Zapdos is an avian Pokémon with predominantly yellow plumage. Black rings encircle its eyes, and it has a long, thin, light orange beak. Its wings and tail are a mass of spiky feathers, with black feathers covering the back of its wings and inner tail feathers. A large crest of spiked feathers surrounds its head. Its thighs are a khaki color, and it has anisodactyl feet ending in talons.
When Zapdos flaps its glittering wings, it releases electricity that can potentially cause thunderstorms. It produces massive crackling and snapping sounds when it flies; these are attributed to the lightning bolts it sheds when airborne. When stricken by lightning, it gains power. Zapdos reportedly appears only during thunderstorms, and is said to live among thunderclouds. However, it is rarely seen.
Zapdos, as depicted in an ancient legend, is the titan of lightning.
Zapdos appears to have two sets of wings, stating it has a black part and a yellow part.
Of all Legendary Pokémon with fixed in-game locations, Zapdos can be obtained with the fewest number of Badges: 3. In the Generation I games and their remakes, the player can catch Zapdos with only the Boulder Badge, Cascade Badge, and Soul Badge.
Zapdos shares its category with Elekid and Electabuzz. They are all known as the Electric Pokémon.
Zapdos and Jolteon's Japanese names are almost exactly the same as each other's, with a final s being the only difference.
Zapdos possesses a type advantage over all other members of its trio, as well as its trio master, Lugia.
In the anime episode The Bridge Bike Gang, Chopper's bike was decorated to look like a Zapdos.
Zapdos may be based on the Native American legend of the thunderbird. The thunderbird was known for being the spirit of thunder, lightning, and rain in the form of a giant bird. The beating of the wings was said to create thunder. It may also have been based on the lightning bird, a bird created from wherever lightning hits the earth. Aesthetically it may also be based of hummingbirds, due to the long beak, the rather simple wings and described violent behaviour.
It is possible that the last part of each birds name are puns, because the last syllable of each of the Legendary Birds is a number in Spanish (ex. Articuno, Zapdos, Moltres). Zapdos would then be the second Legendary Bird of the trio. Zapdos' name could also be hinting at the Generation V main legendary pokemon Zekrom, also an electric type. Since its name means electric-two, it is possible Zapdos could have been a foreshadowing of Zekrom.