning then someone will pass away that night. 

See Also: Fenghuang Bird: The Legend Of The Chinese Phoenix

Other Beliefs

Some cultures believe the Lightning Bird to not just be a storm bird but to be a vampire too. They believe that this bird is partial to kidnapping children and sucking out their blood!

These intelligent birds are often associated with witch doctors. They’re expert hunters who can take on the form of a seducer to lure their prey in. 

Bullets and other weapons can’t hurt them, in fact, only fire can (which holds similarities with many traditional vampire beliefs). 


The appearance of this bird varies greatly. Some believe that it’s as tall as an adult human and that it can appear as a man if it chooses too. 

Some say its plumage is black and white, some say it has a red beak, tails, and legs, while others say it has iridescent and somewhat metallic feathers. 

Only women are believed to be able to see their true form in a storm. 

Mythological Significance

The Lightning Bird holds high significance in many African Folktales. Some fear this bird so much that they’ll go to great lengths to protect themselves against them. 

Witch Doctors

Witch Doctors

It’s believed that witch doctors have the most dealings with the Lightning Bird, as they can aid them in conjuring up powerful spells and remedies. 

An extract from a Lightning Bird is believed to find criminals and control their minds, although it is also said to control the minds of law-abiding citizens too. 

When a Lightning Bird produces lightning it’s said to be fuelled by its fat.

For this reason, its fat is highly regarded and it’s thought to contain crucial ingredients to many medicines. 

To obtain this fat, the bird must be captured the instance it’s lightning bolt hits the ground. It can also be dug up from a hole in the exact place where the lighting has struck. 

Bad Luck Charm

The Lightning bird is strongly associated with witchcraft and viewed as a servant or confident to a witch doctor. 

Many believe that the Lightning Bird is inherited from a mother to her daughter amongst the family of the witch doctor. 

This bird will only do the bidding of its current master and will bestow bad luck or illness onto anyone it’s master orders it to. 

The Lightning Bird is often depicted riding on the back of a hyena. This is because witch doctors are said to have the ability to transform into a hyena. 

The Egg of a Lightning Bird

The Lightning Bird is believed by many to lay its egg in the exact place that its lighting has made contact with the earth. 

Some view this as a good omen, as this magnificent bird holds much power and carries with it respect. 

Many others believe that this signifies a bad omen and that it’s necessary for them to dig out the egg and destroy it. 

In doing so they believe that no harm or bad luck will befall them or their loved ones. 

See Also: What is a Jian bird?

FAQs – The Short Answer

Do you still have loads of questions about Lightning Birds that you’re desperate to know the answer to? 

Don’t worry, as I’m going to answer the most frequently asked questions about this striking bird, so you can wonder-no-more!

Question 1 – What Does the Lightning Bird Feed off?

It’s widely believed that the Lightning Bird is a form of a vampire who needs blood to live. 

In its human form it will feed off the blood of humans but in its bird form it will feed off the blood of other birds. 

Question 2 – Where Does the Lightning Bird Originate From?

The Tanzanians believe these birds are ruled by Kayura who is the ruler of the storm, and the son of the one-legged lake god Mugasha.

They’re viewed as powerful birds that carry with them the embodiment of light. 

Although stories of these birds have been passed down by tribe members for centuries, the exact origin of this bird remains unknown.

An Overview to the Lightning Bird

I hope that you now know everything you need to know about this magical, mythical bird. 

You might not want one flying over your house and you definitely don’t want to madden someone that owns one. 

Regardless of this, there’s no denying that the Lightning Bird is one seriously impressive bird with some nifty weather-controlling powers. 

Julian Goldie - Owner of

Julian Goldie

I'm a bird enthusiast and creator of Chipper Birds, a blog sharing my experience caring for birds. I've traveled the world bird watching and I'm committed to helping others with bird care. Contact me at [email protected] for assistance.