The Giant Thunderbird Returns

Today these enormous birds have been seen soaring through the skies of Pennsylvania, and in the past they've even been blamed for snatching children from the ground

A gigantic bird has been sighted in Pennsylvania. On May 26, 2013, two friends were walking through the woods near Bryn Athen Castle when they were startled by something extraordinary. "It was extremely loud and I glanced up and saw a huge black bird," Anthony said in his report.

"It was sitting above us and we seemed to startle it. It flew about 100 feet to a nearby branch. Its wingspan was at least ten feet, and judging how far it was it looked to be around four feet tall."

And this was far from the first sighting of such a creature in Pennsylvania. 

On the evening of Tuesday, September 25, 2001, a 19-year-old claimed to have seen an enormous winged creature flying over Route 119 in South Greensburg, Pennsylvania. The witness's attention was drawn to the sky by a sound that resembled "flags flapping in a thunderstorm." Looking up, the witness saw what appeared to be a bird that had a wingspan of an estimated 10 to 15 feet and a head about three feet long.

This was just one more sighting of an incredible creature -- most often considered a myth -- known as a "Thunderbird." Sightings of these gigantic birds, apparently unknown to science, go back hundreds of years and are a part of many Native American legends and traditions.

They have even been blamed for abducting, or attempting to abduct, small children. And now they seem to be soaring through the skies of Pennsylvania.

The South Greensburg witness told researcher Dennis Smeltzer that the huge black or grayish-brown bird passed overhead at about 50 to 60 feet. "I wouldn't say it was flapping its wings gracefully," the witness told Smeltzer, "but almost horrifically flapping its wings very slowly, then gliding above the passing big rig trucks."

The witness observed the creature for about 90 seconds in total, even seeing it land on the branches of a dead tree, which nearly broke under its great weight. Unfortunately, no other witnesses saw the bird on this date and no tangible evidence could be found for the bird after the site was searched.

What makes this story more interesting, however -- even plausible -- is that other sightings of similar description were reported in Pennsylvania in June and July, 2001.

On June 13, a resident of Greenville, Pennsylvania was startled by the great size of the grayish-black creature seen soaring overhead, at first thinking it was a small airplane or ultralight aircraft! This witness observed the bird for at least 20 minutes, clearly seeing its fully feathered body and confidently estimating its wingspan to be about 15 feet and its body length at about 5 feet. This bird, too, was seen to perch on a tree for at least 15 minutes before taking to air again and flying off toward the south. A neighbor of this witness claimed to have seen the creature the next day, describing it as "the biggest bird I ever saw."

Less than a month later, on July 6, a witness in Erie County, Pennsylvania reported a very similar sighting, according to an item in Fortean Times magazine.

Again, the creature's wingspan was estimated to be 15 to 17 feet and was described as "dark gray with little or no neck, and a circle of black under its head. Its beak was very thin and long -- about a foot in length."

These were not the first sightings of Thunderbirds in Pennsylvania, as you'll read later in this article. And if these reports are accurate, these birds are the largest flying creatures not yet identified by science. By comparison, the largest known bird is the wandering albatross with a wingspan of up to 12 feet. The largest predatory birds -- which the Thunderbird is most often likened to -- are the Andean condor (10.5-foot wingspan) and the California condor (10-foot wingspan).

Centuries-Old Legend

The legend of the Thunderbird reaches back hundreds of years as part of the mythology of several Native American tribes of the Pacific Northwest and the Great Lakes region.

And the legend might have remained strictly a part of those cultures had not the great winged creature been seen countless times by the "white man" over the centuries.

According to the Native American myths, the giant Thunderbird could shoot lightning from its eyes and its wings were so enormous that they created peals of thunder when they flapped.

Next page: Tall tales and child abductions

Tall Tales or Crypto Creature?

There are many tales of the Thunderbird that are more recent than the Native American legends. The animal is almost always listed in the catalogs of cryptozoologists' mysterious creatures, and although the Thunderbird has been sighted on numerous occasions, a credible photograph or video of one has never been produced, and one has never been killed or captured... except perhaps once.

A tale comes out of the Arizona Territory desert about two cowboys who encountered the giant flying creature in 1890. As cowboys are wont to do, they took careful aim with their rifles at the amazing creature and blasted it from the sky. According to an article in the April 26, 1890 edition of the Tombstone Epigraph, the cowboys and their horses dragged the lifeless monster into town where its wingspan was measured at an incredible 190 feet and its body measured at 92 feet long. It was described as having no feathers, but a smooth skin and wings "composed of a thick and nearly transparent membrane." Clearly, their description more readily resembles a pteranodon, pterosaur or pterodactyl than a large bird.

Most paranormal researchers consider this story to be a good example of Old West creative writing on the part of the newspaper. But there may be a hint of truth in it. In 1970, a man named Harry McClure claimed that he knew one of the cowboys when he was a small boy.

The real story, as the cowboy told the youth, was that the creature they shot at had a wingspan of 20 to 30 feet. They did not kill the Thunderbird, however, and returned to town only with their fantastic story.

One more intriguing element to this anecdote is that a photo was supposedly taken of the great creature, held up with its wings spread by several townspeople.

Remarkably, many people recall seeing this photograph printed in Fate, National Geographic or Grit magazine, or in some book about the Old West, but as yet this photo has not been produced.

In his book Unexplained!, Jerome Clark lists many more sightings, including:

  • In the early 1940s, writer Robert R. Lyman spotted a Thunderbird sitting on a road near Coudersport, Pennsylvania. It soon took to the sky, spreading its 20-foot wingspan.
  • In 1969, the wife of a Clinton County, Pa. sheriff saw an enormous bird over Little Pine Creek. She said its wingspan appeared to be about as long as the creek was wide -- about 75 feet!
  • In 1970, several people saw the gigantic bird "soaring toward Jersey Shore [Pa.]. It was dark colored, and its wingspread was almost like [that of] an airplane."
  • In 1948, several witnesses along the Illinois-Missouri border sighted a condor-like bird about the size of a Piper Club airplane.

Abductors of Children

The most terrifying stories about giant birds is that they occasionally attempt to carry away small animals and even children. This item appeared in the July 28, 1977 edition of the Boston Evening Globe:

CARRIED OFF

10 year-old Marlan Lowe and his mother Mrs. Ruth Lowe claim that one of two large black birds with eight-foot wingspans tried to carry Marlan off in its claws Monday evening in Lawndale, Illinois. Although several birds experts say that no bird native to Illinois could lift 70 pound Marlan. Mrs. Lowe say that Marlan was carried 20 feet before the bird dropped him when he struck the bird with his hand. (UPI)

Despite what the "birds experts" say, why would a mother make up such an incredible story that would certainly expose them to ridicule?

In September of the same year, in Burlington, Kentucky, a small dog was the victim of a similar abduction attempt. This item appeared in the September 2, 1977 edition of the Cincinnati Enquirer from a report by the Associated Press:

A five-pound puppy remains in critical condition today while wildlife experts try to decide whether it was attacked by an American Bald Eagle. Mrs. Greg Schmitt, Rabbit Hash, Ky., said the beagle was snatched from her farm and dropped in a pond 600 yards away. Mrs. Schmitt said she did not see the incident but that a 7-year-old neighbor boy did. He said it was a "big bird" which took the puppy skyward. The veterinarian, Dr. R. W. Bachmeyer, of Walton, Ky., said wounds on the puppy might have been caused by talons.

In this case, it seems to have been assumed that the predator was a bald eagle, but could it have been a Thunderbird?

Other abduction stories include that of a 42-pound five-year-old girl named Svanhild Hansen who in June, 1932 was carried away by a "huge eagle" from her parents' farm in Leka, Norway. The giant bird carried her for more than a mile, the report stated, after which it dropped her unharmed on a high mountain ledge.

In 1838, another five-year-old girl was snatched from the slope of the Swiss Alps, where she was playing, by an eagle that carried the child to its nest. Unfortunately, the girl did not survive the ordeal, and her badly mutilated body was discovered some two months later by a shepherd. The eagle's nest, subsequently found, was said to contain several eaglets surrounding "heaps of goat and sheep bones."