Thunderbirds, birds of enormous size from Native American legends, were said to cause thunder and lightning just by flapping their huge wings. Could birds of this size really exist? Some researchers believe that they aren’t just legend, and that they still occupy the skies of America. Sightings have occurred throughout the United States but the majority are clustered within the Midwest.

In legends, the birds were described to be big enough to blot out the sun, but in modern times the size is described as having a wingspan between fifteen and thirty-five feet. The creature is often described as a giant bird, black in color, occasionally with a white stripe around its neck. Although most encounters fall into the above description there are some reports that give the Thunderbird a more reptilian description, similar to a pterodactyl.

There are very few reports of a Thunderbird actually interacting with a person, most are only seen in the sky from a distance. There is one exception to this, dubbed the Lawndale Incident by researchers, the witnesses actually claim a bird of gigantic proportions actually picked up a ten-year-old child and carried him for a short distance. The encounter occurred on July 15, 1977, at a family home in Lawndale, Illinois. Marlon Lowe was playing outside his home, when two large birds flew above him. One of the birds flew down to Marlon and grabbed him in its talons and carried him for several feet before letting go and flying away. The birds seemed to be frightened of, ironically, by Mrs. Lowe’s horrified screams. The birds were described as being as large as ostriches but appeared more like condors. The most significant part of the encounter is that condors are not strong enough to lift a child into the air and fly even the few feet that it did.

Since most descriptions associate condors with the Thunderbird, the most likely candidate for the Thunderbird are the extinct Teratorns. There are two known types of Teratorns, the Teratornis merriami which had a wingspan of eleven feet and the Teratornis incredibilis which had a wingspan of twenty four feet. The other likely candidate for the Thunderbird is a relict species of pterosaur, an extinct group of flying reptiles. The pterosaur theory works mainly because of the handful of sightings of reptilian Thunderbirds as well as the newly discovery of feathers on pterosaurs and other prehistoric reptiles.

So could large unknown birds roam the skies of midwest United States? Some researchers think so.


Mysterious America by Loren Coleman

Cryptozoology A to Z by Loren Coleman and Jerome Clark

The Encyclopedia of Monsters by Daniel Cohen

Monster Spotter’s Guide to North America by Scott Francis

Unexplained! by Jerome Clark