Cryptozoologist mulls theories on ‘Big Bird’
BY KEVIN GARCIA
The Brownsville Herald
May 8, 2006 — Hidden in the shadows outside of civilization, monsters are believed by some to exist.
According to folklore, a large primate stalks the Pacific Northwest and a giant reptile lurks in the depths of a Scottish lake.
And in South Texas, people carefully watch the skies for Big Bird, a flying creature that terrorized the area in 1976.
“This bird’s got a habit of going after people,” said Guadalupe Cantu III, an eye witness. “This is strictly a nighttime bird, though. ... From 11 o’clock on, everybody’s bait.”
While most scientists would write off a man-hunting bird as pure myth, a group of researchers takes such accounts seriously. The researchers are called cryptozoologists.
“It’s considered a pseudo science,” said Ken Gerhard, 38. “I like to call it a frontier science.”
A Houston-based cryptozoologist, Gerhard is researching a book that will focus on the Big Bird. He will speak about his research before the Brownsville Enlightenment Society at 7 p.m., Tuesday at Shoney’s Restaurant. The meeting is free to the public.
While other zoologists might consider the existence of such a large unknown species impossible, Gerhard and others keep an open mind.
“Cryptozoology is the search for animals that have not yet been verified by science,” Gerhard said. “Most people are familiar with the marquee animals – Bigfoot, the Loch Ness monster and Big Bird. ... The less glamorous side would include a new species of beetle.”
In 2005 several new birds, plants and other species were discovered in the Foja Mountains of Papua, New Guinea. Scientists announced 27 new species earlier this year, discovered in California national park caves. Large creatures have also been revealed recently, with the first photographs of a live giant squid taken in 2004.
“New species are discovered all the time, a lot of people don’t understand that,” Gerhard said. “Cryptozoologists feel that those ‘real scientists’ aren’t doing a good enough job.”
Don Farst, executive director of the Gladys Porter Zoo, remembers the excitement in January 1976 when people would ask about giant birds and livestock-attacking beasts. He said nothing was ever proved, but he can understand why some believe in unknown animals.
“Nothing is impossible,” he said. “But I usually believe that either I or somebody that I trust has seen, and preferably photographed next to something of a known size.”
There’s always more to learn, according to Lynn David Livsey, president of the Brownsville Enlightenment Society, a group that discusses new discoveries and unknown phenomena on a weekly basis.
“We pretend like we know but really we don’t,” he said. “I remain open-minded on the subject.”
The Big Bird has been compared to local owl-witch legends, but Gerhard said many real creatures began as myths.
“A lot of animals discovered in the last century were original folklore animals,” he said, adding this was true of the gorilla. “They were giant hairy wild men and back in the late 1800s were considered to be folklore. ... It made the transformation from folklore into reality.”
Gerhard said certain areas of wilderness remained unexplored by men, which obviously provided the potential to discover new species of animals.
“I can’t say these animals are there, but I can say the potential is there,” Gerhard said.
Aside from the Big Bird sightings in Brownsville in 1976, there were sightings in Robstown and Rio Grande City in 1975, Swinney Switch in the 1950s and San Benito in the 1940s. McAllen, Harlingen and Los Fresnos also claimed witnesses.
San Benito in particular seemed a hotbed for Big Bird reports. Many residents of the La Paloma Colonia have heard of the creature they call the demon bird.
“As a child I heard it one Christmas eve, really Christmas day at 1 o’clock in the morning,” said Cantu, now 50. “It made more and more noise so my grandfather went out and cussed it. ... It was a strange noise, like a couple of cats, like one voice mixed with another voice.”
As a child in San Benito, Cantu had heard of the bird, but he was surprised by its size and that it showed no fear of guns or dogs.
The bird Cantu saw seemed to stand about 8 feet tall and was solid black, although parts of its body seemed to reflect more light. It was stood vertically with stooped shoulders.
“With the face I thought I was looking at a skeleton, but it was the eyes and nose (of a skull),” he said. “It did not flap its wings, it just glided.”
Alex Resendez, 66, saw the creature three times in the 1970s. Twice he caught fleeting glimpses of the beast over Brownsville, and the third time, he saw it in broad daylight near his rural McCook area home.
“I never seen a bird that big,” he said. “He was brownish, like dirt. ... He does not have long legs and does not stand like other birds.”
What struck him most were the bird’s large eyes that shone like black glass, with red markings underneath. The beak was also peculiar.
“You have to look close because his beak is very transparent,” Resendez said. “If you see it real fast, you’re going to think he ain’t got no beak.”
In all, the brown bird seemed to stand over 4 feet tall. After being spooked by a charging bull, the bird spread its large wings and pushed off the ground with its feet.
“He was very swift, very nice, like a glider,” Resendez said. “This bird, he never flaps his wings.”
The wing underside was surprisingly colorful to Resendez, appearing with blue and white stripes.
“It was the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.”
Descriptions of Big Bird often follow the same pattern: it is dark in color, featherless or smoothly feathered, has a long thin beak or no beak at all, short legs and long tail.
Farst took a pragmatic approach.
“At certain times of year we have wood storks here, which are large gangly birds, about 4½ feet tall,” he said. “They are more black and white than brownish and have a long curving bill.”
He offered alternative possibilities such as a sand hill crane or brown pelican, but said the distinctive features described by witnesses don’t always match with known animals.
As several cattle mutilations were reported in 1976, Resendez believes they might be related to the Big Bird sightings.
“I thought maybe this bird goes after these cows, drives his beak in there, takes samples, then goes upstairs where maybe there is a UFO,” he said. “It’s so well made, nobody could tell it was a robot, but I don’t know.”
Gerhard has heard theories ranging from a giant owl to a giant bat, but he has his own ideas.
“The other theory that I’m pursuing with my book is probably a little more out there,” the cryptozoologist said. “That’s the possibility of living pterosaurs.”
Winged reptiles and contemporaries of the dinosaurs, pterosaurs are believed to have met extinction more than 64 million years ago, but some cryptozoologists see the creatures as possible Big Bird explanations.
“It seems to jibe with most of the reports I’ve collected,” Gerhard said, adding that the Kongamato of Africa and Ropen of Papua, New Guinea, both supposedly mythical creatures, are said to have reptile-like features.
Farst doubts a large flying reptile could go undiscovered, but said there are some birds that behave similarly to the Big Bird.
“The best and biggest flying birds that we have would be like the Andean Condor from South America,” he said. “They can jump and launch themselves into the air to take off, but usually they do this off the side of a cliff.”
Gliding without a cliff, or preliminary flapping, would be highly unusual, he said.
“That would indicate that it would be something that we don’t have in this world at this time,” he said. “If I had to bet any of my hard earned money, I would be willing to bet odds of a 1,000-to-1 against there being a critter like this. .... I wish you’d prove me wrong. I’d love to see something like this.”
Livsey believes Big Bird to be an actual bird, albeit one not known to modern man. The extinct Teratorn is believed to have wingspans over a dozen feet.
“This does have to be a monster or a giant flying reptile,” he said. “I believe we’re talking something terrestrial here. I do believe in UFOs, and I was a witness to a UFO event, but I do not believe this was some kind of extra-terrestrial.”
Posted on May 08, 06 | 12:00 am
Big-bird encounter one for the books
LAS CRUCES, N.M. (July 19, 2007) - Myths and legends about creatures from the Chupacabra to the Jersey Devil to Bigfoot are everywhere, but in southern New Mexico and parts of Texas people say they've seen birds so big they seem prehistoric.
One man claims the rugged landscape near Las Cruces hides a mystery that's haunted him for years.
Dave Zander has lived near the Doña Ana Mountains for more than 30 years spending almost all his spare time hiking, exploring and fossil hunting in the range between the Robledo and Organ mountains.
He saw something that he's unable to explain and many people find hard to believe.
He recalls the day nine years ago when he spotted something extraordinary: two creatures perched on a mountain less than a mile away.
"These creatures were so huge they looked like the size of small planes," Dave Zander said. "All of the sudden one of them jumped off dropped off the top of the mountain, came down the front of the mountain and all the sudden these huge wings just spread out.
"I would say the wings were at least a 20-foot wingspan."
Definitely something out of the ordinary.
"Not a normal bird, definitely of a giant variety," Zander continued. ""It makes you feel like it could come over and carry you off if it wanted to."
Zander witness a real-life scene out of the movie Jurassic Park?
One ancient bird in the vicinity is an Andean condor living at the Rio Grande Zoo in Albuquerque. But it's wingspan of 12 feet pales to what Zander described: birds with an unprecedented twenty-foot wingspan, with pink bald heads and all-black bodies, and feathers on their enormous wings.
There is nothing on modern record like it.
"In comparison a 20 foot wingspan would truly be a monster and something undocumented by science," cryptozoologist Ken Gerhard said. "I believe what Dave Zander may have seen are surviving teratorns."
Gerhard has made a career studying prehistoric birds.
"What's interesting the reports of these giant raptor-like birds to continue into modern times," he said. "We seem to have a large concentration of them here in the Southwest particularly in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas as well as New Mexico and parts of Arizona."
Gerhard documented many of these strange reports from all over the globe in the book Big birds! Modern sightings of flying monsters.
The book includes sightings in different clusters over the past 30 years.
In 1972 in Maxwell in northeastern New Mexico, Ronald Monteleone of Trinidad, Colo., reported what he thought was a pterodactyl flying out of an arroyo.
In Lordsburg in the 1800s locals talked constantly about the sightings of pterosaurs.
And a picture circulated the country in 1890 out of Tombstone, Ariz., but it's never been considered totally legitimate.
"Other eyewitnesses are describing specifically giant feathered dark birds with an enormous wing span," Gerhard said.
Gerhard said his research falls into two different descriptions from witnesses. Some said the birds look like the prehistoric pterodactyl while others, like the creatures described by Zander, resemble the ancient thunderbird from Native American mythology.
You can find thunderbird images atop many totem poles and also carved into the lava rocks of the Petroglyph National Monument in Albuquerque. Similar images are found in petroglyphs all over North America.
According to legend, the thunderbird is said to have a wingspan the length of two canoes with the ability to deafen people with the sound of its flapping wings.
"It is definitely a real animal, according to the native peoples that lived here," Gerhard said. "It's not necessarily a legendary animal."
However a word of caution comes from folks like Ben Radford, managing editor of the Skeptical Inquirer magazine, which applies scientific reason and evidence to extraordinary claims.
"There is a desire to link modern sightings with these Native American stories but the problem is they're not necessarily the same thing," Radford said.
Radford said believes the eyewitnesses saw something:
"Ultimately a lot of these sightings, whether it's these monsters, these creatures, Chupacabras, what have you, these come down to eyewitness testimony," Radford said. "They're stories, there's nothing wrong with stories, but they're just not good evidence."
Radford has debunked numerous stories about the Loch Ness monster, crop circles and Bigfoot.
He said he relies on evidence.
"You don't have bones, teeth," he continued. "You don't have any hard evidence, so you look to these stories, you look to these myths.
"We know from many scientific experiments people are notoriously unreliable about estimating things."
And in this case, Radford said he thinks Zander and the other witnesses in Texas overestimated the birds' size.
What makes the reports intriguing is that most experts agree scientists have yet to discover every species on the planet and really have no idea what is out there:
"I believe there's a good chance that a number of large prehistoric animals remain undiscovered by modern science." Gerhard said.
Radford readily concedes there are species yet to be discovered, but...
"Do I think there are giant animals and birds and creatures out there?" he said. "No."
For his part, Zander continues to keep his eyes on the skies but hasn't had a repeat visit from the creatures. The one experience has stayed with him.
"I feel honored to have seen the one sighting," he said. "I had if they're still up there still living up there and thriving, I say awesome, more power to them."
Today's KRQE.com Web question asked, "Do you think there are prehistoric species still roaming the earth?" Sixty-four percent of respondents said yes; 36 percent said no.
All content © Copyright 2000 - 2007 WorldNow and KRQE. All Rights Reserved.
Sightings of mysterious giant bird continue in San Antonio*
Web Posted: 07/28/2007 01:30 AM CDT
KENS 5 Eyewitness News
Loch Ness has its monster. Does San Antonio have one, too?
Strange sightings of a huge flying creature have been reported as recently as six months ago. Is it a monster or myth?
Guadalupe Cantu III was busy working his newspaper route, but he says the big news of that day 10 years ago flew right over his car. He says he's seen what most have not — an unidentified flying object, one that still scares him.
"We were afraid that it would come at us. So we stayed in the car till it passed this way," witness Guadalupe Cantu III said. "This thing's all feathers, all black. Much bigger than me. It looked at us. It had very stooped-up shoulders." The beast has been spotted from the Rio Grande Valley to the mountains of New Mexico.
"(It) looked like what was possibly two people standing on top of a mountain up there," said David Zander, who saw the monster in New Mexico. "Something that big ... I guess it kinda makes you feel like it could come over and carry you off if it wanted to."
San Antonio's Ken Gerhard has written a book on these dark birds as big as planes, with wingspans from 15 to 20 feet.
Native Americans called them thunderbirds: depicted in their art, their flapping wings were said to cause explosive noises.
"What's interesting is that the reports of these giant, raptor-like birds do continue into modern times," said Gerhard, a cryptozoologist. Cryptozoology is the study of and search for legendary animals to prove their existence.
He says there's solid evidence something is overhead.
"I believe there's a good chance that a lot of large, prehistoric animals, if you will, remain undiscovered by modern science," he said.
So what could the giant birds be? Some witness sketches eerily resemble prehistoric creatures, like the pteronadon of 160 million years ago.
However, Gerhard theorizes it could be a creature that's a little less extinct — if that's possible — a pteratorn.
"These are the surviving ancestors of modern condors and vultures. They lived up until 6,000 years ago, we know for sure, in parts of North America," Gerhard said. "In fact, over 100 specimens have been recovered from the La Brea tar pits in California."
But critics have another take: human error.
"Was it really as big as he thought it was?" asks Ben Radford, editor of Skeptical Inquirer magazine. "When there's enough information to come to a determination, I've always found an explanation for it."
Radford says the eye can be deceived.
"Eyewitness testimony is very unreliable. And so it's hard for a person to tell — even experts to tell — 'Is that thing I'm seeing out there, is it small and nearby? Or is it huge and farther away?' " Radford said.
But in one sighting in San Antonio, three people gave similar accounts, witnessing the same fly-by of a huge, winged creature. A trio of South Side teachers traveling a deserted road had their cars "buzzed" by the monsters, and it made the papers in February 1976.
In fact, for decades papers throughout South Texas have chronicled the flying creatures. In the age of the Internet, the reports continue, like this one from a recent sighting near Huebner and Babcock roads.
"The creature was large, at least 6 feet," the report reads. "I don't know if I ever want to see another one."
"If I were outside there walking, it would've gone after me," witness Cantu said.
Cantu believes most sightings go unreported because people are afraid of the ridicule they could face.
However, he says a face-to-face encounter with the creature would be much worse.
"I think if you do see it, then you might wind up missing," Cantu said.
© 2007 KENS 5 and the San Antonio Express-News. All rights reserved.
*Video on site
Did they find the photo? I ask as I've just come across one in a new book, Thunderbird and a bunch of Civil War soldiers standing over it. Was that the photo?