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In the Valley of Shadows

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Big Birds Big Birds

Big Bird - What is flying in Northwest (and other) skies?

No, not “Big Bird” from Sesame Street. There have be en reports of exceedlingly large birds throughout our history. One flesh and blood sighting, or in this case, feathers and bone, occurred on the East Coast in the early 1960s. A small private plane crashed due to a collision with a bird, but not like last year’s Miracle on the Hudson. The bird, singular, that brought this plane down was at least the size of a small plane. The wreckage of this plane sported a mystery: Plastered all over the tail assembly were the blood, bone fragments, tissue and huge feathers of an unknown bird. BAsed on comparison to known birds, this avian had to be at least 15 feet long with a wingspam of nearly 25 feet.

A bird of enormous size may have ruled the skies long ago, a remnant of which may survive to this day. This was a bird so large it could carry off young bison; even children were known to go disappearing.

This brings us to our local account from June six years ago. A young woman here in town witnessed what the Native Americans would likely have called a Thunderbird. No, not a Ford.

It had a white head and a dark body. A thick neck appeared to support a collar-like ring of heavier feathers. It did not look like an eagle or a hawk. It trailed its legs behind it like a heron or egret. Height was difficult to judge, but it appeared to be at least the size of a hang-glider.

About the same time, a number of people at the Sagle Flea Market briefly witnessed a similar bird fly over, described by witnesses as the size of a Pipe Cub airplane.

Animal oddities are reported every year all over the world, but we will remain in this country. Like its cousin in Wales, England, reports have circulated in Texas of a phantom wild cat that doesn’t match descriptions of known wild cats; and we won’t go into the myriad reports of hairy hominids.

In Illinois about 30 years ago, a 70-pound, ten-year-old boy was carried approximately 20 feet by a pair of birds with eight-foot wing spans until he struck one and was dropped. Local officials scoffed, stating there were no native birds matching this account, except maybe turkey vultures, that could account for this story. Turkey vulture wingspans can reach 6 feet, and they could possibly carry a 70-pound boy a few feet with his running momentum aiding the abduction. Both boy and mother admitted that they may have exaggerated the story, and they allowed that pictures of vultures matched what they saw.Their description detailed hooked, 6-inch-long bills, black in color with white rings around the neck.

In 2003, a 5-pound puppy was abducted and released by a large bald eagle. (Hey, rabbits and other large rodents are their prey.)

San Antonio, Texas in early 1974. Two school teachers spotted two birds one late afternoon that appeared to have a 16-foot wingspan and whose skeletons could be seen through their thin skin against a background of gray feathers.

Pennsylvania, September 2001, just two weeks after 9/11. People were watching the skies and a witness claimed to have seen an enormous winged creature fly over Route 119 south of Greensburg. His attention was drawn by what he said sounded like flags flapping in a thunderstorm. The wingspan supposedly was 10 to 15 feet. It swooped as low as 60 feet above the ground, even glidnning gracefully over an 18-wheeler. The sighting lasted less than a couple of minutes where it briefly tried to land in a large tree, but broke a branch with its great weight.

Speaking as a  North Idaho native, I have never seen a bird larger than a blue heron, or one of the geese down at the beach (which I miss, by the way).

Are there turkey vultures here? I’ve never seen nor heard of them, but the May issue of Mike Turnlund’s “A Bird in Hand” for the River Journal says they’re here. Vultures need the thermals created by warm rising air to carry on their scavenging patrols. That is why you rarely see them in the early morning or on cold days. Instead, they wait until the sun is high and the breeze is warm before starting their rounds, just like an out-of-school-for-the-summer teenager, he wrote. (If you missed it, you can read it online.) The legends of Native Americans and their Thunderbird seem the most logical explanation. Have a very few of these huge birds found a way to survive into the 21st century? Nothing supernatural there, maybe, unless as explored in my other columns, they have found a way in and out of a dimensional doorway and are occassionally drawn here, to the Valley of Shadows.

For more on big birds, including teratonis  and the Mothman, visit our website and read the “Big Birds” story of March 2009 from the “files of the River Journal’s Surrealist Research Bureau.”

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Author info

Lawrence Fury Lawrence Fury is an inveterate letter-to-the-editor writer, and a conservative conscience for this area of North Idaho. He's also an expert on local ghost stories, and is compiling a group of them for future book publication. You can read more about him in a Love Notes feature for the River Journal

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