Tuesday, July 9, 2013

31 Days of Monsters: Thunderbird

It only seems natural that people take things that scare them, and imagine stories of those creatures but enlarged to monstrous sizes. Everything from spiders and leeches to bats and people have been super-sized to inspire fear and terror. When it becomes interesting is when there are tales told of giant animals which don't normally inspire horror and loathing.

Name: Roc, Thunderbird, many tribes of native americans were aware of the stories of the creature though, and each has their own name for it. 

Size: Differing reports suggest animals with wingspans anywhere between ten to 20 or even 30 feet wide.

Appearance: A giant bird, with a head that can either be similar to an eagle or a vulture. 

Threat: Low. While the Thunderbird is told to be extremely powerful, there are no contemporary stories of these creatures actively hunting adult humans, even though a carnivorous bird at that size would have little difficulty in such a feat. 

Reported sightings remain scarce, but consistent in the southern US, with sightings as far North as Illinois. What makes the sightings hard to verify is the fact that almost all are of the animal in flight at high altitudes, giving little to make size comparisons with. The best reports are those of pilots in private aircraft who occasionally see exceptionally large birds that they can't identify, following in their tailwind. 

Several photos taken in the old west, report to show slain creatures which were claimed to be the mythical Thunderbird. Most of these have since been reported as fakes, but some remain unverified. The creatures pictured however, resemble the prehistoric Pterosaurs than the giant eagles of legend. It is curious however, as the science of paleontology was not widely known during that period and so good fakes of creatures which were yet to be discovered makes one pause and wonder if the Thunderbird legend could have been inspired by surviving flying reptiles. I find that doubtful, though. The legends of the native americans across the areas where Thunderbirds were occasionally seen are remarkably consistent in what they describe, and they describe a large bird, with feathers, not something which would probably described as bat-like. 

The most likely theory put forth, is that of large non-native birds getting lost somehow or searching for places to expand their territory. Sightings of Thunderbirds in Alaska, for instance, are mainly attributed to sightings of Stellar's Sea Eagles, which regularly boasts a wingspan of eight feet. There is also one reported encounter from Illinois about three boys who were playing in their backyard when a pair of large birds swooped down on them, grabbing one of them, lifting him about two feet off the ground and carrying him about thirty feet before letting go. The descriptions of the birds given by the boys and other witnesses matched up with descriptions of the Andean Condor. How the birds ended up so far from the Andes is anyone's guess. 

Giant birds have appeared several times through writing and movies. More often than not, they are simply depicted as giant, flying monsters, rather than described as the mythical Thunderbird. One of the most well known is the giant bird monster from the era of old Hollywood The Giant Claw. After that are movies such as Roadkill. As stated though, these are giant birds, and not specifically the Thunderbird, which in legends was more of an ally or a warning, or even one of the Gods as opposed to an actual threat to man.

Try to keep in mind as you're traveling this summer, especially if you happen to be on a long car trip through the southern states, in addition to what could be underground, underwater, or in the woods, sometimes all it takes to see something unusual is to look up and see what's right above your head.

~ Shaun


  1. Mustn't forget the giant bird in Stephen King's 'It' (novel, not film). A great scene, and exactly what it might feel like to be hunted by one of these.

    1. To be honest, it's been so long since I read that I honestly can't even remember that scene. I should probably re-read it in all actuality.

  2. Um have you forgot about something in the native American legends you know the thing that gave the thunderbird it's name? Cause if you don't then I'll tell you, the thunderbird has weather powers it can shoot lightning from its eyes and create thunder by flapping it's wings just in case you didn't know

    1. Thunderbird is actually a generic name now used in English to bundle up all Native American legends and stories of giant birds under one name. The name for the animal in Lakota for example is Wakį́yą, which translates to sacred wings; and while many legends do mention the sound of thunder when it flaps its wings, the other powers are spread out among various tribes and not really consistent. I didn't necessarily forget, but for this series I wanted to try and not focus on supernatural attributes and instead focus on the stories of animals which may or may not be real. Thanks for your visit and your comment though. :-)