During a harsh Canadian winter in the early 1850s an American Indian named White Bear left his Blackfoot tribe and journeyed to Devil’s Head Mountain, north-east of Banff in Alberta, in a desperate search for food. White Bear had killed a deer and was carrying its carcass tied to his back when suddenly a great shadow appeared overhead. He felt huge talons grip the deer, lifting it – and him – into the sky!

The winged kidnapper carried White Bear up to a cliff, dropped him into a nest with two young birds, then perched nearby. The terrified hunter realized it was an omaxsapitau – a gigantic, eagle-like thunderbird, greatly feared by the Blackfoot Indians. To his horror, among the bones in the nest were recognizably human remains. When the omaxsapitau flew off to hunt again, White Bear grasped the feet of the two young birds and threw himself from the nest. The chicks opened their wings as they plunged to the ground, safely slowing White Bear’s descent. Before letting them go, the hunter pulled two feathers from the birds’ tails to show to his people.

White Bear’s report is just one of numerous others from North America featuring huge, unidentifiable birds of prey. The Indians call them thunderbirds because, according to legend, their wings are associated with the sound of thunder. As recently as July 15, 1977, in Lawndale, Illinois, two enormous black vulture-like birds were sighted – they had hooked beaks, white-ringed necks, and wings estimated to be more than 3 meters across. One of the birds lifted 10-year-old Marlon Lowe off the ground outside his house and carried the screaming boy 10 to 12 meters before dropping him. Ornithologists insist that no bird in existence is large enough or strong enough to carry a 27-kilogram child, yet other witnesses reported seeing, sometime later, the same birds flying south.

About 8,000 years ago monstrous birds of prey did exist in North America. Known as teratorns, these prehistoric birds looked like vultures but were more active than their smaller, scavenging counterparts today. Fossils found all across the continent have shown that the most familiar species, suitably named the “incredible teratorn,” had an immense wingspan – as much as 5 meters. It may be more than coincidental that reports of enormous raptors have emerged from regions that once harbored similar real-life species supposedly extinct for centuries.

 

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