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La Commissione 31.10.2020

Thunderbird, Wrath of the Skies

Evidence From The Earth's Past?

Diego Antolini

In Cryptozoology, "Thunderbird" is a term associated to winged creatures of large dimensions, typically identified with the Thunderbird of the Native Americans traditions.
The name seems to originate from the thunder-like sound that the flapping of the wings of these giant birds would produce, but also from its migrating to the North-West of the Pacific during the rain season. There are similar cryptids reported by witnesses in the Eurasian continent, that are called "Rocs."
According to the witnesses the Thunderbirds look like reptilian saurians just like the now extinct Pteranodons. They sport a tuft of white hair around their neck, and a bald head. Their wings span from 9 to 70 feet long, although most accounts speak of a 10-18 feet long wing span. The Thunderbirds are carnivorous, feeding off mammals and carcasses of animals. It is reported that, in the West Coast of the Americas it can attack whales as well, grabbing them with their claws and out of water. The Thunderbird nests over the highest peaks and rarely attacks humans. In some instances people reported to have seen this giant bird clawing a human being, dragging him away.

The Thunderbird is distributed all across North America, the most notable legends coming from Moung Edgecumbe, Alaska; Tombstone, Arizona; Alpena, Michigan; Whiteside Mountains, North Carolina; Blount County, Tennessee; Thunder Mountains, Wisconsin; Southern Alberta, Canada.
More rare are sightings from the Western Indies and South America.
The encounters with the Thunderbirds date back centuries, and the fossils of Teratorns or giant birds found in various locations onlu reinforce the idea that they lived along with the first humans.

However today the Thunderbirds belong to mythology, but are searched and studied by Cryptozoology. As such, it is essential to begin the investigation by exploring the legends in the attempt to understand the possible origin of this creature.
All the Indian tribes of North America, especially those that lived along the Pacific coastline as well as near the Great Lakes region have passed on stories about the existence of giant birds of prey. Some of these legends tell about these birds being so large and mighty that, when flapping their wings, the sound produced was the same as a thunder, while lightnings would come out of their eyes and water gushed out of their back becoming rain. Native Americans used the Thunderbird to explain some natural phenomena such as storms and blizzards. However, for as much as mighty and dangerous they were, the Thunderbirds were revered as beneficial spirits of nature that in some instances helped the tribes to find food during periods of famine.


Claude Schaeffer collected several accounts from the Blackfoot Indians of Alberta, Canada, and in the state of Montana. In 1879 Mary Jane, daughter of Red Paint, and her husband (a white man), witnessed four giant birds on the Chief Mountain, Glacier National Park, Montana.
In 1897 Big Crow and his wife saw a large bird with a feathered collar and a bald head soaring over the Southern sector of the Blackfoot Indian Reservation. The most recent sighting dates back to 1908.

Many researchers recall to have seen the photograph of a Thunderbird hanging on the outside of a barn with some cowboys posing near it. It was about 1880. It seems that this photograph was published in a magazine of the Old West in 1960, but nobody today has managed to find a copy.
Karl Shuker believes that perhaps people might have been confused with an old picture of a Marabu
stork (Leptoptilos Crumeniferus) that three African men were holding with the wings outspread.

Mark Chorvinsky however discovered a news about two rancheros of the Huachuca Mountains, Arizona who had allegedly shot a huge winged monster. The article was published on the Tombstone Epitaph in 1890, but showed no photograph. Chorvinsky believes that the lost photograph belongs to Hiram Cranmer from Hammersley Fork, Pennsylvania. Cranmer claimed to have seen a Thunderbird in Pennsylvania in 1922.

story of the “lost photograph” is perhaps the most controversial of those related to the North American Thunderbirds. On April 1890 two cowboys had allegedly a giant winged creature which had smooth skin, bat-like, featherless wings, and a head similar to an alligator.. The description fits with that of a Pterodon – an animal that was already known at the time. The two men dragged the carcass to the village, then hung it upon the outer wall of a barn with the wings spread, and the creature covered the whole side of the structure. They stood next to the bird and a photograph was taken to record the event. The picture was supposedly published by the Tombstone Epitaph but nobody, to the present day, has been able to find it.

Mark Hall claims that the Epitaph had actually published the story about a large-sized flying creature being captured (on Aprile 26, 1890,) but none has been able to confirm that the event was real. It could be an urban legend, a sort of fictional tale that was quite common to find in the journals at the time.
The photograph seems to have never existed, although cryptozoologist Ivan T. Sanders declared to have owned a copy of it, but then he lent it to one of his acquaintances in 1960, and never saw it again.

Jerome Clark, author of several books on mysteries and unexplained phenomena, suggests that the fundamental description of the image – men posing next to a winged creature nailed against a wall – is evocative enough to implant into the minds a kind of “fake memory” that would prompt people to “remember” vaguely about a similar photograph seen somewhere, sometime in the remote past.


Researcher Loren Coleman wrote about a series of sightings involving the Thunderbird which would have occurred in the 40s.
On April 10, 1948 three people from Overland, Illinois, saw what they initially thought to be a plane, but after it flapped the wings, it was clear that they were looking at something else.

Few weeks later in Alton, Illinois, a man and his son witnessed a giant bird with a torpedo-like body flying at least 500 feet above the ground. The creature cast a shadow as large as that of a little passenger plane.
Similar sightings occurred at the same time in St. Louis, Missouri. After the mayor received a number of letters of protest, the local administration set traps on the attempt to capture the creature, but to no avail. Those years were the peak season for the sightings of Thunderbirds. In some cases large footprints were found on the ground, along with other alleged evidence of the existence these flying creatures.

Another quite unexplained case occurred on July 25, 1977 in Lawndale, Illinois, at 9pm local time.
Three kids were playing in their residential park when two large birds approached and chased them. Two kids escaped, but the third one, Marlon Lowe of 10, was taken by the bird’s claws, lifted off the ground of about 2 feet, and dragged away for a while. Lowe fought the beast, and eventually it let him go.
Some thought this story was only a prank, but the way the witnesses described the bird match with that of a Andes’ Condor, a large black bird with a wingspan of up to 9.84 feet. However the Condor’s claws are not that strong to take on heavy objects. The witnesses were personally interviewed by Loren Coleman and her brother Jerry.

The most recent sightings of a Thunderbird occurred on:

October 2002, seen by residents in the villages of Togiak and Manokotak, Alaska, who reported the creature having a wingspan of 14 feet, making it the size of a small airplane;

Januray 2007, San Antonio, Texas, seen by Guadalupe Cantu III who said, “This thing's all feathers, all black. Much bigger than me. It looked at us. It had very stooped-up shoulders”;

May 2013, near Bryn Athen Castle, Pennsylvania. Two friends were walking in the woods when they saw a huge black bird sitting above them on the branches. Then it flew about 100 feet to another branch. Its wingspan was reportedly at least 10 feet, and its overall size of about 4 feet tall;

January 2018, Alaska, by a woman who was driving and described the creature’s wingspan almost as wide as the road

The African version of the Thunderbird is the Kongamato, or “Boats Destroyer.” It is a creature similar to the Pterosaur that was sighted by both the villagers and the explorer of the Mwinilunga District; in particular the creature is said to dwell the swamps of Jiundu, Western Zambia, as well as in Angola and Congo. The only evidence we have about its existence are the deep wounds the victims suffered, and the accounts of the eye witnesses.
In his book “
In Witchbound Africa” (1923), Frank Melland describes the Kongamato as a creature living near freshwater streams, extremely dangerous, and which often attacks small boats and everyone who enters its territory. The Kongamato is of red or black color, with a wingspan between 4 and 7 feet. The Kaonde tribe pointed at the picture of a Pterosaur to identify the Kongamato when Melland showed them a book of dinosaurs.
Ivan T. Sanderson claimed to have encountered a Kongamato in 1930.

In 1956 J.P.F Brown, an engineer, said to have seen the creature at Fort Rosebery near Lake Bangweulu, North Rhodesia (today Zambia.) It was about 6p.m. when Brown spotted two winged creatures flying over his head. Observing them, Brown noticed the prehistoric features of their body, and estimated their wingspan in 2.95-3.60 feet wide and a length of 4.59 feet from Beak to tail. The latter was long and thin, the head narrow with a long muzzle similar to that of a dog.
In 1957 a patient was admitted in one of the Fort Rosebery hospitals. He had deep cuts on his chest. He said he had been attacked by a large bird in the Bangweulu marshlands. He was asked to draw the bird, and he drew a creature very similar to a Pterosaur. Unfortunately the sketch appears to have gone lost over the years. Further accounts of Kongamato sightings come from Angola, Zimbabwe, DRC, Namibia, Tanzania, and Kenya.
In 2016, during one of my business trips to Nairobi, Kenya, I spoke with three local people who told me they knew about the story of the “Thunderbird,” and that somewhere upon the central plateau of the country, bones of a giant bird which died less than a hundred years ago was still kept by a local tribe.


What cryptozoologists believe when it comes to the existence of the Thunderbirds is controversial: John A. Keel associates this creature to storms. After mapping all the sightings he could find, he discovered that they corresponded chronologically and geographically to the moving of storms over the American territory. Keel’s theory is that the Thunderbird follows the storms to keep airborne, a bit like the eagle utilizes the wind currents of the mountains.
Angelo P. Capparella, an ornithologist at the Illinois State University deems unlikely that such large birds can live on Earth undiscovered. He says that there is not enough food in the areas where they are reported to live. Furthermore there are legions of birdwatchers observing the skies of North America and Canada every single day, therefore spotting a Thunderbird would be only a matter of time.
If we second the theory of the Thunderbirds following the storms, however, it doesn’t look so impossible that it can go unnoticed during its flight, especially considering the violence of Blizzards and Hurricanes in North America.

Flying birds of large dimensions are known and classified by the mainstream zoology, such as the
Argentavis Magnificens (it had a wingspan of 22.97 feet and were able to fly); the Pterosaur Quetzalcoatlus Northropi which lived in the Cretaceus Period (or perhaps the Hatzegopteryx Thambema) was the largest winged creature ever found, with a wingspan of 39.37 feet; and the Teratorns, a species that Texas cryptozoologist Ken Gerhard believs the Thunderbirds belong to.
These facts seem to demonstrate that large birds like the Thunderbirds could exist and actually fly.

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