Look to the skies. Is something is there? Is it a bird? A plane? Or is it a winged monster terrorizing the skies? Are Thunderbirds real? It is a question people have asked for centuries. Many Native American tribes believe the thunderbird is a divine being in animal form. Others believe it to be a long extinct flying dinosaur. Many in the scientific community dismiss the stories as folklore. Can there really be a giant winged beast soaring the skies looking for human prey? Have we been knocked several links down the food chain? The answers may never be known. Let’s explore the legend and history of this winged beast. Hear eyewitness accounts of terror from the skies and decide for yourself. The truth may surprise you.
Wikipedia defines the word Thunderbird as a Cryptozoological term used to describe a large, bird-like creature, generally identified with Native American tradition. Throughout most of history and in most cultures there have been tales, stories, and legends of giant birds. The legend of the Thunderbird reaches back hundreds of years as part of the mythology of several Native American tribes of the Pacific Northwest and the Great Lakes region. This obscure legend might have remained strictly a part of those cultures had it not been for the numerous reports of this great winged creature by the "white man" over the centuries. According to the Native American myths, the giant Thunderbird could shoot lightning from its eyes, and its wings were so enormous that they created peals of thunder when they flapped.
The Thunderbird legend has survived in many present day Native American cultures. Though the Thunderbird myth varies from region to region and tribe to tribe, the Thunderbird was, in the eyes of the ancient Native Americans, a magical animal that was sent by their gods to protect them from the powers of evil. Riding on the wings of the storm, the Thunderbird embodied the power of the storm. Its eyes flashed fire, its cry was like the crack of lightning, and its mighty wings beat with the sound of rolling thunder, ever protecting its people from the powers of evil.
There are at least three different legends of the Thunderbird available to us today. These legends may shed some light on what this mythical creature was like. The first account comes from the Winnebago Indians of the northern Midwest and Plains states. A second comes from the Passamaquoddy Indians of Maine. And a third comes from the Quillayute; a Chimakoan tribe living along the Quillayute River, a six-mile river on the Olympic Peninsula, near Seattle, Washington
The Winnebago were an ancient and powerful people that once spread out from Wisconsin all across the northern Midwest and Plains states to Nebraska. They believed that the Thunderbirds were powerful, eagle-like divine creatures that were able to affect the winds and created storms, lightning, thunder, and rain. They also believed that they could take the form of humans.
They believed Thunderbirds were powerful and warlike avian spirits who animate the gray clouds with thunder and lightning. Together with the Waterspirits, they were the first spirits that Earthmaker created. Their name, Wak'âdja, means, "Divine Ones." On the model of other tribes, they are conventionally called "Thunderbirds," since they alone possess lightning. Their basic somatic form runs the gamut of several species of birds, the hawk and the eagle being the most common. However, they are far stronger in build and have polychrome plumage that gives them a magnificent appearance unrivaled by the birds of earth. Their voices are like the sounds of flutes, recalling both the whistle of wind and the voices of raptors.
Another primary source is from the legends of the Passamaquoddy Indians, who lived in the northeast, in the Quoddy Loop area of Maine and New Brunswick. The Thunderbirds, according to the Passamaquoddy, were men who could transform themselves into flying creatures. These men also processed the power to transform others Indian braves into a Thunderbirds.
This is a very old legend. The story goes something like this. One day two Indians departed their village on a quest to find the origin of thunder. They travelled north through the valleys to the high mountains. When they got there they saw the mountains rocking back and forth. One Indian said, "I will leap through the cleft before it closes. If I am caught, you continue to find the origin of thunder." The Indians steadied themselves and jumped. The first one succeeded in going through the cleft before it closed, but the second one was caught and squashed. On the other side, the first Indian saw a large plain with a group of wigwams. He watched from the shadows at a number of Indians playing a ball game. After a little while, these players said to each other, "It is time to go." They disappeared into their wigwams to put on wings. They came out with their bows and arrows and flew away over the mountains to the south. This was how the Passamaquoddy Indian discovered the homes of the thunderbirds.
The surviving Passamaquoddy Indian brave was so happy he had found the homes of the thunderbirds, he leaped for joy. The remaining old men of that tribe surrounded the young Indian brave and asked him, "What do you want? Who are you?" He replied he was on a quest to discover the origin of thunder and wanted to know the secret of the birdmen. The old men decided to help him. They put the lone Indian into a large mortar and pounded him until all of his bones were broken. They molded him into a new body with wings like the thunderbird, and gave him a bow and some arrows and sent him away in flight. The Indian soared high into the sky and became a powerful Thunderbird. Legend says he soars high in the sky watching over the good Indians.
Another Thunderbird story can be found in the myths and legends of the Quillayute Indians of the Pacific Northwest. The Quillayute describe the Thunderbird as essentially a giant flying creature with feathers and supernatural powers. According to the geologic record, no avian (bird) has ever been discovered as large as the creature the Quillayute described. However, there were flying creatures that were that large - the giant Pterosaur Quetzalcoatlus Northropi, native to the Mesozoic Period (65 million - 230 million years ago) had a wingspan of 33 feet. Quetzalcoatlus Northropi was possibly the largest flying creature on earth in any period. A fully grown Quetzalcoatlus was quite capable of catching and carrying humans. On problem with this theory is the fact that the thunderbird is described as having feathers. However, recent evidence out of China suggests that at least some dinosaurs may have had feathers.
In this story, disaster had struck the Quillayute - rain and hail had fallen for many days, destroying all of the edible plants and making it impossible to fish. Many of their people had been killed by the hail, which was followed by sleet and snow. Out of food, the Quillayute were desperate, and the Great Chief was forced to call upon the Great Spirit for help.
The people waited. No one spoke. There was nothing but silence and darkness. Suddenly, there came a great noise, and flashes of lightning cut the darkness. A deep whirring sound, like giant wings beating, came from the place of the setting sun. All of the people turned to gaze toward the sky above the ocean as a huge, bird-shaped creature flew toward them. This bird was larger than any they had ever seen. Its wings, from tip to tip, were twice as long as a war canoe. It had a huge, curving beak, and its eyes glowed like fire. The people saw that its great claws held a living, giant whale. In silence, they watched while Thunderbird - for so the bird was named by everyone - carefully lowered the whale to the ground before them. It then flew high in the sky and went back to the thunder and lightning it had come from. The Quillayute still pay homage to the Thunderbird. They have never forgotten the visit from the Thunderbird that ended long days of hunger and death. For on the prairie near their village are big, round stones that the grandfathers say are the hardened hailstones of that storm long ago.
Are Thunderbirds real, or are they just an Indian myth? Fact or fiction, the legend of the Thunderbird is a subject of controversy. The Indian legends can’t explain why there are similar stories of Thunderbirds found in the Middle East and around the world. It is known by different names in various countries: In Egypt it is called the Phoenix. It is known as the Simurgh in Iran, and in Persia it is called the Amrzs. Stories of these birds had existed in Persian and in Arabic oral tradition for hundreds of years.
Skeptic say that perhaps the legends are retold to account for the African ostrich, or perhaps even the enormous Aepyornis elephant bird, which was larger than an ostrich but was extinct around 120 AD. The giant bird theme also appears in Hindu and Buddhist mythology as the Garuda, a great, winged beast that the creator-god Vishnu rides. Ancient Jewish tradition called such a creature Ziz, and it is large enough to block out the sun. Mythology in Fiji records a similar bird called a Kanivatu, and in China it is known as a Peng.
One legend says a Thunderbird attacked Sinbad the Sailor’s ship and injured the crew; the story was eventually written down in 1001 Nights’. Even the 13th century trader and explorer, Marco Polo, wrote of these birds:
“It was for all the world like an eagle, but one indeed of enormous size; so big in fact that its quills were twelve paces long and thick in proportion. And it is so strong that it will seize an elephant in its talons and carry him high into the air and drop him so that he is smashed to pieces; having so killed him, the bird swoops down on him and eats him at leisure.”
Could a Turkey Vulture with a wingspan of up to 6 feet be the culprit? Could it be a simple eagle? The largest and most powerful eagle in the world is the American Harpy eagle, with a wingspan of seven feet. But even the Harpy could only lift something the size of a rabbit.
Modern Thunderbird theories are less mythical and more scientific. Some well renown cryptozoologists believe that the thunderbird is a Giant Condor, also called an Aiolornis. These birds had a wingspan of up to 18 feet and dominated the skies. They became extinct 13,000 years ago, but some believe they may still exist today and reside inside the United States. Others believe the thunderbird may be a Prehistoric Pterodactyls that somehow survived the extinction of the dinosaurs. The debate rages on.
The size of the Teratorn was large enough to pick up a man and carry him off.
Some cryptozoologists have a hard time grasping how such a large bird could even possibly take flight. Aiolornis incredibilis (previously known as Teratornis) was a vulture-like creature which had the wingspan of about 16 feet (5 meters) yet was still capable of flight. This bird originated from, you guessed it, North America. While this bird would never have been seen by human beings. A relative of it, Teratornis Merriami, might have been seen by early American Indians.
WING OF THE GIANT BIRD (Photo missing)
This is believed to be the humerus bone of a Teratorn wing. The bone measured fourteen inches in length, which translates into a wingspan with a minimum of twelve feet to as much as sixteen feet, possibly larger. A similar humerus unearthed in Argentina measured twenty-two inches, indicating a wingspan of twenty-five feet.
Above (from Padian 1985): A generalized bird wing (hum= humerus,
r= radius, u= ulna, c= carpus, mc= metacarpus, I-III= numbered digits).
Feather size is estimated to have been 1.5 meters (60 inches...that is, FIVE FEET long); and 20 centimeters wide (8 inches). The large wing size would limit this bird to more open areas such as the South American pampas or the North American Great Plains as maneuverability around trees and shrubs would be difficult. It is not presently known if this Teratorn actively flew by flapping its wings or if it mostly soared as do present-day Condors.
Argentine scientists' have unearthed the fossil remains of what seems to be the world's largest known flying bird, Argentavis Magnificens. With a wingspan of 25 feet, the bird measured' 11 feet from beak to tail, and weighed in at l60 to 170 lbs. Its first wing bone, the humerus, was approximately 22 inches long.
Largest "Terror Bird" Fossil Found in Argentina [NationalGeographic 2006-10-25]
The Phorusrhacid, or terror bird, was a massive creature with a sharp, curving beak. The fossilized skull of this new specimen is seen in the bottom photo side by side with the modern California condor skull. It is 2.3 feet (almost a meter) long and represents the largest bird skull ever found. Could this be the feared Thunderbird?
Terror birds were the biggest birds the world has ever seen. These birds had skulls that were two and a half feet [almost a meter] in length. They were colossal animals. The new, currently unnamed species stood about ten feet (three meters) tall and had a head as big as that of a horse. The largest terror birds could likely swallow dog-size prey in a single gulp, experts say. The bird's most striking feature, literally, was its giant nose, a roughly 18-inch (46-centimeter) beak with a sharp, curving hook shaped like an eagle's beak.
These birds used their beaks to impale or bludgeon their prey. A single hit from their massive skulls would have killed anything immediately. Terror birds were first discovered in the late 1800s and are believed to have become South America's top predators after the dinosaurs died off 65 million years ago. Could the terror bird still be alive today?
A gigantic bird has been sighted in Pennsylvania. On the evening of Tuesday, September 25, 2001, a 19-year-old claimed to have seen an enormous winged creature flying over Route 119 in South Greensburg, Pennsylvania. The witness's attention was drawn to the sky by a sound that resembled "flags flapping in a thunderstorm." Looking up, the witness saw what appeared to be a bird that had a wingspan of an estimated 10 to 15 feet and a head about three feet long.
On September 25, the witness told researcher Dennis Smeltzer, that the huge black or grayish-brown bird passed overhead at about 50 to 60 feet. "I wouldn't say it was flapping its wings gracefully," the witness told Smeltzer, "but almost horrifically flapping its wings very slowly, then gliding above the passing big rig trucks."
The witness observed the creature for about 90 seconds in total, even seeing it land on the branches of a dead tree, which nearly broke under its great weight. Unfortunately, no other witnesses saw the bird on this date, and no tangible evidence could be found for the bird after the site was searched. What makes this story more interesting, however - even plausible - is that other sightings of similar description were reported in Pennsylvania in June and July, 2001.
On June 13, a resident of Greenville, Pa. was startled by the great size of the grayish-black creature seen soaring overhead, at first thinking it was a small airplane, or ultralight aircraft! This witness observed the bird for at least 20 minutes, clearly seeing its fully feathered body and confidently estimating its wingspan to be about 15 feet and its body length at about 5 feet. This bird, too, was seen to perch on a tree for at least 15 minutes before taking to air again and flying off toward the south. A neighbor of this witness claimed to have seen the creature the next day, describing it as "the biggest bird I ever saw."
Less than a month later, on July 6, a witness in Erie County, Pa. reported a very similar sighting, according to an item in Fortean Times magazine. Again, the creature's wingspan was estimated to be 15 to 17 feet and was described as "dark gray with little or no neck, and a circle of black under its head. Its beak was very thin and long - about a foot in length."
There were multiple sightings of Thunderbirds in Pennsylvania. If these reports are accurate, these birds are the largest flying creatures yet identified by science. By comparison, the largest known bird is the wandering albatross with a wingspan of up to 12 feet. The largest predatory birds - which the Thunderbird is most often likened to - are the Andean condor (10.5-foot wingspan) and the California condor (10-foot wingspan).
Among the most controversial reports happened on July 25, 1977, near Kickapoo Creek, in Lawndale, Logan County, Illinois. About 9 p.m. a group of three boys were at play in a residential back yard when two large birds approached and chased the boys. Two boys escaped unharmed, but the third boy, 10-year-old Marlon Lowe did not. One bird suddenly swooped down and grabbed the boy, carrying him a few feet before dropping him, apparently because of his frightened mother’s screams. The incident occurred in front of seven witnesses. All of whom described exactly the same thing: two huge, coal-black birds with long, white-ringed necks, long curled beaks, and wingspans of 10 or more feet.
More recently, in an article published on Wednesday October 16, 2002, in the Anchorage Daily News, a report of "a giant winged creature like something out of Jurassic Park" was sighted several times in Southwest Alaska. The pilot that spotted the creature was flying passengers to Manokotak, Alaska. He estimated its wingspan to match the length of a wing on one side of his Cessna 207, about 14 feet. Other people have put the wingspan in a similar range.
Skeptics believe the mysterious bird was probably a Steller Sea Eagle; a bird with a wingspan of up to eight feet. On March 2008, several reports were recorded of strange, flying creatures in Chile, and other areas of South America. Many individuals claimed to have seen a very large, raptor-like bird with an 18 to 20 foot wingspan.
Numerous sightings of the thunderbird continue today. In the last 100 years Thunderbird sightings have increased exponentially. Many people have claimed to have seen a great bird soaring high in the skies. In fact, numerous witnesses have claimed to have seen creatures that resembled pterodactyls; the winged reptiles that should have been extinct 60 million years ago. Are all these people suffering from some mass delusion? Are the skies filled with monstrous winged creatures? Are thunderbirds real? In the end, we have to decide for ourselves.
Next time you see a large shadow swooping across the ground, take cover. It might be a large eagle? It might be a low flying aircraft? Or it might be a Thunder Bird, and you might be lunch.