The Thunderbird is ingrained in North American Indian legend, said to bring thunder with one mighty flap of its wings and lighting with the blink of an eye. Modern reports of the Thunderbird come from various places in the North America, a large number of these sightings take place in the central states and as far north as Pennsylvania. Mark A. Hall, a leading investigator of the Thunderbird, gives the following descript of the creature based upon numerous eye witness testimonials.
"The bird is distinguished by its size and lifting capabilities exceeding those of any known bird living today anywhere in the world. Wingspan estimates are necessarily all guesswork. But observers sometimes have had the benefit of a measurable object for comparison or the benefit of time to observe a resting bird. The results most often provide sizes of 15 to 20 feet. The bird at rest or on the ground appears to be four to eight feet tall. Typically the coloring of the birds overall is dark."
If eyewitness accounts of the creature’s wingspan are correct, a bird with a 15 foot wingspan would be the largest known in the world today. Currently the wandering albatross (diomedea exulans) boasting a 12 foot wingspan is credited as having the largest wingspan of any living bird today. The Andean condor (Vultur gryphus) and the California condor (Gymnogyps californianus) come in a close second in wingspan size measuring 10.5 and 10 feet respectively. Some researchers believe that Thunderbird sightings are nothing more than mistaken identity of the birds listed above, however, take into consideration that the Thunderbird is reportedly capable of lifting a deer or a person from the ground. Current predatory birds are not equipped with grasping feet that are strong enough to hold such weight; instead they live primarily as carrion eaters and only seldom become predatory, usually only preying on smaller animals.
One of the most controversial eye witness reports of the Thunderbird’s ability to lift a human off the ground comes from Lawndale, Illinois. On July 25th, 1977, around 9 pm a group of three boys where playing in a friends backyard when they looked up to see two large birds soaring above. As the birds came closer they became aggressive and attacked the boys, two of which managed to escape, however the third boy, Marlon Lowe, did not. One of the birds clamped onto Marlon’s shoulder with its claws and proceed to lift the young boy from the ground for an estimated distance of about 30 yards. The young boy’s cries for help attracted the attention of the near by neighbors who rushed to his aid, combined with their help and the boy beating the bird as hard as he could, Marlon was finally released. Although viewed by some as a tale tail, the description given by witnesses of the attaching birds describe a large black bird, with a white ring around its neck and a wingspan of about 10 feet, traits that match the Andean Condor (Vultur gryphus) almost exactly.
The question remains, what is the Thunderbird? There have been many different theories as to the identity of the Thunderbird:
• California or Andean Condor – Some believe that the Thunderbird is merely a case misidentification and that it is not a new species at all, but a California or Andean Condor. This theory would place these birds well out of there known range and while possible, it is highly unlikely.
• The Washington Eagle – There are a few researchers that believe that the Thunderbird is actually a Washington Eagle. This large predatory bird has a wingspan of over 10 feet, and although this animal reportedly went extinct as late as the 1700’s as small population could still soar the skies today should this theory prove valid.
• Teratorns - The Teratorns were large predatory birds from the Pleistocene that exhibited wingspans of upwards of 25 feet. Although thought to be extinct, their general presumed appearance is that of a giant condor-like species, similar in appearance to the Thunderbird.
• Pterodactyls – Although eye witness descriptions of the Thunderbird look nothing like the presumed extinct Pterodactyls some researches still believe they are the cause for these reports.
• New Zealand Species – Fossil evidence tells us that two species of gigantic eagle once lived in New Zealand. Scientists estimate the wingspans of these birds to be about ten feet however believe that both species died out about 1100 years ago. The native New Zealanders have legends of two large eagles which sometimes prayed upon humans, theses legends would suggest that the creature may still be alive today.
• Entirely New Species – Could the Thunderbird be an entirely new species of avian which has soared the skies of North America under the radar of modern science? It is unlikely that an entirely new species of giant bird lives in North America today, however it is not out of the question. The most recent discovery of a large avian was the Philippine Monkey Eating Eagle (Pithecophaga jefferyi) in 1896, and that was in a remote location.
Regardless of what the Thunderbird might be, something large soars the skies of North America and it is only a matter of time before its true identity is reviled to the world, With misinformation and misidentification abounding, coupled with a lack of support in searching for these birds, it is no wonder that these creatures have evaded discovery like so many others from around the world.
The evidence thus far for the existence of a large predatory bird in North America is based on historical and modern sightings and legends with no physical evidence, there is however two images of the Thunderbird, or at least a large bird. The first was taken the same year as the attack on Marlon Lowe and in the same state. On July 30, 1977 John Huffer, an ex-marine and photographer, took a 100 foot roll of color film of two large birds taking off from a tree in an inlet of Lake Shelbyville. Thought by many to be a turkey vulture, it remains fairly unknown evidence of a possible mystery animal. To date little, if any, evaluation of the film has been done, the Discovery Channel, in their program “Into the Unknown” gave the film some mention but dismissed it fairly quickly as a vulture.
The other photographic image of a Thunderbird is more of a mystery, and may not actually exist at all. The image is known as “the Thunderbird Photograph” and was supposedly taken at the end of the 19th century in Texas. The image is said to depict six western clothed adult men, standing arms length from each other in front of a barn, where a large bird is nailed to the wall. Many have claimed to have seen or held this infamous image, including the late Ivan T. Sanderson who reportedly had acquired a photocopy of the image in 1966, the same year in which Sanderson gave the image, later lost, to a couple of men from Pennsylvania who were searching for the Thunderbird. The image has yet to surface, and may well not exist at all. The image was reported to have been published in 1886 in the Tombstone Arizona Epitaph, however this was somewhat dubiously reported in a 1963 article by Jack Pearl called "The Monster Bird That Carries off Human Beings!" in Saga magazine. Searches of the Tombstone Epitaph have come up empty, aside from an article from April 26, 1890 of a 16 foot bird found in the desert by a couple of ranchers. So the mystery of the "Thunderbird Photo" is no closer to being solved then it was nearly 40 years ago during its first mention.
• 1977, Lawndale, Illinois, Marlon Lowe is attached by a large unknown bird
• 1977, John Huffer a former marine and photographer captures what he believes to be a Thunderbird on video.
• June 26th 2002 between the towns of Tunkhannock and Nicholson, PA in Wyoming County two large birds where sighted flying over head a small town, eye witness reports that the birds bodies themselves where about 6 feet in length with a wingspan larger than the branches of the coniferous trees they where flying over.
The Stats – (Where applicable)
• Classification: Avian
• Size: 10 to 20 foot wingspan, 4 to 8 feet in height.
• Weight: Unknown
• Diet: Unknown, thought to be carnivorous
• Location: Central and North Eastern United States
• Movement: Flight
• Environment: The Skies over the Central and North Eastern United States