The Teratorn – Wonder Bird – Extinct or Not?

There is some speculation within the Cryptozoology community that Thunderbirds are non-extinct Teratorns. In this context, I’m referring to a flesh and blood animal–a giant bird with actual behavioral and migration patterns. Not to be confused with the thunderbird that shoots lightning from it’s eyes and creates a loud rumble by flapping it’s wings. Or non-extinct Pteranodons–fearsome creatures that some Southwestern Native American cultures referred to as Thunderbird.

Terarorns by Mel Cabre

So, what exactly was a Teratorn?


Also known as Merriam’s Teratorn, this particular bird is a distant relative of the California Condor. It had a wingspan of around twelve feet and weighed about thirty-three pounds. For perspective, the Bald Eagle’s wingspan ranges from six to seven-and-a-half feet. The Andean Condor (pictured below) stretches to 10.5 feet.

Andean Condor by Iakov Filimonov

Teratorn means “wonder bird” in Greek. John C. Merriam and Loye Miller, American paleontologists who served as professors of zoology at the University of California, discovered the first remains in the early 1900s. Miller named the species in 1909. There is an even larger teratorn known as Aiolornis incredibilis. That flying wonder carried a wingspan of approximately sixteen to eighteen feet.

Giving proof to it’s ice age existence, the fossilized remains of over one hundred Teratornis merriami have been recovered from the sticky tar of Rancho La Brea in Southern California.

Teratorn, prehistoric bird, ice age
Watercolor by Elena Faenkova

Rancho La Brea Tar Pits

Rancho La Brea is a famous “ice age” site that gives us the largest collection of prehistoric asphaltic fossils in the world. The sticky death traps were caused by oil that seeped to the surface and collected in pools. They were first reported in 1769 by Spanish explorer Gaspar de Portolá. A hundred years later, the “natural asphalt” was sold for road pavement and waterproofing materials.

Before man laid eyes on them, these shiny pools attracted a variety of animals. Saber-toothed cats, dire wolves, ground sloths, as well as teratorns came came to either drink or to feast on the decomposing flesh of other animals.

Once a victim was engulfed, the tar acted like a preservative. Natural decay and scavengers ate away the flesh, leaving skulls, teeth, and bones. But the sticky chemistry preserved the bones so well that they remain practically unchanged from their original state, with up to 80% of the original bone fiber (collagen) still in them.

Dr. Andrew A. Snelling. Answers in Genesis. April 14, 2019.
California Condor, Teratorn relative
California Condor

To read more on the tar pits and fossilized teratorns, check out the museum site or this article over at answers in genesis. They present the same information using different worldviews.

Large Bird Sightings

Many recent sightings of large birds have taken place in and around Illinois. In the first half of 1948, sightings of grayish-green birds about the size of a piper cub were seen near Alton, Illinois, and St. Louis, Missouri. Witnesses thought they were looking at an airplane until the bird flapped its wings. In 1968, birds with wingspans ranging between fifteen and twenty feet were spotted around Galesburg, Illinois. Then in 1977, a mother reported to police that a giant bird carried her boy about thirty or forty feet across the yard before dropping him to the ground.

The Black Forest of northern Pennsylvania encompasses Cameron, Clinton, Elk, Lycoming, McKean, Potter, Tioga, and Warren Counties and is home to the greatest number of large bird sightings. What some call a modern-day Thunderbird. In fact, studies by cryptozoologists reveal a pattern of “the birds engaging in a seasonal migration, southward in the winter and northward in the warmer months.” (Hall, Mark A. Loren Coleman Presents: Thunderbirds... 2007. Cosimo Classics).

What do you think? Could the oversized birds people see today be non extinct Teratorns?
Have you ever seen an extraordinarily large bird?

Want to see or read about more fascinating birds, here’s an article on the birds wing and another on the amazing Bowerbird.

Thank you for reading and as a reminder:

“The bad news is time flies. The good news is you’re the pilot.” –Michael Althsuler, entrepreneur and philanthropist.