Pitohui
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Basic Information

The Pitohui (also known as the Hooded Pitohui which sounds much more sinister) is a poisonous bird native to New Guinea. In appearance it's small, and has black head and wings with a bright orange or brick-red body. It feeds on poisonous beetles, which it is immune to itself, but it secretes the consumed alkaloid batrachotoxin into its skin and feathers. This helps protect it from parasites and predators. It's chemically similar to the poison in a poison-arrow tree-frog. In this case, a brief touch will leave your hand feeling numb, and eating a pitohui without very careful and knowledgeable preparation would be disastrous. Don't try this at home, kids.

Sources

Game and Story Use

  • You don't hear about too many poisonous bird species (because there aren't many, and most of them live in New Guinea or the Papua Islands). Players/audiences are unlikely to expect it (unless you're from that part of the world) so it could work well in a murder mystery plotline.
    • A Halloween-colored feather boa, or a pillow stuffed with such pitohui feathers would make a novel murder weapon.
    • If I'm understanding the source material correctly, they may not be lethal at the levels of exposure you're likely to get from handling the feathers, and the numbing sensation is something of a clue that something is going wrong well before it kills you. You could either fudge realism for the sake of plot, or introduce some other plot element or character quirk that makes the victim more vulnerable or less likely to notice the numbness. Like if someone had a disability or disease that caused numbness, they might wear the boa or use the pillow all night and not realize that the toxin is slowly building up in their system.
      • Toss it onto someone who has already been drinking and watch them pass out. Then leave it on … very few people will be that worried about a passed out drunk wearing a carnival scarf. Meanwhile the poison starts to build up.
      • Someone numbed might not notice injuries from other sources. They try out your exotic boa, only for you to warn them late that it has to be worn over clothing only. Later, they end up garrotted, but the lack of any apparent struggle leads the detective to think this must have been done after the death.
    • If the PCs are investigating the crime scene, perhaps a clue they uncover is that, after all day cataloging evidence, one of them starts to develop numbness in their fingers. What's causing it?
  • Could be used as a template for other creatures, especially in a setting with really nasty predators, there may evolve a lot of species that you wouldn't expect to be toxic, but are.
    • A poisonous phoenix, griffon, hippalectryon, hippogriff, could be interesting, and feels perfectly appropriate in the weird ecologies of D&D.
    • Bird would also do for dinosaur - a feathered dinosaur (or later, a terror bird) might also have this sort of defence.
    • It's probably overkill adding contact poison to the attacks of a huge and already-deadly bird like a terror bird, or even an ostrich or cassowary, but if you need to bump up the diffculty of a situation, it's an option, and it could make sense defensively if even bigger predators are in the environment.
    • A poisonous falcon has obvious uses for an assassin. It would take very careful handling and/or mithridatism in addition to falconry training.
  • Perhaps a ratcatcher or animal control agency tries to eliminate a pest species by distributing poison. It does kill a bunch of them, but also provides a smorgasbord for larger species who eat the slowed and damaged pests. They gorge themselves, and exude poison for weeks, leading to all sorts of extra ripple effects and trouble.
  • A lot of alkaloids are powerfully psychoactive - a bird that eats the "right" kind of beetle in this manner could get an (undeserved) reputation for magical powerss after people attempting to catch it are dosed with a hallucinogen.
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