Mythological Thunderbird Still Taking Flight?
In fact, here in the St. Louis area, the Illini Indians called the Thunderbird "Piasa," or "the bird that devours men."
This Thunderbird business is just a fairy tale, right?
For many years, there have been reports of a gigantic bird flying in broad daylight. Many times, witnesses are in awe of this bird's sheer size, often times estimating wingspan of up to 20 feet. Reports have come from all over, but there have been a concentration of reports in Pennsylvania, the Ohio Valley, Missouri, up in Alaska. What are people seeing?
The largest bird in North America is the California Condor. But it's easily identifiable, and it's wingspan is only 9 feet. The South American Andean Condor is much larger, with a wingspan of 12 feet. However, the condor is not a predator since it's claw strength isn't enough to carry much weight.
Probably the most striking report came out of Lawndale, Illinois in 1977. It was 8 in the evening when two large birds came swooping down on three boys playing in a yard. One of the large birds actually grabbed 10 year old (and 56 pound) Marlon Lowe and carried him about 40 feet before releasing him. This frightning incident happened in front of Marlon's parents and two adult guests, and it gained national attention.
More recently, there was a report of a massive bird spotted in Alaska in 2002. Reports were coming in of a bird with a 14 feet wingspan. "At first I thought it was one of those old-time Otter planes," said Moses Coupchiak, 43, a heavy equipment operator from Togiak. "Instead of continuing toward me, it banked to the left, and that's when I noticed it wasn't a plane."
Moses immediately radioed the small town of Togiak, and warned residents to get their children inside.
Another local resident, a pilot who had initially dismissed the reports, said he recently saw the bird from a distance of just 1,000 feet while flying his airplane. "The people in the plane saw him," John Bouker said. "He's huge, he's huge, he's really, really big. You wouldn't want to have your children out."
The most recent reports were just last year, with sightings in Ontario, Pennsylvania, and Ohio.
So what are people seeing?
It's possible it could be a turkey vulture, although the very detailed sightings don't match up very well. Or maybe people are simply misjudging how large the birds are. Other explanations include various types of eagles, vultures, and condors as well.
A fascinating possibility is that it's a Terratorn (Teratornis Merriami). This is a prehistoric bird thought to have been long extinct. It's related to modern day vultures and condors, and had a wingspan of 14 feet. It was also a predatory bird.
I have a much simpler explanation, after reading all of these Thunderbird reports...