Thunderbird (cryptozoology)

From Academic Kids

For other meanings, see Thunderbird.

Thunderbird is a term used in cryptozoology to describe large birdlike creatures sighted and reported as real (as opposed to clearly mythological accounts).



There is a story that in April 1890, two cowboys in Arizona killed a giant birdlike creature with an enormous wingspan. It was said it had smooth skin, and featherless wings like a bat. Its face resembled an alligator. Interestingly, this description has more than a cursory similarity to the prehistoric pterodactyl. They dragged the carcass back to town, and it was pinned, wings outstretched across the entire length of a barn. There is supposed to be a picture of this event, that may or may not have been published in the local newspaper, the Tombstone Epitaph.

Despite numerous people who have claimed to have seen this photograph recently, no one has ever been able to produce a copy of the picture nor make historic corroboration that this event ever occurred, and it is most likely an urban legend. Ivan Sanderson is perhaps the best-known person who claimed to have seen this thunderbird photograph.


There have also been thunderbird sightings more recently. In the 1960s and 1970s, sightings of a large bird the size of a Piper Cub airplane were made in Washington, Utah, and Idaho. On occasion, such reports were accompanied by large footprints or other purported evidence.

Among the most controversial reports is a July 25, 1977 account from Lawndale, Illinois. About 9 pm 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. Loren Coleman and his brother, Jerry, interviewed several witnessess after the reported event. One account of the Marlon Lowe tale is at this external link: [1] (


In 2002, a sighting of a large (on the order of a Cessna aircraft) birdlike creature was reported in Alaska.

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, shillouetted 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. From this it could be assumed that the flying creature reported had a wingspan of around twenty-five feet.


Some cryptozoologists have theorized the thunderbird myth to be based on sightings of a real animal that has of late dwindled in population. Initially this was scoffed at by skeptics saying a bird that large could not have flown. This is not outside the realm of possibility. The prehistoric vulture-like Teratornis incredibilis had a wingspan of anywhere from 5 m up to 7 m (16 to 24 ft) and is believed to have been capable of flight.

Cryptozoologists also posit that the thunderbird was associated with storms because they followed the draughts to stay in flight, not unlike the way a modern eagle rides mountain upcurrents. Noted cryptozoologist John Keel claimed to have mapped several thunderbird sightings and found that they corresponded chronologically and geographically with storms moving across the United States.

Ohio is another prime area for Thunderbird sightings, and another was made in Harrow Ontario in the summer of 2003. And a possibility of another sighting in the fall of 2004. The Thunderbirds of the Ohio valley (which semi-includes South Western Ontario) are thought to be a sub-species of a California Condor that flourishes in California.

Angelo P. Capparello, (an ornithologist at Illinois State University who is, incidentally, interested in cryptozoology), argues that the existence of such large birds is highly unlikely, at least in North America. There is not enough food, Capparello says, in many areas where abnormally large birds are reported. Perhaps more important, according to Capparello, 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. Were there breeding populations of large, unknown birds, Capparello contends they could not remain unknown very long.


  • Jerome Clark, ‘’Unexplained! 347 Strange Sightings, Incredible Occurrences, and Puzzling Physical Phenomena’’, Visible Ink Press, 1993.

External links

pl:Thunderbird (kryptozoologia)


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