The Phoenix

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Mythological Thunderbird Still Taking Flight?

The Great Thunderbird originates from Native American folklore of the Plains. It's said to bring fear and death when this giant bird would take flight, sometimes swooping down and killing humans when it was angry. Interestingly, the mighty Thunderbird had a taste for misbehaving little kids.

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...

The REAL Thunderbird


Blogger Jim said...

There was a great prehistoric painting of a Piasa (pronounced Pie-a-saw) on the Mississippi River bluffs north of Alton -- it must have been a frightening sight for anyone coming down the river -- IDOT blew it up in order to widen the River Road.

ooajcawo<--what I said last night when I stubbed my toe

11/28/2006 12:11 PM  
Blogger KC said...

jim said it before I could. I was thinking of the same painting!

It would be truly frightening to see such a thing. We used to have parakeets when I was little and I was scared of them, even though they're tiny.

11/28/2006 1:33 PM  
Blogger Curare_Z said...

The kid was actually picked up and carried off? That is so freaky.....

11/28/2006 2:50 PM  
Blogger AnonymousCoworker said...

Ah, but... Big Bird can't fly, as proven conclusively in "Follow That Bird."

11/28/2006 2:52 PM  
Blogger Big Pissy said...


Just the movie "The Birds" is bad enough....

but a ginormous bird like the one you describe?


11/28/2006 5:57 PM  
Blogger Grafs said...

Neat! I want a pet thunder bird.

11/28/2006 6:56 PM  
Blogger Keshi said...

Im terrified of large birds...they scare the hell outta me with their mean look.


11/28/2006 7:21 PM  
Blogger angel, jr. said...

On "Ellen" the other day--yeah I watched it but only because Chris Daughtry was going to be on it (and yes, I have a problem because I'm fascinated with American Idol) they had a five year old boy who had taken a recent picture of a Condor.
When I was younger I was at a picnic and I remember my cousin running down the hill and saying that he and my brother saw a condor flying up above.

11/29/2006 8:52 AM  
Anonymous stephanie said...

I always knew there was something sinister about Big Bird.

11/29/2006 10:17 AM  
Blogger OnMyWatch said...

scary! but I'd bet those parents notified the bird ahead of time because their kid was a pain. :)

11/29/2006 11:27 AM  
Blogger cube said...

I saw some turkey vultures in my yard once & I couldn't believe how big they were. Yikes!

11/29/2006 1:23 PM  
Blogger jay lassiter said...

thank for a post's worth of escapism.
i really love this blog!

11/29/2006 2:41 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The boogie-man with wings. Or is that what happens when Paul McCartney is backed up by KC and the Sunshine Band?

11/29/2006 5:32 PM  
Anonymous Tasa said...

Sounds pretty shifty, like big foot, or the loch ness monster....

11/29/2006 8:53 PM  
Blogger grrrbear said...

So, the odds are good that Big Bird is the illegitimate hellspawn of Bigfoot and the California Condor!

11/29/2006 9:41 PM  
Blogger goddess said...

hahahahahahahahahaha!!!!! There is a ton of thunderbird folklore down here. We've even named a road after it. (Tunderbird goes east/west through North Phoenix) They say it lives/lived down by the tuscon area.

11/29/2006 10:09 PM  
Blogger Phats said...

haha love it! Birds freak me out a bit when they fly really low and at you.

When you said Illini I almost started cheering ILL INI I hate that damn cheer

11/30/2006 12:36 AM  
Blogger DaBich said...

Big Bird? Does he have Acme flying wings???
Hopefully, he doesn't come here, it's hunting season!

11/30/2006 4:53 AM  
Blogger starbender said...

hahaaa, I like your version better. Kids wouldn't mind getting carried off by big-bird!
' ]

11/30/2006 7:24 AM  
Blogger phlegmfatale said...

What's the word?
Who like it most?
Project folks.

11/30/2006 11:57 PM  
Anonymous the weirdgirl said...

Ewyech! That just makes me hold my son a little closer. Prehistoric folks had it rough!

12/01/2006 10:28 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Lol, nice blog. Although I can't imagine a bird that size living very long in either Alaska or the Midwest; some redneck would have it mounted on the wall real quick!

12/05/2006 5:29 PM  
Blogger :P fuzzbox said...

Maybe it's a chupacabra.

12/08/2006 8:36 PM  

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