Mystery Bird of the central and eastern United States.
Variant names: Bighoot, Booger owl, Flying head, In-da-dhin-ga (Omaha-Ponca/Siouan), Mothman, Wooo-Wooo.
Physical description: Length, 4 feet. White. Wingspan, 10-12 feet.
Behavior: Nocturnal. Said to be able to carry off lambs, calves, dogs, and small children.
Distribution: South Texas; the Ozark Mountains, Arkansas; southern Ohio; northern New Jersey; West Virginia.
Significant sightings: Iroquoian legends of "flying heads" may be related to large owls.
A woman saw a large bird at Rocky Fork Lake, southern Ohio, at sundown in August 1982. It looked just like a 10-foot tree until it moved into a clearing and unfolded its wings. One year later, near the same spot on the same lake, she saw it again, this time noticing its yellowish legs and feet. Possible explanations:
(1) The Snowy owl (Nyctea scandiaca) is the closest in plumage but is only half as large, with a wingspan of 4 feet 4 inches. It breeds in the Arctic but winters as far south as Minnesota, Michigan, and New York. Strays are occasionally found much farther south, often in the daytime and usually sick or hungry.
(2) The largest living owl is the Eurasian eagle-owl (Bubo bubo), which reaches 30 inches in length and is only found in Europe and Asia. Its feet are the size of a man's hand.
(3) A giant flightless owl (Ornimegalonyx oteroi) that exceeded 3 feet in length is known from the Pleistocene of Cuba, but there is no evidence of its persistence into modern times.
Sources: James Owen Dorsey, "Siouan FolkLore and Mythologic Notes," American Antiquarian 7 (1885): 107; William Elsey Connelley, Wyandot Folk-Lore (Topeka, Kans.: Crane, 1899), pp. 85-86; Vance Randolph, We Always Lie to Strangers (New York: Columbia University Press, 1951), pp. 63-66; Virginia M. Miller (letter), "The 'Mothman' Visits," Fate 29 (March 1976): 127-129; Joseph Bruchac, Stone Giants and Flying Heads (Trumansburg, N.Y.: Crossing, 1979); Mark A. Hall, Thunderbirds! The Living Legend ofGiant Birds (Minneapolis, Minn.: Mark A. Hall, 1988), pp. 48-49, 84; Mark A. Hall, "Bighoot: The Giant Owl,"
Wonders 5, no. 3 (September 1998): 67-79; Karl Shuker, "A Giant Owl and a Giant Hyrax ... ?" Strange Magazine, no. 21 (Fall 2000), on line at http://www.strangemag.com.
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