- Thunderbird (cryptozoology)
Thunderbird is a term used in
cryptozoologyto describe large, bird-like creatures, generally identified with the Thunderbird of Native American myth and folklore. Similar cryptids reported in the Old Worldare often called Rocs. Thunderbirds are regarded by a small number of researchers as having lizard features like the pterosaursand pteranodon. Although reports of Thunderbird sightings go back centuries [ [http://paranormal.about.com/library/weekly/aa100801a.htm The Giant Thunderbird Returns ] ] , due to the lack of scientific evidence or fossil record the creature is generally regarded as a myth.
This article deals with modern sightings (the last 200 years) of such a creature, reported as real, as opposed to
mythologicalaccounts, though believers in the phenomenon often use the Native American legends in attempts to support their claims.
There is a story that in April
1890, two cowboys in Arizonakilled a giant birdlike creature with an enormous wingspan. It was said to have had smooth skin, featherless wings like a batand a face that resembled an alligator. This description has some similarity to that of a prehistoric pterodactyl, an animal whose existence was known at the time. They are supposed to have dragged the carcass back to town, where it was pinned with wings outstretched across the entire length of a barn. A picture of this event may have been published in the local newspaper, the "Tombstone Epitaph." It should be noted that Cryptozoology.com [http://www.cryptozoology.com/cryptids/thunderbird.php] has an account of this story with the events taking place in the state of Texas.
According to Mark Hall, the "Epitaph" did indeed print a story about the capture of a large, unusual winged creature, on
April 26, 1890. [ [http://www.rense.com/general3/thun.htm The Mystery Of The Thunderbird ] ] Beyond this single story, however, no one has made historic corroboration that this event ever occurred; it is usually considered an urban legend. Utterly fictional tall taleswere not an uncommon feature in newspapers during this era. Hanlon, Tina L. " [http://www.ferrum.edu/applit/studyg/tallact.htm Tall Tales and Jack Tales: Literature and Writing Activities] ", 7 May 2007, Study Guides, " Ferrum College", official site. Retrieved 27 November 2007.]
No one has ever produced a copy of the "thunderbird" photograph, though numerous people,
Ivan T. Sandersonbeing one of the better known, have made claims to its existence. Sanderson claimed to have once owned a copy of the photo, which vanished after he loaned it to an acquaintance in the 1960s. The television program " Freaky Links" staged a similar photo, giving new life to the "Thunderbird Photograph" legend. [ [http://www.lorencoleman.com/museum.html The Cryptozoologist: Cryptozoology ] ] Jerome Clarkspeculates that the description of the basic image in question (men standing alongside a winged creature nailed to a barn), is evocative enough to implant a sort of false memory, leading some people to vaguely "remember" seeing the photo at some distant, imprecise time. [cite book | first=Jerome | last=Clark | title=Unexplained! 347 Strange Sightings, Incredible Occurrences, and Puzzling Physical Phenomena | date=1993 | publisher=Visible Ink Press]
There have also been Thunderbird sightings more recently. On occasion, such reports were accompanied by large footprints or other purported evidence.
Among the most controversial reports is a
July 25, 1977account from Lawndale, Illinois. About 9 p.m. a group of three boys were at play in a residential back yard. Two large birds approached, and chased the boys. Two escaped unharmed, but the third boy, ten-year-old Marlon Lowe, did not. One of the birds reportedly clamped his shoulder with its claws, then lifted Lowe about two feet off the ground, carrying him some distance. Lowe fought against the bird, which released him.
Viewed by some as a
tall tale, the descriptions given by the witnesses of these birds match that of an Andean condor: a large black bird, with a white ringed neck and a wingspan up to 10 feet. [ [http://www.unsolvedmysteries.com/usm345064.html Thunderbirds Spotted over Illinois! (Not the airplanes) ] ] Loren Colemanand his brother, Jerry, interviewed several witnesses after the reported event.
In 2002, a sighting of a large birdlike creature, with a wingspan of around 14 feet, was reported in
Alaska. [cite news | first=Reuters | last=CNN.com | url=http://archives.cnn.com/2002/US/West/10/18/offbeat.alaska.bird.reut/index.html | title=Massive bird spotted in Alaska | date= 2002-10-18| accessdate=2006-08-11] Scientists suggested the giant bird may have simply been a Steller's Sea-Eagle, which have a wingspan of 6-8 feet.
In 2004, a high-school student claimed to have been walking into his classroom from a soccer field in Southern California when a large bird-like creature, silhouetted against the sky, was sighted flying over suburban residences. According to him, it first appeared to be a small bird located by the field below. He claimed to have seen it fly over a thunderhead cloud that was over a group of hills to the south that was approximately one and a half miles from where he was standing. The boy claimed that from his point of view it looked the size that a crow-sized bird would at twenty feet away.Fact|date=January 2008 As recently as
2007, sightings have been claimed in the area around San Antonio, Texas. [cite web|url=http://www.mysanantonio.com/news/metro/stories/MYSA072707.mysterybird.KENS.ba5c450e.html |title=Sightings of mysterious giant bird continue in San Antonio | publisher= My San Antonio News| date= 2007-07-28]
As mentioned above, some cryptozoologists have theorized the ancient Thunderbird myth to be based on sightings of a real animal with a mistaken assessment of its apparent size [http://cryptosquared.tripod.com/insights/tbirdcomp.html] . Some skeptics have claimed such a large bird could never have flown, but several flying creatures with huge wingspans are indeed known. The prehistoric vulture-like "
Argentavis magnificens" had a wingspan of around 7 m (21 feet) and was capable of flight. The massive Cretaceous-era pterosaur" Quetzalcoatlus northropi" was the largest known flying creature in history [ [http://www.utexas.edu/tmm/sponsored_sites/dino_pit/quetzalcoatlus.html The Dino Pit Fossils: Quetzalcoatlus northropi ] ] , with a wingspan of at least 25 but perhaps as much as 60 feet [ [http://www.bowdoin.edu/~dbensen/Dinosaurs/Quetzalcoatlusnorthropi.html Quetzalcoatlus northropi ] ] .
Cryptozoologists also posit that the Thunderbird was associated with storms because they followed the drafts to stay in flight, not unlike the way a modern eagle rides mountain up currents. Noted cryptozoologist
John Keelclaims to have mapped several Thunderbird sightings and found that they corresponded chronologically and geographically with storms moving across the United States.
Angelo P. Capparella, [cited in Clark, 1993] an ornithologist at
Illinois State University, argues that the existence of such undiscovered large birds is highly unlikely, especially in North America. There is not enough food, Capparella says, in many areas where abnormally large birds are reported. Perhaps more important, according to Capparella, is the lack of sightings by "the legions of competent birdwatchers ... scanning the skies of the U.S. and Canada" who sometimes make "surprising observations" with cameras at the ready (see for example 20th-century sightings of the Eskimo Curlew). Were there breeding populations of large, unknown birds, Capparella contends they could not remain unknown very long.
* [http://www.newanimal.org/thunderbird.htm Thunderbirds in Cryptozoology]
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