Wednesday, 15 October 2008

Thunderbirds Are Go!!!

My kingdom for a photo!!!! For decades cryptozoologists have desperately searched for proof that one picture exists; that of a giant bird in a barn surrounded by the men who supposedly captured it. The one pictured is not THE picture.

The story goes that in April 1890 two cowboys in Arizona/Texas (sources conflict) killed a giant flying creature, whose description was more like that of a pterodactyl. They dragged it to a barn, pinned it's wings along a wall and took a picture of them and friends with it. This picture, supposedly, appeared in the Tombstone Epitaph (a newspaper title that I just love! Why can't all newspaper titles be so evocative? The Sun just doesn't cut it with me). And then it disappeared. But many claim to have seen it, lent it out to friends and never gotten back and been taught about it in school textbooks. But despite all this, no one has found it. More information on the search for the picture can be found here. I think there are people out there who'd give their right arms just to get their hand(s) on a copy of that picture.

But the Thunderbird, for that is the name given to giant bird like creatures in North America, has origins well before the 19th Century. In fact well before any of those troublesome Old Worlders landed in North America. Some Native American tribes have myths relating to these giants of the sky, dating back hundreds, maybe thousands, of years. There are two different meanings behind the name, dependent on which legend you read. Some say that the Thunderbird is a creature that creatures thunderstorms. Others suggest that the thunderbird is usually seen during a storm and that is how the name came about. More about that in a second. There's a really good source of Native American counts of the Thunderbird. But the stories didn't disappear with the invasion of Europeans.

I take the following modern account from here:

July 25, 1977 Lawndale Illinois it was around 8:30 p.m. when Marlon Lowe a 10 year old boy was running for his life. He was playing with two friends in his family back yard when suddenly out of no where two huge black birds came out of the sky and began pursuing one of Marlons friends Travis Goodwin happily, Travis managed to escape by jumping into the swimming pool. Then the two switched there attention to Marlon. Marlon ran away as fast as he could but it was not fast enough. As he w as running he felt the talons of one of the birds grip the shoulder straps of his sleeveless shirt. Next the boy weighing 65 lb. was lifted of the ground 10 ft. Screaming and shouting at the top of his lungs as the bird easily carried him 40 ft. through the air from the back yard to the front yard. His parents Ruth and Jake Lowe heard the screaming and ran out side so did two family friends working near by Ruth was the first to see this horrific sight that would froze her blood. There her son was being abducted by a huge black bird resembling a Condor, punching up at its legs with all his might as his feathered kidnapper carried him aloft. Seconds later however, one of his punches must have hit home, because the bird suddenly opened his talons and dropped him to the ground before souring away with its mate. The four adults ran to the boy and discovered to there relief that except for a frayed shirt where the bird had grabbed him Marlon was physically ok. This is just one of the many bizarre accounts on file featuring encounters in North America with giant birds. Birds that should be impossible but yet seem to exist. In the case of Marlon Lowe he and his parents said the bird most closely resembled a Andean Condor, a black vulture like species with a wing span up to 10 ft. this species however is not native to North America. There is however a smaller version called the California condor which was once widely distributed across North America but by 1977 was virtually extinct in either case the structure of the condors feet in incapable of lifting and transporting anything as heavy as a ten year old boy.
Other stories taken from here include:

In the early 1940s, writer Robert R. Lyman spotted a Thunderbird sitting on a road near Coudersport, Pennsylvania. It soon took to the sky, spreading its 20-foot wingspan

In 1969, the wife of a Clinton County, Pa. sheriff saw an enormous bird over Little Pine Creek. She said its wingspan appeared to be about as long as the creek was wide - about 75 feet!

In 1970, several people saw the gigantic bird "soaring toward Jersey Shore [Pa.]. It was dark colored, and its wingspread was almost like [that of] an airplane."

In 1948, several witnesses along the Illinois-Missouri border sighted a condor-like bird about the size of a Piper Club airplane.
Could a bird the size of a plane really be alive today? Other large flying birds didn't survive human contact. I hold a deep seated grudge against the Maori people for the disappearance of Haast's Eagle, a bird with the wing span of up to 3 metres!! And it was still alive in the times of Geoffrey Chaucer! In human terms that's a while ago, but in real terms that's practically last week! I am most grumpy it died out so recently. I can get over not seeing a dinosaur but when something so beautiful was alive within the time period I've traced my own family tree back to it's a darn shame. America megafauna suffered a similar fate when the ancestors of the Native Americans first arrived. Is it possible that such a large creature, probably a competitor to human hunters and a risk surely to their lives, could survive into the modern age? There is some evidence that a giant flying bird did once exist in North America. Perhaps the Native Americans myths scared them so greatly that they left the birds alone out of respect and fear. Such a thing helped the Aye-aye survive human inhabitation of Madagascar.

It's interesting that the myths reflect that the birds were often seen with storms as I said earlier. Could these creatures be using the winds to help them travel as many known species do today?

Or could this perhaps be a mixture of everyone's favourite illusion; perspective. A bird in the sky is a hard thing to size up. The lack of anything to relate the bird to means a large bird might appear gigantic. Other sightings on the West Coast could be sightings of rather lost Steller's Sea Eagles. These birds are huge and for the non-ornithological average American might appear, especially with the help of poor perspective, to be a Thunderbird. I sure wouldn't want to be on the wrong side of Steller's Sea Eagle!

Whislt some suggest the Thunderbird is some undiscovered or relic species of giant bird, others have a slightly more... unusual idea. One word: Pterodactyls. From Wisconsin to South Carolina reports of giant flying reptiles have been recorded.

North America is a rather large landmass and it's not beyond the realms of possibility that hidden in untraversed mountain passes and deep in forested areas a giant bird could, perhaps, have a nest out of harms way. But surely such a large creature would show up on radar sometimes? Wouldn't it have been seen by aircraft? Would there not be more stories of children being taken? Hmm... I don't know, anything is possible.

You can watch the Birdzilla episode of Monster Quest on Youtube, Part One is here. Features some supposed footage of these giant birds.

Further Reading


Scumbag Sam said...

Hmmm... could it be? Maybe its a dragon? hehe. I love these old stories that get passed down through generations. God I wish I knew if it was real. But alas, If i spent time trying to figure these things out I would have to quit my job, and pretty soon I think all my friends would stop talking to me... the curse of curiosity mixed with vague obsession...

Jason said...

I think there is a good chance that there is some sort of giant bird roaming around. There are plenty of places in the word for giant birds to roost and go practically unnoticed. Not to mention they probably don't have as large a population as other birds of prey since they would be a super predator. And I don't know about anyone else on here, but when I see a large bird flying I often do a double take just to make sure that it's not possibly a Thunderbird.

Jae Kay said...

Hi Scumbag Sam! I think we all want to know for sure but, alas, these stories are rarely concluded...

Naveed... as a Brit whenever I see a large bird I don't think it's a Thunderbird because I know it's just a seagull. I wish I lived in Oregon!!!

cube said...

I love how October brings out all these creepy stories. As for me, I'll believe it when I see it.

Manodogs said...

Great job covering the Thunderbirds. I wrote a piece on it some time back after viewing the MonsterQuest episode you reference and had a post on it over to the original OddBlog (which was unceremoniously lost when the company owning the host went under without warning!), but have yet to do a thorough entry. You did so well, I guess I needn't bother!

As for the storms, it is true that this is where the name came from and there are two plausible theories for this:

1) The storms stir the beasts from their roosts
2) (and my favorite) The birds appear before the storms, borne on their winds

While both make a lot of common sense, the latter has a lot of scientific evidence backing it. Supposedly, storm winds are strong enough that a bird can soar on them literally across the world. This has been the "reasoning" scientists have given for many birds found far from their native habitats. Most of those sightings/findings coincide with large storm systems.

Pterodactyls are not completely unbelievable. Sharks, crocodiles, even armadillos have persisted practically without change and such an airborne creature would have no natural enemies. Even a single couple, if they managed somehow to survive, could create a small population which could (theoretically) persist for many years. The population would be so small as to go largely undetected.

Of course, as I point out in the post above - like the Bigfoot, - they really haven't managed to go unnoticed, have they?

Gareth said...

In addition to the above comment, various winged beasties have been reported from all over the place. From the Ahool in Indonesia to the Ropen of Papa New Guinea. And, most impotantly, many appear to accurately describe Pterosaurs.

If you're looking outside of the sea for possible "living fossils" then the air is the next logical place to go. After all, any animal that could potentially avoid scientific study would need to be able to do something that we couldn't without great difficulty. Like fly for example.

Really great work Jae.

Anonymous said...

I have seen Thunderbirds on two occasions. I live in Central Texas. The first time was 9 years ago. A huge thunderstorm was coming down I35, I was traveling home to San Marcos. The top of the thunderhead was reaching 60,000 feet and a warning over the radio sent me to a restaurant off the freeway. I could see the magnificent thunderhead that separated the sky from black to clear blue. A Piper cub aircraft was evading the thunderhead while above it about a thousand feet a thunderbird or a bird as large or larger than the Piper Cub shot out of the darkest part of the thunderhead, turned and went right back into that maelstrom. I would have never known the size if not for the airplane below it.

Yesterday, I was moving equipment out in the country when a black helicopter flew over us at about 2,000 feet. we looked above the chopper and there was a bird that had a wingspan nearly as long as the chopper. A few minutes later we saw three more one nearly as large as the first one and two smaller, one was very young and was reddish in color but had a wingspan of at least 12 ft. The female had at least 15 ft and the large male was at least 20 ft. They were soaring on thermals and not once did they flap their wings but soared out of sight rising higher and higher, briefly tucking their wings in raptor fashion to gain velocity by losing altitude only to regain it on another thermal. Both times felt sacred like I witnessed something really special. Both times I was with other people that witnessed the events with astonishment. These things have squared wings unlike the triangle shape of raptors, eagles and vultures.

I have seen them twice in my life, both times were for mere minutes before they either went back into a thunderhead or soared out of sight.