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Harpies are an all female race of half-women half-bird creatures. They possess huge wings in place of arms and long, scaly legs ending in razor-sharp talons. Many harpies grow feathers on various parts of their body, most notably on their thighs and a set of tail feathers near their buttocks, though it varies between species. Felaryan harpies are widely known as a giant species and have a reputation as one of the top predators of the skies, feared for their voracious appetite and awe-inspiring swiftness in the air. In truth, harpies come in all sorts of species and sizes. Some about as tall as humans, some only a little shorter than their well-known giant cousins, and some small enough to fit in the palm of your hand. Similarly, although the majority of Felaryan harpies seem to borrow their avian features from birds of prey such as eagles, hawks and buzzards, some species take after other birds, such as crows, gulls, and even hummingbirds, creating an amazing variety of them.
Harpies possess a lightweight skeleton highly adapted for flight. Many of their bones are thin and hollow with criss-crossing internal struts and trusses that make them strong enough to withstand the stresses of taking off, flying and landing. They have a keel extending from their sternum to which their powerful flight muscles are attached.
Harpies possess a complex set of lungs adapted for their high metabolic rate and oxygen demand in flight. Unlike humans, they do not possess a diaphragm and their lungs are proportionally small. Instead, harpies have roughly eight or nine air sacs that store and pump air through their lungs. This allows for a unidirectional flow of air, which allows them to extract a higher concentration of oxygen, and even take in oxygen during exhalation. Thanks to this, a harpy is able to breathe at much higher elevations than other races could. This efficient lung structure is not without its faults, however. Because the sternum must move during respiration, holding a harpy too tightly around the chest can easily cause her to suffocate. Moreover, because they transfer more oxygen with each breath, airborne toxins are more efficiently transferred as well.
The most important sense for a harpy is her vision and they are known far and wide for their phenomenal visual acuity over other races. From high up in the sky, they are able to spot a tiny human all the way down on the ground with near perfect clarity. This is thanks in part to their lens being able change shape more quickly and to a greater extent than a human, allowing them to better focus on an object. Moreover, harpies developed a pecten oculi, a comb-like structure of blood vessels in the back of their eyes. With this structure, far fewer blood vessels are located in front of the retina that would normally partially obscure perceived images. However, because a harpy's eyes are optimized for maximum spatial resolution rather than light perception, they typically see very poorly in low light. With the exception of nocturnal species, whose eyes are better suited to function in poor lighting, most harpies are forced to adopt a diurnal behavior. Though harpies possess fully functional human eyelids, they still boast an almost transparent and thin protective membrane to ward off their eyes in flight while maintaining visibility.
A harpy's hearing is their second most important sense. Though hard to tell, their ears are shaped slightly differently to better focus sound. Although their hearing range being roughly similar to a human's, harpies are very sensitive to changes in pitch, tone and rhythm. This allows them to better hear incoming danger and even help them in communication.
Felaryan harpies are generally seen by others as a tough race with a terrible temper, and can easily appear as heartless to those who aren't familiar with their strange customs. Similar to fairies, harpies are highly free-spirited, doing whatever they want whenever they want with little regard for consequences. If they want to go somewhere, they will. They won't hesitate to meddle in the business of others, and if a harpy desires something, she's probably not going to think twice about stealing it either. That's not to say they are completely insensitive. Harpies enjoy the company of their kin and often form flocks of sorts and are capable of engaging in conventional protective and considerate behavior. A lot of what is perceived by other races as rude is actually considered affectionate gestures among harpies. Aside from other harpies, they also enjoy the company of dryads and it's not uncommon for a harpy to roost in their branches.
That hedonistic nature has put them at odds with sphinxes, whom harpies tend to despise on an almost instinctual level. Aside from being their greatest rival as the rulers of Felarya's skies, they see sphinxes as a self-righteous mob, full of themselves in how they place their idea of justice above all and impose it on others. The two races have waged fierce wars in the past that blackened the skies and tainted the surface red. Although there hasn't been a conflict of this magnitude between the two races in centuries, harpies and sphinxes still do not see eye to eye, and skirmishes over food or turf aren't uncommon.
It's worth noting that harpies have a bit of a fascination for wearing accessories. Because they lack hands, their selection of apparels is severely limited though.
Felaryan harpies are famous for their foul language and their sarcastic, mocking retorts, and have the strange habit of punctuating their sentences with threats and insults. They normally don't mean it at all though, it's just traditional for them to use insults, and it would seem odd and unusual if they didn't. For example, if a harpy wanted to say: "I wish to speak to your sister", she would add a threat, like: "Let me see your sister or face my wrath!" If the other harpy wanted to reply: "She's not here", then she might actually say: "Insolent fool! My sister has more important matters to deal with than speaking to the likes of you!"
Upon hearing that exchange, one might conclude that the two harpies are on the verge of fighting each other, when it's nothing more than a casual exchange. This tradition is deeply ingrained in their culture and transmitted down from generation to generation. Some harpies delight in what they see as "proper speaking", inventing striking and creative insults that sometimes become famous among their peers and earn them respect and admiration. The only time they would skip this custom is if they are in a hurry or if they have something very important to say. It's completely natural for them though, and while some harpies manage to hold back their insults when speaking to other races, most of them just don't bother at all. Needless to say this habit contributes a lot to their reputation as being a rude and mean lot in the eyes of other races. Aul Ne'kmu'm is a well know Harpiologist who dedicated years to study their language and its true meaning. Here are some of his observations.
Depending on the species, Felaryan harpies can be either omnivores or carnivores, but like most sapient predators, they have a preference for tiny, live prey. They remain aloft at high altitudes or stay perched on the highest branches where they would be difficult to detect. Once they spot prey, they attack with a sudden and swift swoop, mouth wide open to snatch it off the ground or catching it with their claws. Being without hands, harpies have become extremely agile with their mouth and tongue. Although many like to hunt alone, they won't hesitate to hunt in groups every once in a while. When that happens, they are known to play cruel games with their prey, usually involving dropping the terrified victim and letting one of their sisters catch it in midair, then repeating the process again and again, until one of them grows tired of the game and simply gulps down the prey in flight. Occasionally, they may attack sedentary giant tribes, such as Aloes elves, and steal whatever crop or harvest, or trinkets, they can get their talons on.
Harpies also possess the ability to inhale small prey into their mouth just like a vacuum. They primarily use this powerful suction to snatch prey hiding in spots they otherwise would not be able to reach into like a hole in a tree. This ability was at first believed to be the product of wind magic, as it is most commonly used by the Rock harpies inhabiting the Ascarlin mountains, who use this ability to feast on miners and adventurers hiding in the mountain's numerous tunnels. However, further research revealed that other species of harpies are also capable of this ability as well. There are currently heated debates whether this ability is the product of latent magical powers or the result of a unique organ that acts somewhat like a diaphragm.
Being an all female race, harpies mate with males of other races to reproduce. Like birds, harpies lay eggs and must keep them warm until they are ready to hatch. A baby harpy inherits a small amount of genetic material from her father, but otherwise, the offspring of a harpy mother is always born a harpy. The paternal genes only affect minor traits, such as hair and eye color, and to an extent, feather coloration, though it may also affect things like facial structure and body shape. Harpy babies, known as chicks or nestlings, are born without flight feathers, and are entirely dependent on their mother for sustenance and protection. From wandering nagas to lurking arboreal frogs, there are many threats to a newborn harpy in Felarya. Thus when the mother must leave to hunt, she will often entrust the care of her chicks to a friend or sister. Harpies are very protective of nestlings and defend the vulnerable newborns ferociously whenever danger decides to rear its ugly head.
Until they grow old enough to develop their flying feathers, the mother is responsible for teaching everything to her chicks, from how to eat, to how to care for themselves, and how to "politely" address their neighbors. Once old enough, the mother then teaches them how to fly. Although her friends and sisters might taunt the nestlings, they'll of course catch them safely until they master the art of flying. After they prove they are ready to leave the nest and hunt without help, they are considered full-fledged adults and are thus treated the same way older harpies typically treat one another.
- Credits to Shady-knight for writing the revised description.