Thunderbird Pennsylvania

Giant Bird of Pennsylvania.

Scientific names: Gymnogyps pennsylvanianus, suggested by Hiram Cranmer; Mythopoeia ti-tanornis, offered by Gerald Musinsky in 1997.

Variant name: Eastern condor.

Physical description: Eaglelike bird. Length, 3-4 feet. Wingspan, 14-30 feet. Often described as the size of a Piper Cub airplane. Black or brown, becoming grayer with age. Large, black eyes. Large beak, not hooked. Short neck. Wings, about 12 inches wide. Short, thick legs.

Behavior: Possibly migratory, traveling south in November through the Appalachians to West Virginia and north in March to upstate New

York. Flaps wings slowly. Flies easily through dense woodland. Feeds on carrion. Said to prey on humans by seizing them by the shoulders and carrying them to remote mountaintops to feed.

Distribution: Central and western Pennsylvania, especially the Sproul State Forest in Clinton County. Sightings have been reported from Bear Run, Beaver Falls, Centerville, Clinton County, Coudersport, Dents Run, Erie, Greenville, Hammersley Fork, Hughesville, Hyner, Jersey Shore, Lock Haven, Lycoming County, southern McKean County, Murrysville, Ole Bull, Renovo, Shingletown, South Greensburg, and Sunderlinville. Also Chateaugay, New York.

Significant sightings: The earliest account comes from Elvira Ellis Coats of northern Potter County, who learned about Pennsylvania Thun-derbirds in the 1840s from the local Indians.

Around 1940, Robert R. Lyman saw a giant, brownish bird standing in the middle of Sheldon Road, 2 miles north of Coudersport. It flew away when he got to within 150 feet, showing off a wingspan of 20-25 feet and navigating through second-growth trees with ease.

Hiram M. Cranmer watched a giant bird flying at a height of 500 feet around Renovo on March 27, 1957. It was grayish and had a wingspan of 25-30 feet. Sightings continued in the area for about three weeks.

On March 31, 1973, Joseph and Wanda Kaye were driving near the Oregon Hill Ski Area in Lycoming County when they saw a large, black bird by the side of the road. Its wings flapped slowly as they went past, and it flew into the air.

Two school teachers, Debbie Wright and Sue Howell, saw a huge bird in the spring of 1977 while driving to Du Bois near Drocker's Woods. It was very dark, with a huge beak.

In July 1993, Shane Fisher and his mother and father saw a huge, eaglelike bird near Larry's Creek.

On July 6, 2000, Robin Swope watched a dark-gray bird with a 15-17-foot wingspan fly over the Erie County Memorial Gardens near Erie, Pennsylvania.

An amateur birder of Greenville, Pennsylvania, saw a bird the size of a small airplane on June 13, 2001. It flew in from the south and landed on a tree 300 yards from the house, where it stayed for fifteen to twenty minutes. It had dark-brown or black feathers with grayish-black wings and was about 5 feet long, with a 15-foot wingspan.

Mike Felice saw a huge, black bird with a wingspan of 10-15 feet in South Greensburg, Pennsylvania, on September 25, 2001. It was slowly flying about 50-60 feet above Route 119, apparently following some trucks, and briefly landed on a large tree. He had it in sight for a minute and a half, but there were apparently no other witnesses. PP'ossible explanations:

(1) A California condor (Gymnogyps californianus)—the largest U.S. vulture— which reaches a length of 4 feet and a wingspan of 9 feet 4 inches. It is black, with white wing linings, and has a naked, redorange head. An endangered species in California, a condor population may have persisted in Pennsylvania since the Pleistocene. Fossil remains of this bird have been found in New York and Florida.

(2) An unknown species of condor endemic to Pennsylvania.

(3) See Big Bird for other possibilities. Sources: Hiram M. Cranmer, "Queer Bird,"

Fate 11 (April 1958): 128-129; Hiram M. Cranmer, "Thunderbird Sightings," Fate 16 (September 1963): 116-117; Hiram M. Cranmer, "Bird Call," Fate 19 (March 1966): 131-132; Robert R. Lyman Sr., Forbidden Land, 1614-1895 (Coudersport, Pa.: Potter Enterprise, 1971); Robert R. Lyman Sr., Amazing Indeed! Strange Events in the Black Forest (Coudersport, Pa.: Potter Enterprise, 1973), pp. 94-97; Mark A. Hall, Natural Mysteries (Minneapolis, Minn.: Mark A. Hall, 1991), pp. 67-82; Gerald Musinsky, "Return of the Thunderbird: Avian Mystery of the Black Forest," Fate 48 (November 1995): 48-51, revised in mokele/cryptozoologicalrealms/html_3.2/ english/reflections/return.html; Gerald Musinsky, Reflections on Cryptozoology: Mythopoeia Titanornis, Living Fossil or Living Folklore? on line at com/_ht_a/mokele/cryptozoologicalrealms/

html_3.2/english/reflections/colloqy.html; Robin Swope, "Thunderbird Sighting?" Fortean Times, no. 148 (August 2001): 53; Craig Heinselman, "Three New Pennsylvania Thunderbird Reports," North American BioFortean Review 3, no. 2 (October 2001): 24-25, NABR7.pdf; Loren Coleman, Mothman and Other Curious Encounters (New York: Paraview, 2002), pp. 80-87.

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