|"A sky bison is a companion for life."|
|— Sister Iio to the Air Nomad children.|
The flying bison, also known as sky bison and air bison, lived in the air temples along with the Air Nomads. The most notable flying bison was Appa, Avatar Aang's animal guide and Team Avatar's primary means of long-distance transportation. Some bison also live in the Fire Nation, tended to on an island by the Bhanti.
Prior to the Hundred Year War, many flying bison lived in the air temples. They were highly respected by the Air Nomads, who regarded them as the first airbenders. While airbenders were in training, they each received a flying bison to become their lifelong companion. The sky bison was believed to be the only way in which people could reach an air temple during Avatar Aang's time.
After the Air Nomad Genocide, Appa was believed to be the last of the flying bison. However, during his adventures after the Hundred Year War, Aang discovered a new herd that started to grow again with colonies of healthy bison residing at all of the air temples.
When Ikki ran away while visiting the Southern Air Temple in 171 AG, she hid in a cave that a bison family had made their home. While both parents were out, the young airbender entertained the four calves whom she had named Blueberry Spicehead, Princess Rainbow, Twinkle Starchild, and Juniper Lightning Bug. When Tenzin eventually found his daughter, he joined her in the cave, bonding particularly with Blueberry Spicehead.
After Korra reconnected with her Avatar Spirit, she was given a flying bison from a herd that an elderly female shaman and other members of the Bhanti had been raising since the Hundred Year War. The Avatar used the bison to travel to the Eastern Air Temple in preparation for the upcoming Harmonic Convergence. A few weeks after Harmonic Convergence, poachers near the Northern Air Temple began to capture week-old bison calves to sell for food to the upper class in Ba Sing Se, but were thwarted by Tenzin, the new airbenders, and adult bison.
When the Red Lotus ambushed the Air Nation at the Northern Air Temple, the airbenders attempted to evacuate using the flying bison at the stable. Before they could reach them, however, a nearby explosion, caused by P'Li's combustionbending, spooked the animals and they took off without the humans. Later that evening, a bison calf licked Kai while the young airbender was suspended upside down on a tree after being shot unconscious by P'Li. As he came to, the baby bison lowered himself, allowing Kai to descend upon his back. Earning a stroke on his head, the bison flew them out of there.
Flying bison have five stomachs, flat manatee-like tails, brown eyes, shaggy white fur, and a brown arrow that runs along their back from tail-tip to forehead. They have six legs with three toes on each foot. Each toe has three knuckles allowing the feet to act as rudimentary hands, with enough dexterity for the average bison to grasp an adult human without harming them. A concern for human companions when grooming their bison is making sure to clean any mud and insects out from between the toes. As they are primarily herbivores, flying bison have flat teeth shaped like peanuts, which are spread out on the roof and bottom of the mouth in groups of ten. From a young age, flying bison possess two pointed horns on their heads that are initially short and blunt but grow in length as they grow older.
They have four transversal stripes running over their back and tail, which ends in a brown tip, though the ones Aang rediscovered after the Hundred Year War has a slightly different fur pattern with multiple brown stripes running down their backs, which doesn't end in a brown tip, and brown ears instead of white.
Within three years, a flying bison becomes an average-size bison, and a fully-grown flying bison can easily weigh ten tons. Part of the flying bison's physiology is the extreme muscle dexterity needed to support and move their body. They are tremendously powerful animals capable of smashing through sheer earth, create shockwaves with their tails and throw humans and other animals over a great distance. The tail is dexterous enough to touch the middle of their back, even with quite a bit of force if necessary.
While flying bison graze on grass and tree top leaves in nature, they are capable of consuming a wide variety of plant life, typically offered by humans, and hay if it is available. They also eat fruits and vegetables, such as apples, watermelon, cabbage, and seaweed.
All flying bison employ airbending to fly, using their wide tails to steer through air currents and to defend themselves from attacks. They are also able to use their mouths to airbend. Flying bison use flight to graze from the top of trees. Since young flying bison are incapable of flight for a week or two after they are born, the adults of the herd will stay close to the ground during this time to protect them.
Flying bison possess a good memory, as Appa was shown to find his way back to the site of Wan Shi Tong's library after the building had disappeared into the Spirit World, leaving nothing but an unremarkable crater in the middle of a mostly featureless desert.
Though fairly docile, flying bison can be fierce and powerful opponents if pressed or enraged, possessing great physical strength and airbending skills, as Appa demonstrated on several occasions. Parents are also protective of their young, flightless offspring and will attack anyone who gets near them. However, if the person is on good terms with the bison, they are allowed to get close to the calves. These creatures were the main means of transportation for Air Nomads.
It was customary for young Air Nomads to choose a flying bison to be their lifelong companion: Aang chose Appa at the Eastern Air Temple when he was a young child by giving him an apple. This tradition changed following the emergence of the Air Nation, with the bison themselves choosing their own lifelong companions. If the human companion of a flying bison dies, that bison will typically flee to become part of a wild herd, though Pengpeng, the flying bison of Kelsang, instead chose to remain with Avatar Kyoshi and her companions following the airbending master's death. However, even Pengpeng eventually left Kyoshi to return to the Southern Air Temple to raise calves of her own because only Air Nomads can tame a flying bison and bond with one for life.
Airbenders use the command "yip-yip" to prompt their bison to take flight, with the association between the verbal cue and the action becoming apparent even prior to formal training of calves. To summon a bison from a distant location, it is possible to use a bison whistle, which emits a sound at a frequency inaudible to humans but clearly detectable for bison. It takes years for an individual to truly tame and train a bison.
At the Northern Air Temple, airbenders held championships for bison polo, which was played in the air; as airbenders rode their bison and tried to force the ball with their polo mallet into an opponent's goal.
Notable flying bison
The flying bison is a hybrid between a bison and a manatee. The real-life bison shares a similar history to the flying bison, in that they were a very abundant species until foreigners came and hunted them down, reducing their numbers to near-extinction. Both have also been commonly misidentified as a buffalo. Though their physical similarities are minimal, in most circumstances, both flying bison and manatees gracefully move through their respective domains of sky and sea with minimal use of their limbs aside from their tails.
Like bats and most birds (aside from megapodes), sky bison are flightless and defenseless in the first weeks of life.
- Original designs of flying bison made them more closely resemble sea manatees.
- The movement animation of the flying bison was heavily influenced by the similarly-shaped multi-legged Catbus in Hayao Miyazaki's movie My Neighbor Totoro. The series' creators have professed their love of Miyazaki's work in many interviews.
- Flying bison are the world's loudest snorers, with airbenders being second.
- Both flying bison and dragons have shown affection by licking people.
- Bryan Konietzko likened the discovery of new herds of flying bison after the Air Nomad Genocide to the continued discovery of new animal species in the 21st century.
- In Avatar Korra's time, the new breed of sky bison that reside on Air Temple Island live in a series of caves. However, Aang's sky bison, Appa, had a fear of going in caves, indicating that Appa's phobia was a personal trait rather than a behavioral trait of the species.
- The flying bison are revered by the Air Nomads for inspiring the art of airbending; the tattoos of an airbending master deliberately imitate the arrow-shaped markings of the bison.
- Flying bison meat is a rare delicacy enjoyed primarily by nobles living in the upper echelon of Ba Sing Se. This is considered to be "disgusting" by Air Nomads like Jinora.
- Shuzumu called Appa a "Wind Buffalo."