Both Marco Polo’s Book of Travels and the Arabian Nights described the Roc, the mythological bird of Arabia. Marko Polo describes rocs living in Madagascar, and envoys from Madagascar present the great Khan of Cathay with a roc feather. In fact Madagascar was the home of a gigantic bird the Aepyornis maximus or elephant bird. This bird may not have become extinct until the sixteenth century. While huge like the roc, this bird was not able to fly.
"A bird of enormous size, bulky body and wide wings, flying in the air; and it was this that concealed the body of the sun and veiled it from the sun." In the account of Marko Polo the wingspan of the roc was 16 yards and the feathers 8 yards, its feathers were as big as palm leaves. The wind was the rush of its wings and its flight was lightning. The bird is usually described as being white. The egg of the roc is said to be over 50 yards in circumference. The Roc could carry an elephant in its claws which it would kill by flying to a great height then dropping the unfortunate creature to crash to its death on the rocks below. According to Arabic tradition, the Roc never lands on earth, only on the mountain Qaf, the center of the world.
There are four stories about the roc in the Arabian Nights, two involving Abd al-Rahman, and two involving Sinbad. In one story involving Sinbad, the roc unknowingly carries Sinbad to safety after a shipwreck. Sinbad was then stranded in a Roc’s nest on top of a mountain where he found an egg as large as 148 hen’s eggs. When the adult bird returned to its nest, Sinbad left his confinement by lashing himself to the Roc’s leg with his turban, without the bird even noticing him. He flew with it so high into the sky that he lost sight of earth. Eventually, he was able to escape when the Roc flew near another island. In the other story involving Sinbad, and in one of the Abd al-Rahman stories rocs destroy ships by dropping boulders on them.
The story of the roc is found in numerous places, and has parallels in many more for example, Anka of Arabia, the Simurgh of Persia, the Garuda of India, to the Phoenix and even the Thunderbird of Native American legend.
“All feathered things yet ever knowne to men,
From the huge Rucke, unto the little Wren;
From Forrest, Fields, from Rivers and from Pons,
All that have webs, or cloven-footed ones;
To the Grand Arke, together friendly came,
Whose severall species were too long to name.”