Note: Part One can be found here: The Thunderbird.
On the corner of my desk, in a faded folder showing the wear of time, are seventeen thunderbird sightings which have been sent to me over the years. When Robert Lyman passed, reports of the large, unidentified cryptid mostly vanished from the newspapers. But this did not stop people from seeing gigantic, out-of-place birds. Rather than newspapers publishing the reports, these reports moved to a new media outlet – the internet, where reports are shared by those who have had a sighting with the mysterious thunderbird.
In the aftermath of the original thunderbird article, I received a number of thunderbird sighting messages – the earliest of these sightings was in July 1978 and the most recent sighting was in October 2020. While the reports are spread out over the years, there are a lot of common traits described by the witnesses. The Black Forest Thunderbird is described a bird looking like a large vulture or eagle, black or dark brown in color, and has a wingspan between twelve and twenty feet.
While I cannot completely dismiss the sightings people have come forward with, I believe there is an explanation for most of the sightings. Note: before any hate mail gets sent my way, I want to state I do not know what was spotted by the witnesses. Was it a thunderbird or was it something else? Although I do not have the precise answer, what follows is my attempt to explain the seventeen sightings I have collected.
I personally believe that the majority of the thunderbird sightings have a natural explanation and reading through the reports, eight of them are described as looking like a vulture or eagle. It is possible that the sightings are known birds that witnesses think are larger than they are due to line of sight. If they have nothing to compare the bird’s size with or only caught a quick glimpse of it, it is possible witnesses believe the bird was larger than it really was. While a possible explanation, is does not work for all the reports.
If I dismiss these eight as mistaken identity, I’m still left with nine more sightings in my collection. Of these, three have been dismissed due to the email sent only stated “I saw a large bird fly overhead.” Even when I followed up with the witnesses, very little could be added to the sightings. One report was dismissed due to the witness statement: “a large shadow passed over us while we were at our camp.” A follow-up provided no other information. And I have two reports that sit in limbo due to the witnesses never responding to my follow-up email.
If I dismiss these other reports, I am left with three reports which are not easily explained. These reports come from witnesses who have hunted, fished, and camped for the majority of their lives. Of these three reports, I have been permitted to share two of them with you and reading these experiences, I have to ask: “What did they see?”
In the spring of 2004, I was sent an email from Robert F. who, with his son, had an encounter with a large bird. Robert described himself as an outdoorsman, who had hunted and fished all of his life. In the summer of 2003, Robert and his son had an encounter with a large bird just south of the junction of Route 872 and Bailey Run Road while fishing the Sinnemahoning.
“We had planned on fishing the Sinnemahoning when we saw a large bird I could not identify. We’ve spotted numerous eagles over the years and I know this was not an eagle, though they are often spotted in the area of Sinnemahoning State Park.
We had been fishing for an hour or so when my son asked if I saw the large bird at the water’s edge, about 50 yards south of where we were standing in the creek. I laughed and told him it was just heron. He told me I needed to look because it was not a heron.
It took a couple minutes for me to make out the bird standing among the tall grass. This bird was large and covered in dark feathers. I mean this thing was huge! It was easily six feet tall. It had a large, odd-looking beak. Something about the way it stood made me think it had positioned itself so it could watch us without us knowing it was there. I felt like we were being hunted by this thing.
I told my son to make his way towards the bank, while I watched it. He had just made it to the edge of the creek when the bird took off. In 53 years, I have never witnessed a bird take flight like this one did. It launched itself straight up into the air about 12-13 feet, before spreading its wings and flying downstream. Its wingspan was easily 20 feet if not more.
As I watched it fly away, I was amazed how silent it was. For a bird that size, you would think it would have made noise, but it didn’t.
After the sighting, we looked online and did find a bird that looked very similar to what we saw. Are you familiar with the shoebill stork? In the days after we saw this bird we went through pictures of birds and that was what this bird looked like, except the bird we saw was covered in dark feathers and its legs were much thicker and shorter than the pictures online. The other thing was the pictures online clearly show the bird’s eyes in the front above the bill, but I do not remember seeing any eyes.”
In a follow-up email, Robert added this information: “Thinking back on that day, two things stand out about the bird. One was how easily it blended into the weeds on the streambank. I should have been able to see it. Even after my son pointed the bird out, it took me a while to spot it. The other thing is how quiet this thing was. I never heard it make any sound as it stood there, or when it took off. For something that big, it should have made noise of some sort, but it didn’t.
To help you understand how it took off, I would compare it to a spring. Ever push it down and watch it shoot straight up in the air? This bird shot straight up in the air from where it stood. It didn’t run, it was like it jumped straight up in the air. Once it was up in the air, then it spread its wings. Usually birds flap their wings to get off the ground, or flap while running, but this thing jumped into the air and then spread it wings.
The second report I have been permitted to share comes from Josh W. who sent the following email in 2014. Josh writes:
“As a hunter, there are things you don’t want to admit you witnessed. Telling fellow hunters you witnessed something strange in the woods makes you the butt of many jokes and teasing. I used to be one of those people who made fun of those who saw something strange in the woods. One of the guys who used to hunt with us once claimed he saw bigfoot and we joked about it to the point he stopped hunting with us and altogether.
In the fall of 2004, I saw I gigantic bird. I have never seen a bird this large in my life and I do not ever want to see this thing again. It changed my life. I used to love being out in the woods, but no more. I’m done with the woods after what I saw.
That year, I was with a group a friends hunting along the Ridge Road [note: this is Route 144 between Renovo and Moshannon]. We parked near the Big Rock and we all headed to the places were we would sit for the morning. I made my way to the spot I had picked out and climbed into my stand and settled in for the day.
I had been in the stand for an hour or so, when I saw a large bird I could not identify. It was barely clearing the tree tops and at first I thought it was a glider. If it hadn’t been so close that I could see it was a living creature, I would have thought it was a glider, but this was no glider. It soared just over the treetops, crossed the field I was watching headed northward toward Renovo.
I’ve hunted for over thirty years and I do not have a clue what this thing was. I never heard any noise coming from it as it glided over the treetops. I ended up watching the sky for it to return and once I was sure it was gone, I ran for the truck. I was done hunting for the day. The group I was with returned at lunchtime and asked me if I had seen anything and I told them I hadn’t. How was I going to explain I saw a gigantic bird?”
In a follow-up e-mail, Josh added some description to the creature he saw: “The entire sighting lasted 3-4 minutes from the time I first saw it until it was gone. From where I was sitting, it passed about 100 yards from me and about 50 yards overhead. To be honest, it was too damn close.
This thing was the size of a glider. I honestly thought that was what it was and I was going to witness a crash. This bird was dark brown in color and the wingspan was 30-35 feet. If it wasn’t for the size of it, I would have thought this was a vulture of some type, but I’ve never seen a vulture this big.
Something that I did not mention before was the moment I realized it was a bird, I was filled with fear. I was curious and concerned when I thought it was a glider, but knowing it was a bird absolutely terrified me. There is no doubt that if it wanted to, it could have picked me up and carried me off and I weigh 200 pounds.”
And I’m left with the question: “What are people seeing in the skies of Pennsylvania?” While I do not have the answer, keep your eyes open – maybe you’ll be the next one to see one of the Black Forest Thunderbirds.