The Home Page of Author, Lecturer & Radio Show Host Dallas Tanner
Thunderbirds

 

I selected thunderbirds as the subject cryptid of my first novel, "Shadow of the Thunderbird". I had recently seen an episode of a short-lived series called "Freaky Links", which dealt with a young man who investigated the paranormal for a web site begun by his deceased brother. He went on investigations to try and determine why his brother was killed, and spent an episode in Pennsylvania, studying thunderbirds.

I don't recall even watching the entire episode, but it sparked an idea that grew into the first volume of "The Cryptids Trilogy". Over the course of my research, I felt that I needed to accomplish the following in order to determine the origin and species of the thunderbird legend, so prevalent in native legends. Aside from the attributes of the thunderbird as a bringer of peace and wisdom, or a harbinger of doom or war, many characteristics overlapped.

They were never pterosaurs of any kind, but large birds of prey. Their heads were covered, and they captured their own prey. This eliminated prehistoric flying reptiles, as well as teratorns. They were rapacious hunters, like the eagle or the hawk, yet they are described as flying lock-winged, like a vulture or condor. Since birds of prey fly delta-winged, I felt I was looking at a creature that was a hybrid of the two species of large birds.

The premise of my research for the novel stipulated that I was looking for a creature that would explain the native legends, historical records and eyewitness accounts describing the creature. I found one that lived during the Miocene epoch, some 40 million years ago. It stood six feet tall, stretched eleven feet from beak to tail, and possessed a massive twenty-five foot wingspan.

It was discovered in 1980, in the pampas of South America. I would divulge more, but no sense in solving the mystery of my first novel for you. I believe you will be as struck by the similarities as I was. Even more interesting is the thermals great birds rely upon to fly great distances. Thermals are essentially pockets of air formed by rising warm air which is lighter than surrounding cooler air in lower altitudes of the earth's atmosphere.

Modern Sightings

 

There are two primary thermals in the western hemisphere of the Americas. The Gulf Stream travels the length of South America, over the Gulf of Mexico, and up the Mississippi to the Ohio Valley. The other is called the Jet Stream, and travels the boundary between the United States and Canada. It also ends in the Ohio Valley. The result is two bands of lighter air, through which large birds may glide for hundreds, even thousands of miles.

In 1977, a ten year old boy named Marlon Lowe was nearly carried off by one of a pair of decidedly giant birds, fitting the description of Andean condors. I have seen depictions of the birds with and without crown feathers, but the white band of feathers frilling the neck are a constant. As I recall, the actual artist's rendition from the scene was that of a bird with a feathered head, a rapacious hunter.

Although this incident occurred in Lawndale Illinois, it brings up the fact that the Plains Indians have a longstanding oral tradition of tales of giant birds riding the ionized air before storms. It gave these giants, capable of carrying off full grown men and the calves of buffalo, the aspect of having lightning in their eyes and thunder in their wings.

Reports of thunderbirds have come out of Pennsylvania, since the 1840s. I have gone on record many times describing that what Washington State is to Bigfoot, Pennsylvania is to thunderbirds. Due to its proximity to the West Virginia border, I also made the case for a giant bird as the explanation for Point Pleasant's mysterious 1966-1967 Mothman flap. Below is the comparison between what one of these giant birds looked like, in the light and dark.

This is a mock I did to illustrate the notion I posted regarding the thunderbird reports in and around Pt. Pleasant West Virginia in the 13 months preceding the collapse of the Silver Bridge could also possibly identify Mothman. Eagles and hawks carry their heads above their shoulders while landed. Vultures and condors, like teratorns, hold their heads and necks extended and below their shoulders when not in flight, often with their wings outstretched to compensate.

It was this theory, already postulated by renowned fortean and celebrated cryptozoologist Loren Coleman, that prompted his first correspondence with me, and has grown into a great friendship. By the way, the bird represented in this image also depicts the one I chose as the likeliest candidate for thunderbirds in my novel.

The Tombstone Photograph

The Infamous 1896 picture of the Thunderbird and 6 Cowboys

This is an artist's rendition of the famous thunderbird photo said to have appeared in the Tombstone Epitaph, an Arizona newspaper in the 1890s.

To add a modern touch and personal experience, I would like to close this report by relating the contacts I had in 2002 with a young man by the name of Lewis Ostrander. He contacted me regarding a now famous incident in which he and other motorists were delayed at a traffic light by a bird of amazing description and proportions. Let me preface the remarks, which come straight off the sightings map on this web site, to say that at no time has he either expressed any knowledge of cryptozoology, or changed his story in all the times I have called upon him for interviews and additional information.

The Ostrander Encounter Interviews

The most amazing Big Bird sighting of the 21st century

Posted by :
 Lewis Ostrander  
Date Posted : November 11, 2002 12:13:36 PM
Email : OstranderLM@MLHS.ORG
Location : Valley Forge, PA
Date : 09/23/2002
Time : 7:30 am
Description : Thunderbird
Comments : This morning on the way to work I was exiting the Glenn Mills exit from 76 West. To my amazement I saw a bird the size of a man. It walked right across the street in front of me and other cars. This bird was enormous in size. It left the ground and the wing span was as long as my car. I got to work and quickly researched this on the Internet. I couldn’t believe what I found. I presently contacted the Philly Zoo, a Dr. at the University of Penn, KYW News, and the owner of the article.

Color:

Brownish Black…Not Black Not Brown. An in between color – Let’s Say it was dark.

Markings (Colored Bands at Top/Bottom of neck)

Just out of sight for that detail…

Height:

As big as a normal size man – it’s body dwarfed the bushes.

Wings (Tucked/Unfolded):

Both…walked like a pigeon held it’s wings in like a penguin. Unfolded to fly

Beak (Length/Thin or Thick):

Long thick Beak

Head (Feathered/Unfeathered):

Short clean feathers all over the body. Not fluffy at all. Clean Seagull like feathers.

Neck:

(Extended out between shoulders or Erect above shoulders)

Head:

Basically no neck. Not like an Egret or Swan. Small neck if any at all.

Flight:

(Running Start/Standstill) (Lock Winged/Flapping): 

Standstill…flight like superman would. It took one step. One giant flap moved it 10 or 15 feet in distance.

Added 07/16/2003

1. Besides "long and thick," was the beak hooked, strait and dagger-like, pointed, blunt, etc?

The beak was straight as far as I could see and did come to a point.. I couldn’t make out any color or whether it was long or thick. It was not hooked.

2. If the witness had to compare it to a known bird, what type of bird would he have said it looked the most like overall? A vulture, an eagle or hawk, a crow, etc.?

None. It was very distinctive. It moved very lethargic and was not startled by the cars or its surroundings. It seemed very much in control. I’ve seen the birds listed above and they dwarf in comparison. A vulture is very distinctive with it’s markings. I wouldn’t have made that mistake. This bird was as big as my Dodge Durango. The wing span would have covered my car front to back.

3. (From a posting actually several months ago I never got around to ask you): Were the legs of the bird thick/thin, bare or feathered?

Your right DL for asking. That is one feature that I really couldn’t make out as much. I was so busy staring at it’s enormous body, lack of a neck and wind span that I didn’t get to really look. I do remember not really seeing much of the way of legs. It wasn’t like looking at a regular type bird. The legs may have been somehow apart of the torso. I say this because it didn’t walk like a bird…more on the way of a penguin. It waddled a little. I can only take the way it walked and make that conclusion. I do remember that it flew. It only left the ground for 2 or 3 seconds. It seemed like it had too. Maybe because walking isn’t really a characteristic of that bird.

Added 07/18/2003

From my original conversations with Mr. Ostrander, he described the bird as having a body much like that of a pigeon because most of the torso was parallel to the ground and it bobbed its head forward when it walked. As for the wings being like those of a penguin, he said they were so long that when they were folded, they were literally straight up and down, not folded against the body, in essence, like a penguin.

He agreed with my depiction that the bird was a sort of hybrid - a fixed wing flier like a vulture or condor, not delta winged. It also had a feathered head like a rapacious hunter, a bird of prey. From that I gathered it was not a scavenger - their heads are bare to avoid collecting bacteria from carrion.

As for the height, he said the bird first circled out from behind a highway workman's shed at the far side of a T-intersection. Because it was as tall as the shed, he thought it was a worker in brown uniform. It also at one point turned and stared at Lewis, who is 6 feet tall, at eye level from the road through the windshield of his Dodge Durango.

He said the bird had slick, oily brown-black feathers that clung to the body - another reference to a penguin. He made little if any mention of the tail or the legs, which I gathered were almost stubby. He said the bird seemed more comfortable hopping or gliding and seemed to almost waddle. The legs were very short, as if the bird was not made to carry itself over distances.

The short legs seemed to be simply extensions from the torso rather than full jointed limbs, as with say a heron or crane. He said twice that it fluttered and carried itself 10-20 feet, then took off 'like Superman' - rising up over the trees without having to flap or run for any great distance.

Nevada Thunderbird Sighting - Reported November 8th, 2009

 

I was contacted by a Nevada native who had a similar sighting many years ago. Similar to the one above, in that it was literally at close range and eye level. As with Mr. Ostrander, I found her to be credible, and typical of those who have encountered something extraordinary, and never knew quite what to make of it. I include her email in its entirety, with the exception of her last name...

Hello Mr. Tanner,

I emailed you from you web site also. At the top of the Contact form you ask people to select dtanner@aol.com under Email CC to send you a copy... I couldn't find that on the form so I'm sending my story in a separate email, I hope you don't mind.  

My sighting was many years ago but I remember it like it was a few minutes ago, it's not every day one sees a giant bird and is afraid to tell anyone because you know what the story will sound like (campfire ghost tales). I'm not sure what compelled me to contact you. Maybe just finally having someone to tell who won't think I'm nuts and/or maybe after reading about the more recent sightings I feel that this information will be useful in mapping the movements of these magnificent raptors. If you compare the other email I sent you today you'll notice that I have made a few changes in this one. These changes don't change the story or the facts of my sighting, they have been added to better describe the event of that morning.

So, here goes...

I've been reading the stories of Thunderbird sightings and I believe I saw one of these birds in central Nevada in January, 1981. I have only told a couple of people this story because I didn't want to be labeled "the crazy UFO / Giant Bird lady". I saw the bird on the side of Hwy. 376 a few miles from Round Mountain, Nevada. Because of heavy snow and ice in the winter and heavy rains in the spring, Nevada's highways are elevated with deep ditches along the sides for run-off. It was in one of these ditches that I saw the bird.

I was a passenger in a small Dodge truck (a D-50) at about 7 am, there was a fresh blanket of aprox 6 to 8 inches of snow. The road hadn't been plowed yet so I was looking out the window admiring how pristine it all was. At first I though the bird was someone stranded on the side of the road but if it was human it appeared to be wearing a strange feathered cloak of some sort. That's what alerted me to the strangeness of what I was seeing! It was standing fully in the ditch and it behaved as if it had a fresh kill under it's feet.

It gave a little hop like eagles do when they are trying to adjust their grasp but it didn't hop high enough for me to see it's feet. It did spread it's wings slightly for balance when it hopped and I could see that they were enormous. It was a shiny (but not what I would call glossy) chestnut brown color and was large enough that I could see the texture of it's feathers. It looked like a Golden Eagle, of which are abundant in Nevada, but it's head and shoulders(?) appeared close to the size of my own!

It was actually standing so that it's head was about level with my own and I was in a truck and the bird was standing at the bottom of a ditch at least 4 or 5 feet deep! It dipped it's head once toward it's feet but it's back was to me so I could only see a small bit of it's head between the back of the scull and the eye when it came up from that dip. I could just make out the indentation at the outer edge of the eye socket. I never saw it's face. A few days later when the clouds broke and the snow started to melt I went back to the sight.

There was signs of a fairly fresh kill. The remains had obviously been that of a mule deer (they are about the size of a small horse). The scull, shoulders, spine and pelvis, a few rib bones, bloody hair and tissue were scattered around. What ever the giant bird left behind was being taken care of by the local scavengers. I was nineteen years old and about three months into my first pregnancy so my husband was focussed on the road. He was maneuvering our truck through unplowed snow and ice so he didn't see the bird.

I didn't tell him what I saw until many years later when we were watching n unsolved mystery type show on TV with our children. I don't think he ever believed me and he and my children are the only ones I've ever mentioned it to. Until I watched the TV program I thought maybe I was the only one who had ever seen this. I even thought that maybe it was the only bird of its kind, some sort of weird experiment or something (we lived fairly close to Nevada's Nuclear Test Site)

Thank you for letting me share this with you. 

Sincerely,

Rhonda (Last Name Withheld)
 

 

       
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