Did Giant Birds Roam the American Plains?

By | July 10, 2018

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A Thunderbird, mythical creator of Plain storms, swoops out of the sky, hurling lightning flashes at darting swallows on this graphic Pawnee ceremonial drum, USA. Plains Indian, Pawnee. (Photo by Werner Forman/Universal Images Group/Getty Images)

Several Native American tribes of the Great Plains, Southwest, Pacific Northwest, and Great Lakes regions all have myths and legends about the Thunderbirds, a type of giant bird that rode the winds ahead of big thunderstorms. Thunderbird motifs are common among these tribes, as are stories of Thunderbird encounters. But all myths have a kernel of truth to them and the Thunderbird legends are no different. How true are the Thunderbird legends? Did giant birds coexist with Native Americans thousands of years ago? And could Thunderbirds still exist today? At least one close encounter, dating back to the 1970s, seems to indicate that Thunderbirds are real. 

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Thunderbirds Herald Storms

According to Native American legends, an appearance by the Thunderbirds is accompanied by thunder and lightning. Thunderbirds are typically seen right before a severe thunderstorm, most often in the spring and summer months. Thunderbirds are described as being incredibly large with tremendous wingspans. They blot out the sun when they fly overhead. The Native American tribes associate Thunderbirds with both life and death. When they arrive in the spring, they bring with them new life and the rains needed for new plants. But they also bring storms and destruction, so they are also linked to death and destruction.