Often forgotten when we think of mythical creatures, are the legends and stories of the Native American peoples. From the terrifying Windigo, the orc or goblin like Pukwudgie, and the topic of this post and podcast episode the Thunderbird.

As I mentioned in the podcast, Thunderbirds have a place within Cryptozoology. With hypotheses ranging from miraculously surviving Pterosaurs, misidentified Pterosaur fossils, and more recent but still extinct Ice Age era birds like the Teratorns.

Anhanguera, a species of Pterosaur with a 15ft wingspan
Anhanguera Skeleton, photo by Zach Tirrel CC BY-SA 2.0

Quezalcoatlus, a Pterosaur with a wingspan reaching nearly 40ft!
Teratornis, An extinct condor like family of birds with wingspans in excess of 20ft
Teratornis_Fossil, photo by Voyou Desoeuvre CC BY-SA 2.0

Could the Thunderbird legends be based off an ancient sighting of late surviving Pterosaur or Bird? It is kind of hard to look at a skeleton of a Pterosaur and not see some similarities to certain descriptions of a Thunderbird. All claw and no foot, multiple wing joints, and often quite long sharp beaks, and as in Anhanguera's case, filled with dagger like teeth! Aside from Teratorns, there is another ancient bird called Pelagornis Sandersi that had an estimated wingspan of nearly 30 ft, and an accompanying beak full of teeth

Sightings of giant birds are not all that uncommon, and in particular Sightings in Illinois, Texas, and Alaska have turned more than a few heads. A few notable 'cryptozoologists' such as the late Ivan Sanderson, and Loren Coleman have documented some of these encounters. And historians Adrienne Mayor of Stanford and Tom Holland of Cambridge (not Spiderman) have suggested the Pterosaur fossil link. You can read Adrienne Mayor's take at

Quetzalcoatlus next to a Cessna 172 Aircraft, by The Nature Box, CC BY-SA 4.0

It's an intriguing thought, whether it's a surviving mega bird or a creative imagination at work. After all, if you had no concept of fossilization and time as millions and millions of years what would you think about a giant skull that might be jutting out from a rock?

But when we go looking for this kind of empirical justification, do we miss the story? I think so. Its not to say that that there can be no "truth" to the cryptozoology angle, but we forget that stories can have meaning and purpose.

Thunderbird Totem poles of Nimpkish Chief Tlah-Co-Glass circa 1923

Animal Skin with a Thunderbird painted on, Great Lakes region pre-1800

Menomini bag featuring Thunderbirds

The "Thunderers" occupied a sacred place in the lore of many Native American Tribes. Most of legends I came across involved the Thunderbirds doing battle with great horned serpents. And others still saw them combating giant whales. All versions are rich with symbology, and no doubt the Thunderbirds themselves are a bit more than giant birds...

In the story I tell in the podcast, we see a great flood brought about by the evil serpent Unktehi that is intended to wipe humanity off the face of the earth. Unktehi very nearly succeeds, even successfully fighting off the intervention of the Thunderbirds until the last minute. Another 'humanity ending' flood story. These flood stories seem to pop up all over the place and since my last couple of episodes centered around a flood story, this Thunderbird tale stood out to me. The circumstances surrounding each flood are all different, see these previous blog posts for more: Gilgamesh Addendum , and The World Before the Flood

I hope you enjoyed this episode of the podcast and found this post entertaining as well. Shorter than my last few endeavors but I felt like it didn't need to be long to get the point across and drop of a cool story in your memory banks. If you haven't checked it out, follow me on Twitter and Instagram. Those are the primary social media spots I use for the podcast. And of course, book mark this page and check out some of the links to books and stuff I like

Material for this Episode:

And one of my favorite books: