To Native Americans from the Great Lakes to the Southwest, the skies offered the greatest mystery. It brought the cleansing rain that gave life, a gift from the Great Spirit. But also it brought the destructive lightening that tormented the flat, tree-less lands and the ice and snow that could mean death to an entire tribe. They watched the skies for danger, but up there the skies were looking down at them. With a great dark shadow and a shriek, the thunderbird roamed these lands and it was her that brought the storms. When white men colonized the lands and the Natives dwindled, the thunderbird stories dwindled. Until the modern age that is, but with a new twist.
While the giant predatory birds live only in the legends, they have found time and again to visit the modern day occasionally. But these stories seem to be more in the line of cryptozoology or mistaken identity than thunder clashing gods.
It's 1977 and two great shadows fall over the lawns where three children are playing hide and seek. Looking up, they see two giant birds swooping down. One boy runs and jumps into the nearby swimming pool as he's chased by a great black form. While this is occurring, the second bird descends on 10-year-old Marlon Lowe, gripping him in its talons and raising up with it's prey. Marlon's mother watches in horror as the boy fights the creature off. She runs to him as the two large shapes fly away into the trees. This would be one of the only reported instances in America of a bird of prey attacking a human being.
They would not be the only ones to report the creatures, either before or after. Several witnesses saw the birds flying among the trees or landing on fences, "man sized" one person reported, staring with cold eyes at the people observing them back.
It's the most famous story of "giant birds" in modern history, but many doubt it was some new, undiscovered species of child-snatching bird. Many witnesses, after researching the bird, claim it was a California or Andean Condor or an African/Eurasian vulture, possibly an exotic pet or zoo escapee. Even Marlon's mother, a witness, claims the creature matched the description of a Californian condor. Some researchers even believe the bird wasn't meaning any harm at all, but had escaped from a raptor show, where it was attempting a "shoulder landing".
So if we disregard this as a case of mistaken identity, what about the other great bird stories of North America?
In 1890, two Arizona cowboys shot what they claimed to be a giant bird. They dragged it back to town and showed it off. Only this bird was different than anything they had seen. It's skin had no feathers and it had the head "of an alligator". Was this a case of a modern day pterodactyl sighting or a hoax? The pterodactyl had in fact been discovered in the west already in fossil form, so the cowboys could have had knowledge of the prehistoric beast. And besides, as any modern day dinosaur researcher knows, flying reptiles likely had feathers.
Since then, however, there is rarely a year that goes by without someone claiming to see a pterosaur or giant bird in the southwest United States or across the border in Mexico. It seems to be the hotspot. An old story I heard passed around told of a man on the Texas/Mexico border who went outside to use his outhouse and saw a large, "man sized" black shape land in the yard near him, folding great wings near its body. And even in 2008, several Texans spotted an "army brigade" of giant birds flying alongside commercial craft.
As for attacks on people, there is no evidence of birds taking away children in America, but several in Europe and other countries. Several stories from Norway and the Alps have been verified. But despite this video, which is a fake, we are likely not in danger from birds from the sky.
But are they real? Did the Native Americans draw their stories from real encounters with giant flying birds? Or were they simply exaggerating the size of common animals? Or was it a combination of both, maybe a primal memory of the great teratorns that likely would have easily preyed on the children of nomadic Pleistocene hunters? Or the hunters themselves?
I say keep watching the skies.