Owls in Witchcraft: The Mexican Lechuza and the Tik-tik, Wak-wak or Aswang of the Philippines
Throughout the world, there is a remarkable number of stories about sightings of shapeshifting witches, often in the form of owls. While these stories are part of legend and myth, they are actually a part of present reality for people throughout parts of the U.S., Mexico, the Philippines and other places in the world where similar creatures are seen, most often at night.
The belief that witches transform into other creatures at night is a world-wide one. While the belief has been mostly eradicated among the “educated” and the “rational,” the fact is that many people, even hardened skeptics, have had encounters with these creatures. Although, accounts vary slightly from one region to another.
A witch with the power of transformation can take on a suitable shape to perform whatever function she has in mind. Apparently, the owl is a favorite form for many. The best known owl witches are found among the people of Mexico and the Philippines. They are very similar.
The Lechuza of Mexico
The name for a common owl in Mexico is “tecolote” or “buho.” The word “lechuza” is used by Spanish-speakers in other areas to mean an ordinary barn owl, but in some regions of Mexico when someone speaks of seeing or hearing a lechuza, they aren’t talking about an ordinary owl!
Lechuzas are witches who turn into owls and sometimes other animal forms at night. The Mexican lechuza is not always evil, but seeing one is usually very frightening. They make a terrible shriek and to hear own in your home is a portent of death. The sound made is a high-pitched shriek sometimes accompanied by a cracking or popping noise.
It is fairly common in Mexico for people to see what appear to witches crossing the moon in the sky. If the witch is a lechuza, some people say that reciting the All Father prayer backwards will make them fall from the sky. Witnesses say that lechuzas appear as human-sized owls with the faces of women. It is customary to throw rocks at a lechuza to drive her away.
Witches are known to conduct a lot of business at night. Many witches bury workings or spells in places and use a winged form in their travels to make sure they remain undisturbed. Sometimes lechuzas seem to have more sinister business, such as getting vengeance on a rival.
In most accounts of encounters with lechuzas, they are not so much dangerous as they are frightening. They are large, flying creatures who make a terrifying noise. In other accounts they have pursued or attacked people. Occasionally, they attack people in their beds.
Some people say that if the lechuza doesn’t make it home before dawn, she will be stuck in her owl form all day.
People in Mexico and Texas warn that if you’re walking at night and hear the whistle of a lechuza, you should not whistle back. If you do, the lechuza might swoop down and get you!
If you hear one outside your house, don’t open the door. They especially try to lure small children out of the house.
In some parts of Texas, Lechuzas hang out at night in certain places. Sometimes two or more lechuzas will work together either for a good purpose or malefic one.
Sightings of lechuzas are reported all the way from Oklahoma in the U.S., through Mexico and all the way down to Argentina in South America.
The Apache Indians, originally of the southwest are alleged to have among them women who can transform themselves into owls. The Nanticoke of the Algonquin Indians of the northeast of the U.S., also have legends of the Goo’koos, witches who transform themselves into owls. There may, also, be some relationship between these legends and those of the Thunderbird, which are still seen by people from time to time in the States, but little discussed.
In the Philippines there are lots of stories about a terrifying creature called the Aswang (sometimes spelled Asuwang). Stories about the Aswang vary slightly from place to place throughout the country, but it is generally agreed upon that it is a witch who transforms into a blood-sucking bat-like creature at night.
Unlike the Mexican lechuza, the Aswang is always terrifying and dangerous. Its primary targets are pregnant women and their unborn children. The Aswang is said to have some device by which it sucks blood from its victims.
Many of the same precautions taken against malefic witchcraft are used to defend against the Aswang. Strands of garlic, salt and silver are used to keep it at bay. Needles are placed into the door or threshold and other devices designed to confound witches are employed against them. There even formulas for detecting the presence of an aswang. Defensive weapons, including blessed spears made of local wood are used against them.
Closely related to the aswang is a being called a “tik-tik” and “wak-wak” along with other names in different regions of the Philippines, all of which seem to relate to the cracking or popping sound the creature makes. Like the Mexican lechuza, the tik-tik takes the form of large owl.
Some people say the aswang and the “tik-tik” are one and the same. Others believe that the tik-tik is a companion to the aswang. Yet others conjecture that the tik-tik is the form of a witch who has died.
A similar owl-like being called a “pontipinnak” is known in Malaysia.
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The world has a long history of owl goddesses that goes back, at least, 6000 years. Little is known about some of them, but they are often associated with warfare, death and the underworld.
The Sumerian goddess Innana and the Akkadian goddess Ishtar is depicted as a woman with owl’s wings and feet, accompanied by two owls. Ishtar is associated with warfare.
Similarly, the earliest Hebrew story of creation tells of a woman called Lillith, who was the first wife of Adam before she rebelled. She, too, is associated with the owl.
The Greek goddess Hecate is Queen of the Night, whose companion is an owl. She is the patron goddess of witches.
The Roman goddess Athena who is somewhat similar to Hecate, is associated with the owl.
The Owl on a Greek Coin from 450 B.C. with Athena’s head on the Other Side and the word Athena in Greek next to the owl in the picture.
La Santa Muerte or Holy Death of Mexico is commonly depicted with an owl. While not properly speaking a goddess, she has a lot in common with ancient owl goddesses of Western Europe and Mesopotamia and appears to be a blend of native Mexican Indian traditions and southwestern European ones.
The Hindu goddess of wealth, prosperity and beauty, Lakshimi is depicted with an owl at the lower right.
Normally, Lakshimi is depicted sitting on a lotus blossom being showered with water from the trunks of two white elephants, who represent prosperity, abundance and good fortune.
Possibly, this depiction on the right is another aspect of her power.
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Goetic Demons Who Appear as Owls
There are, also, two Goetic demons who are depicted as owls and who are said to appear to the conjurer in such form.
Prince Stolas is one of these (pictured to the right). He is one of the most dangerous demons. According to the Goetia, “Stolas is a Great Prince of Hell, commands twenty-six legions of demons, and teaches astronomy and the knowledge of poisonous plants, herbs and precious stones. He is also known as Stolos and Solas. He is depicted as either being a crowned owl with long legs, a raven, or a man.
Marquis Andras, who is pictured to the left, is a Grand Marquis of Hell, appearing with a winged angel’s body and the head of an owl or raven, riding upon a strong black wolf and wielding a sharp and bright sword.
Like Prince Stolas, he is regarded as highly dangerous and capable of killing the conjurer who, if he allows himself to be lured out of his protective circle, is subject to instant death.
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Besides tik-tik, aswang (Hiligaynon) and wakwak (Cebuano), we in the east coast of Mindanao (Kamayo) believe in ayok, a similar vampire-like being.
I want to point out the origin of aswang though. They were initially the babaylans or native priestesses of Panay, whom the Church demonized and made into aswang.
Thank you! I really appreciate your comment and your input and I’m hoping for more comments like yours.
I’m sorry that my research on the Tik-tik or aswang is so limited. I have access to more information about the lechuza because my husband and his family are from Mexico and have had experiences with them.
The point you make about the babaylans is, also, made in the documentary above, entitled “The Aswang Phenomenon.” According to the narrator of the film, it seems to have, also, been a conscious attempt on the part of allopathic medical doctors to demonize (literally) their competition and drive them out of business. This is their M.O. everywhere!
Thanks very much for your comment and observations!
Shawn May Scott
What an excellent article!!! I have read about shapeshifting and touched breifly on owls but never to this extent have I had so much information in one source. Thank you for the great read. Voted up, shared, pinned, tweeted etc.
Lori Anne Brown 16 months ago from Sanford, Florida
Great information! I had never heard of the Tik-tik before. Really interesting.
Interesting article. I was unaware of the frequency of the depiction of peoples transformations into owl particularly. I know alot of spirit or soul type anial depictions are of birds. I assumed this was always as they are possibly viewed as free-er and better able to navagate outwith our own realms. I guess the owl is just this but a little further, not only are they able to fly but they do it at night, beyond our own daily ventures. Increases the sinister and hidden elements of thes transformations and depictions. Thanks for sharing your information.
Shawn May Scott,
What a nice compliment. Thank you!
Lori Anne Brown,
Thanks for your comment. The Aswang is very much like a vampire and really scary. They’ve even done a bunch of movies in the Philippines about the Aswang and, like the lechuza, there are lots of stories about strange encounters with these things.
Thank you for stopping by and commenting. I’m sure there’s a lot more than this, because these transformation stories really are world-wide. I think a witch is able to choose the form that suits her (or his – although it seems to be mostly women) purposes best. The owl is predatory, has great night vision and can see all around. In native American folk tales, it is common for animals and people to exchange characteristics with one another. This was done as part of a bargain or out of kindness from one species to another when one was in need.
I really appreciate all of the nice comments. Thank you!
Well done, as usual madam. Your articles are wonderful and I always feel like I learned something.
However, I would like to suggest something for this article. All the research I’ve come across has said that the picture of the Sumerian goddess you had above wasn’t Inanna, but actually Lilitu, who was the Sumerian desert goddess who eventually became the Lilith of Jewish mythology.
But, that was, what 5,000/6,000 years ago, so I guess we can’t really know!
Thanks for stopping by and adding your insights.
Yes, that image of the owl-winged lady with the 2 owls is officially called the “Burney Relief” and the depiction is just called “The Queen of the Night.” From what I could tell, nobody’s is really sure which queen of the night it depicts. Ishtar as the most common candidate I’ve seen, but Inanna and Lillith are all in the running.
The owl goddess or owl-woman concept seems to be an old one. I don’t know if the researchers know why. The materialist looking at this would say that the influence of this idea spread from one place to another. But, it may just be because there really are such “queens of the night” – like Tik-tik and Lechuza.
I just edited to add Lillith because that’s a really good point. Thank you!
Very interesting. I’ve actually been wanting to write something about La Lechuza for quite some time…but you’ve done a great job! Didn’t know about the two owl demons…interesting that the one teaches its student about herbs, plants, and stones (all things that wise women used at one time in healing methods, etc. and continue to use today). Thanks!
Thank you! I’m sure there’s more to say on this subject. The owl and witchcraft seem to be very much intertwined. The lighter aspect of the owl is its wisdom and ability to penetrate the darkness; but it’s other aspect is predatory. The owl is a raptor that swoops down and grabs other creatures at night and so it’s a bird of death, too. So, it seems to me that it represents two important aspects of witchcraft: Wisdom and power.
I really appreciate your insights. Thank you!
Your topic regarding the ‘wakwak’ and ‘tiktik’ is very interesting, oh and the aswang as well. Very well written.
Back in the 80s, i remember reading a headline with a picture of an alleged Leader of the Aswangs in the Southern Region of the Philippines. His head was decapitated and was held by one of the townfolk in another town. I hope you won’t mind me telling this story but this happened and was made into a local movie in Manila once.
A young college freshman had nowhere else to go on her semestral break and her classmate Michelle asked her if she can come with her to her place a 3 hour ferry ride into the South. Raquel, the name of this college freshman agreed and they rode the ferry and came to the town by foot from the port, it was almost 4 in the afternoon.
Just to let you know, Old Witchcraft , that the setting of the sun sets fast by 5pm and by 6pm its already dark in some months except December.
Raquel felt chills to her spine when she walked into town because there are no people coming out of the houses to meet them, no children either. Michelle led her to her ancestral home where her father was waiting for them. He seemed very pleased to see Raquel and told her they’re having a feast in her honor. Then slowly as the sun sets at 5:30, the town folk came out of their houses with candles lit in their homes.
In the 80s there are still towns in the south of the Philippines that don’t have electricity.
Michelle coaxed Raquel that they should take a nap because of the long trip then she will wake her up if its time for dinner. Raquel agreed and they both slept on a straw mat on the floor. Raquel could not sleep and she heard some whispers outside her window, the father and some tall man were conversing. ” She’s quite plump, Michelle picked a good one this time”, the father said and the tall man was smiling and said ” its been awhile since a tourist visit this place, we better beat her to a pulp with a club so we can make her bones into soup”. Raquel got nervous because the tone of their voices aren’t normal. She looked at Michelle and she noticed she was wearing golden jewellry, like earrings and rings. Raquel slowly put the earrings and rings on her and make the sleeping Michelle to the side where Raquel used to be lying down. Raquel covered her body except her head and her arm with the glittery gold jewellry.
Then she heard someone coming into their room and she couldn’t look behind her because they might see her, she heard a loud smack and something is being dragged down to the stairs. As soon as the door closed, she looked back and saw her friend is no longer there.
Then she peeked outside the window and saw that the father and the man are holding a sack with traces of blood which seems to have Michelle in it. The town folk gathered in a dim lit area and cackles of laughter are among them and they were moving far away from the house.
In no time Raquel looked for her way out, she leaped from the 2 story high house and ran barefoot into the woods. Then she heard a wailing sound of something flying behind her. It was the townfolk, they were gaining on her. These so called townfolk are aswangs. Raquel ran as fast as she could until she was at the beach and saw a boatman who lives near and ask for his help. He took pity on her and let her hide under a small canoe.
The screeching stopped upon reaching the beach, Raquel could hear a gruff voice of a man talking to the boatman and asking her whereabouts. The boatman denied and the people and the man went back to their town, At the break of Dawn, Raquel was able to escape with the help of the boatman. The news broke out and some people hunt down the father of Michelle. His head was decapitated and as shown on the front page news dated 1988.
That is an amazing story! Thank you very much for sharing it.
I have read about entire towns in the Philippines filled with witches who live apart from the rest of the population.
Thanks for replying. You are right the entire towns in the philippines especially the provincial ones have a lot of witches and most of them take form as lowly provincial maidens going to the city looking for work as house maids.
The Tiktik is a creature which resembles an owl also but with large wings and has a long tongue that if a pregnant woman is sleepin, her tongue usually latches on the tummy like a leech and suck the ammiotic fluid and even the baby.
The Aswang also resembles an owl too and they often take a lot of forms too, like dogs and cats. They are cannibals in the night.
The wakwak is also the same as the Tiktik although this one preys on small children.
I hope this may interest you. You hit the mark about Owls 🙂 they are very sacred creatures.
Oh TraditionalWitchcraft, the ‘mangkukulam’ or witch, in filipino, is still revered as a dangerous being in the Philippines. They usually cast a spell on some person and the person who was cursed with a mangkukulam have an extreme case of boils or small lumps growing bigger everyday. Once a doctor tries to incise the boil, they often see some leaves and soil and twigs of all sorts inside a boil or a bump.
Thank you for this information. I’ve read a little about the mangkukulam, but I hadn’t heard about the soil and twig filled boils. In the southern states of the U.S., there are reports of snakes in people’s abdomens and sometimes wombs. The delivery of this kind of spell usually involves the person breathing a substance prepared by a witch. Of course, it’s more than just the substance, there is a great deal of malice imparted into it.
Thanks for the good info. It’s hard to find a lot of good information about witchcraft in the Philippines online. If you have any good recommendations in English or Tagalog, for that matter, I would be interested in knowing about it.
Thank you so much for sharing your knowledge about this subject.
Thanks, also, for distinguishing the difference between the Tik-tik and the Wak-wak.
Interestingly, the Mexican Lechuza is said to prey on small children, too. It makes a noise and tries to trick a child into walking outside the house and then it snatches him or her.
jolinabetts 16 months ago from The Philippine Islands
Hi TraditionalWitchcraft! Thank you for replying, you’ve been very gracious.
Yes i will research about the books for you. I’d be happy to do that.
May i ask, i always wanted to know if witches in the United States are mostly from American Indian descent? I hope i don’t offend people on this article of yours, I’m curious how witches are in the US? Here they are revered as Hags with unruly hair and who lives in remote areas.
That’s very nice of you. Thank you!
It is a complicated question about witchcraft and who practices it. I tend to define witchcraft pretty broadly to include things that other people might not consider to be witchcraft. In English, we really only have one word for it. I’m not sure it was always that way, though. A lot seemed to change with the advent of popular culture like movies and television. But, if you go back several decades a lot of people had strong folk beliefs and there were many people, especially in rural areas, who were thought to be witches of some kind or other. Usually they distinguished the good from the bad. There were healers, root workers and conjure doctors who took hexes off people. And, there were the malefic witches who cast spells on people.
Some American Indian spiritual practices are similar to witchcraft practices around the world, although I’m not sure they would like to be called witches. They are well known for their abilities to bring rain during a drought and to perform healing miracles. But, they really got shoved to the side. A lot were killed and who knows how many were absorbed by the Europeans. A lot of white people have an Indian grandmother a few generations back, it seems. But, they were so abused and mistreated at one point that this was usually kept secret and sometimes only known by the family. The rest of the Indians were shoved off onto reservations by the middle of the 1800s and a lot of information about them was completely lost. Although, many of these traditional practices are still going on, a lot of Indians grew secretive about them. But, a lot was preserved in books by researchers. The Indians were and probably some of them still are capable of doing a lot of amazing things like being able to walk into an encampment unseen and even to put hexes on people, similar to the mangkukulam spell you mentioned. People who can do things like that are always secretive.
Witchcraft came to this country from everywhere that the people came from. So, there is witchcraft here literally from all over the world. It seems to me that most of it is practiced in the southern and southwestern states, though.
The most intriguing aspect of American witchcraft to me is what I call American Hoodoo. This is witchcraft with both an African and American Indian basis. But, over the years they combined more and more ideas from the Kaballah and European folk practices. I think most people would be surprised at how strong European practices remained in parts of the U.S., especially in the old west or southwest, which is now called the midwest. Right in the middle of the country, out on the old frontier in the middle of the 1800s, there weren’t a lot of Christians preachers or churches – just wilderness and a few Indians. And, it is here that a lot of European practices survived well into the 20th century. (I mention this in my article on Ozark Mountain Love Spells.)
But, a lot of people felt like witchcraft and magic was something only low class or uneducated white people did. A modern form of witchcraft from Britain – Wicca – became popular here between the 1980s and 1990s and it’s very big now. The biggest demographic is probably white and fairly middle class.
But, if I had to hazard a guess about what demographic practices the most witchcraft in the U.S., I’d say it’s the Spanish-speaking people. Most Americans don’t know about it because they don’t speak Spanish or hang out in Spanish-speaking neighborhoods. The other large group of magic practitioners are black people, especially in the south. A lot of them still have their old family traditions handed down from one generation to the next, even those who are essentially Christians. And, based on the people I met when I had my metaphysical bookstore, I’d say there are more black people practicing some form of traditional witchcraft in private than most white people would imagine.
One reason for the survival and strength of American Hoodoo is much more classist than most people would like to believe. And, if you don’t have a lot of money or powerful friends, you don’t get fair treatment or justice. That’s where Hoodoo comes in. For some people in this country, especially in the south, it was the only weapon they had. Sadly, things haven’t changed all that much. And, frankly, I don’t think it’s all that great here for women, either, which is why a lot of women are attracted to it. (I kind of mention that in my review of the movie Season of the Witch – it’s all about white middle-class women turning to witchcraft.) Whenever there is a lot of oppression, witchcraft flourishes and grows stronger. A similar thing is happening in parts of Mexico right now because of all of the corruption and desperation. (I mention this in the Santa Muerte or Holy Death article here – you can see them, if you click my profile picture.)
I apologize for having to speak in such broad generalizations about this subject. I’ve thought about it a lot and I do quite a bit of research on the subject. But, this is just my (one person’s) opinion, of course.
With regard to this: “Here they are revered as Hags with unruly hair and who lives in remote areas.”
Movies like “Bell, Book and Candle” and “I Married a Witch” in the 1940s starring glamourous women as witches began to slowly change the American perception of what a witch is or looks like. The 1960’s to 1970s television series “Bewitched” continued this idea. Witches became very beautiful and glamorous. Most sensible, educated people in the U.S. didn’t believe in witchcraft, at all. But, that started changing more and more from the 1970s (See Season of the Witch – you can see this whole movie, if you go to my blogposts on Season of the Witch) and by the 80s and 90s, witches were trendy – even when they were oddballs and outsiders, they were beautiful and powerful women.
But, there is still the old image of the witch. When I think of the more traditional witch image in the U.S., I think of the Swamp Witch from the Bayous in Louisiana characterized in Jim Stafford’s song by that name.
It’s about a scary witch who lives in a shack in the thick forests and swamps of the south. When there’s an outbreak of some kind of fever, the townsfolk blame Hattie, the swamp witch. But, Hattie cooks up a brew and saves the town. So, there’s still the idea that witches, even scary ones, aren’t all that bad – maybe just misunderstood.
Just like in W. Europe, traditionally in the U.S., good witches are thought of as being young and beautiful and bad witches are thought of us as old hags with warts on their noses. But, increasingly the witch as an old hag is an unpopular image. In fact, some modern witches (Wiccans) kind of have their own public relations group right out of Salem, Massachusetts and elsewhere in the country who monitor negative imagery of witches in the media. They are very active in speaking out against anything they see as inaccurate or negative.
This is beyond interesting! I grew up in the Mexican/US border and my family believed that they were witches! I remember having a cook out with my family at night & one was flew and stood on a light post.. And just looked at us, making some kind of “human laugh..” It sounded exactly like a human laugh and the face was unforgettable.. Just like a “persons” face! My aunt came outside and started rehearsing a prayer backwards and threaten it to being out some “onions and chile” because according to Mexican legends, that is also suppose to make them go Away!
Without a doubt.. If you guys could hear the sound and the face they have… You guys would never forget it!
I would want to add further details about the Aswang. It isnt all the time that aswang takes the form of an owl. A lot of times, aswang takes a humanoid form with unruly hair and red eyes. Aswangs have different types, which are the tik-tik and ‘wak-wak’ among others. They are called such because of the sounds they make when they are around.
Tiktik or “keek-keek” as what others call them is often depicted as a female ghoul with the shape of a bird that feeds on the unborn child of pregnant women and newborn babies. They are known for their long tongues that could penetrate the house to sneak on their victims.
While the Wakwak is said to be a female that has bat-like wings and red eyes. It feeds on the internal organs of its victims, focusing on the heart which is said to be the tastiest part of humans. They are also known to victimize someone who is gravely ill and about to die, which the folks would refer to as “inaaswang”.
Another kind of aswang, “Mananangal” is almost the same as wakwak only that it can separate its torso into two. It is the most popular of all the aswangs because it is often portrayed in Philippine movies. Accding to legend, manananggals are beautiful women during the day. At midnight they would apply a special oil to their body that would enable them to separate the upper half of their body to their trunk. The half of the body would fly to search for victims while the lower half would stay were it is left. It is said that when you find the torso of a manananggal, you can put salt into it so that the upper half would not be able to return and attach with its half eventually causing death to the aswang.
I came across your blog because of my recent encounter with the these creaturse. I am a believer of ghosts and entities but has been a skeptic when it comes to aswang. I thought with the advent of modernization, aswang will remain as a part of Filipino Folklore,but guess I was wrong.
Two nights ago, I was watching TV at our living room when my dad called me to his room. He said in a low voice to listen as he heard a sound that belongs to a tiktik. Our dogs as well as that from our neighbors were all barking and howling, they appear to be distracted at something from the bamboo groves by the river. My dad said that the tiktik might have been watching over the 3 pregnant women in our neighborhood.
I was totally over that story when just last night, my best friend and I decided to hangout at the nearby basketball court. Our place is not rural, in fact it is almost a developed town but mostly occupied with sugarcane farms and a river nearby surrounded with thick bamboo groves. We sat on the bench to talk and as my friend was about to light his cigar, we heard a loud flapping sound from the big tree meters away from us near the river. I was about to leave when my friend tried to stop me saying aloud that it must have been bats hovering around us. The wakwak after hearing what my friend said, has yet to prove to us that she is not a bat, once again flapped its wings much louder than the previous one that the whole tree shook. One could imagine that even the biggest bat cannot make that loud sound that almost shook the whole tree. It must have been coming from big wings, one that wakwaks have. We ran after hearing the second one and swore never to return there again at night.
Almost all of my relatives have a story to share about aswang, and now that I have my own, I could say that these legends are bound to be true.
Thank you for your detailed account of your views on these creatures and your recent experience. Dogs seem to have a keen awareness of thees things, including the Mexican lechuza and it’s pretty common that a visitation is preceded by a peculiar howling of dogs.
When I was little I saw a huge bird out side my house my dad owned 5 little pigs and 2 big pigs the next morning 1 pig disappears my dad could here a crying baby in the woods next to my house are neighbor said he saw a huge bird take are pig .the next day there was a second piglet missing and claw prints in the mud. That night my dad stayed up all night waiting to see what or who was taking the piglets. What he saw scared him. In the distance appeared the bird 3 ft tall. It’s wing span was enormous. He tried to shoot it but the bird seemed to shield itself with its wings. It made a horrible sound as it flew away.
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