New Big Bird Sightings

How often are large unknown birds seen and quickly explained away? Quite frequently, if a quick survey of newspapers are any indication this week.

In Gary Bogue’s June 9, 2006, column on animals in the Contra Costa Times of the East Bay area near San Francisco, California, he publishes an item on a new big bird sighting. I corresponded with Bogue over 30 years ago, as I mention in Mysterious America, regarding the melanistic felid (Black Panther) accounts coming his way. It is obvious Bogue has become and been serving as the local man-to-go-to with any reports of strange animals.

Here’s Bogue’s exchange:

Dear Gary:

Is it possible that we saw a condor during our morning walk last week?

We were walking by the San Ramon Creek and looked up at a large bird in an oak tree (about 30-40 feet) perched like an eagle on a covered limb. The bird had a large red head. It was much larger than a turkey vulture. Maybe someone else saw it?

Don, cyberspace

Dear Don:

Anything’s possible, but I would REALLY be surprised if it was a condor.

I’ve had no reports of any other sightings of “condors” in the area.

California condors spend a lot of their free time riding the thermals down along the Big Sur coastline. They also release a lot of captive-bred condors in the Grand Canyon, if you happen to be poking around Arizona. It’s always a major thrill to look up and suddenly see one of those monsters come gliding out of nowhere.

I suspect what you saw was a large turkey vulture. Vultures can look pretty big when you’re standing on the ground and staring up at one perched in a tree above you. (Condors also have large wing-bands for identification purposes with big numbers that can be seen from a distance while the bird is flying or perching.)

In the 36 years I’ve been writing this column, none of the occasional “condor” sightings in the Bay Area have turned out to be the real thing.

Of course, there’s always a first time for everything …

Large bird sightings in California are not uncommon, but with the California condor in the state, they are the first bird that are often thought to explain them, well, that is, after turkey vultures.

Next, comes a report of a sighting of a large unknown bird near Kirkintilloch, Scotland. The ancient city of Kirkintilloch, located northeast of Glasgow, but unlike most cities there where you will find a link to “kirk” meaning “church,” it is named after a local fort. Kirkintilloch comes from Caerpentaloch, Fort at the Head of the Hill. The forts were those along the Roman Antonine Wall, and the remains of the one after which this town was called can still be seen in Peel Park here.

On June 7, in the Kirkintilloch Herald, there ran a report (thanks to Patrick Huyghe for passing it along) on large avian sightings. Bishopbriggs resident Walter Morrison was investigating accounts that a huge bird was eating all the local fish in the area ponds, including his last month in Atholl Gardens:

Witnesses told Walter that a ‘giant bird’ had swooped down and tucked into the fish – including Koi carp, which cost around £50 each. He told the Herald: “My daughter happened to be looking out of the kitchen window at the time and saw this giant bird beside the pond. She said its wingspan must have been about eight feet. My neighbour also saw it and said it was huge and looked like a pterodactyl! I’d bought a plastic heron for beside the pond as apparently they don’t go into each other’s territory, but that obviously hasn’t worked. I’d say all the fish cost around £300 in total so, after spending that amount of money, it is heartbreaking and I just want to let other people know they should be on the look-out.”

Morrison speculated it was a heron.

Hall Thunderbirds

In Hall’s 2004 book, Thunderbirds: America’s Living Legends of Giant Birds, he discusses, in some detail, the often mundane explanations given for large cryptid bird sightings. Obviously, sometimes people are seeing turkey vultures and herons. Other times they may not be.