The Thunderbird is a creature common to native American religion. It is named such as the beating of its enormous wings causes thunder and stirs the wind. The Lakota name for the Thunderbird is "Wakinyan," a word formed from "kinyan," meaning "winged," and "wakan," "sacred." It is described as being two canoe-lengths from wingtip to wingtip, with glowing red eyes that cause lightning when closed. Storms are said to be caused by its flight.
The thunderbird in mythology
A famous story of the Thunderbird is Thunderbird and Whale.
Contemporary thunderbird sightings
There is a story that in April 1890, two cowboys in Arizona managed to shoot to death a giant birdlike creature with an enormous wingspan. It was said it had smooth skin, and featherless wings like a bat. It's face resembled an alligator. Interestingly, this description has more than a cursory similarity to the prehistoric pterodactyl. They dragged the carcass back to town, and it was pinned, wings outstretched across the entire length of a barn. There is supposed to be a picture of this event, that may or may not have been published in the local newspaper, the Tombstone Epitaph. despite numerous people who have claimed to have seen this photograph recently, no one has ever been able to produce a copy of the picture nor make historic corroboration that this event ever occured, and it is most likely an urban legend.
There have also been thunderbird sightings more recently. In the 1960's and 1970's, sightings of a large bird the size of a piper cub airplane were made in Washington, Utah, and Idaho. On occasion, this was accompanied by large footprints or other evidence. Some Cryptozoologists have theorized the thunderbird myth to be based on sightings of a real animal that has dwindled in population of late.
Scientists were quick to work at discrediting the sightings, on the presupposition that it was impossible for a bird that large to be able to fly under its own power, or to even live due to circulatory difficulties. Unfortunately for them, fossil records from prehistoric times confirm that birds this large can and did exist, and probably also flew, aided by upcurrents in mountainous regions. Cryptozoologists posit that the thunderbird was associated with storms because they followed the draft to stay in flight. Noted Cryptozoologist John Keel claimed to have mapped several thunderbird sightings and found that they corresponded chronologically and geographically with storms moving across the United States.
However, sightings in recent years had dropped to none, no bones or feathers have been found, and no evidence of preying by a bird this large has been documented. For now, the thunderbird remains a creature of mythology.