Doug's Darkworld

War, Science, and Philosophy in a Fractured World.

The 1977 Lawndale Illinois Thunderbird Attack

with 14 comments

In 1977 a giant bird attacked and tried to carry away a ten year old boy in central Illinois in front of multiple witnesses. Actually, two giant birds attacked, but only one tried to carry the kid away. The mother witnessed the attack and chased after the bird yelling, the bird released the boy and the two birds flew away. The birds were described as:

“It had a white ring around it’s half foot long neck. The rest of the body was very black. The birds bill was six inches in length and hooked at the end. The claws on the feet were arranged with three front, one in the back. Each wing, less the body, was four feet at the very least. The entire length of the birds body, from beak to tail feather was approximately four and one half feet.”

The family reported the attack to police, and suffered ridicule and abuse for some time afterwards. And that’s the gist of it, read all the details here. The only other details I think are salient is that the dog reportedly didn’t bark at the birds, and this particular dog barked at everything. And the family went to some trouble to prove their case, even going so far as to hire some hunters to track the birds down. The hunters were said to have found and destroyed a giant bird’s nest. Curious, nu?

When all is said, I don’t think the details of the attack are terribly important in this case. At least for the type of analysis I am going to do. For starters I’m going to rule out hoax. The multiple witnesses and the fact that the perpetrators of the hoax didn’t try to profit from it also lends support to the idea that it wasn’t a hoax. It’s entirely possible it was a hoax, I’m not saying it isn’t a hoax, I’m just saying let’s look at other possibilities first. I also not fond of the typical skeptical analysis: “Well, it must be a hoax, what else could it be?” That’s neither a logical nor a productive approach.

So if it wasn’t a hoax, what was it? Well, a giant bird attack seems unlikely. It’s just really hard to imagine how a species of giant bird could remain undetected by legions of birdwatchers in the USA, among other problems. Maybe some local eccentric had giant birds that temporarily escaped, or maybe the birds were just eagles or hawks or some such and the witnesses panicked and “saw” much larger birds. The former seems really unlikely, and the later even less so since some of the witnesses saw the birds before the attack and noted their unusual size even then.

Hallucination? Too many witnesses. Mass hysteria? Well that certainly may explain subsequent sightings, but isn’t a particularly satisfying explanation for this particular incident. Aliens? Demons? Ghosts? Suffice to to say that while we can’t rule out exotic explanations like that, until we have some actual empirical evidence for same, they also fare poorly as an explanation for this event.

So what the hell is left? Is there anything that could explain why Mrs Lowe and her son, pictured above, are adamant about the attack taking place? And continuing to insist so even when they were getting pilloried for it by their friends and schoolmates? Well, yes, I have an idea. My suspicion is that Mrs Lowe (or possibly the son) suffered from some sort of Factitious Disorder. A factitious disorder is where someone feigns something is wrong with them in order to get attention basically. Munchausen syndrome is the old name for these disorders, they are now known to cover a  very broad range of behaviours. And people who have a serious factitious disorder can sometimes be both extremely manipulative and extremely effective in their manipulation.

In other words, the mother or the son imagined the attack and insisted that everyone else believe them. And for whatever reasons, the other “witnesses” decided that going along with the story was the path of least resistance. I can almost hear the husband saying “Of course I believe you dear, I hired two hunters to kill the bird, doesn’t that prove I believe you?”

Is this the explanation? Damned if I know. It’s a possible explanation though, and one that bears further examination. I’ve lately begun to suspect that psychology, and unfortunately disordered psychology, plays  a much bigger role in a lot of paranormal events than people have been willing to recognize. And not so much in that they weren’t willing to recognize them, more that the role psychology plays in people’s perceptions of the world is still very much underappreciated and understudied. The mind is an amazing thing, and the processes it goes through to “create” the world we perceive around us is amazingly complex, still poorly understood … and subject to myriad fail states.

And the Illinois Thunderbird attack may be evidence of one of these failed states. Does anyone have a better idea?

(The above image is claimed as Fair Use under US copyright law. It’s central to illustrating the post, it’s not being used for profit, and its use here in no way interferes with the copyright holder’s commercial use of the image. And who that copyright holder is escapes me, this picture is all over the web without attribution that I could find. I am also wondering what was popular in the movies and news and such the summer of this incident, that might shed some light onto this mystery. Alas I am but one overworked and underpaid blogger, and don’t have the time and energy to do more research on this case.)

 

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Written by unitedcats

January 24, 2011 at 8:08 pm

Posted in History, Paranormal

14 Responses

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  1. To be honest the description sounds perfectly like the Eurasian Black Vulture. Same claws. Same beak. Same overall size (10 foot wingspan, i.e. atleast 4 foot per wing). Same long neck. Same colour.
    The only thing is that they don’t exist in the USA. However, it happens often enough that people smuggle exotic animals into the country. This could be the case here. Consequently the vultures escaped. They don’t know how to survive though, since they were raised in captivity, and died shortly after the incident with the kid.

    Steffen M. Boelaars

    January 25, 2011 at 12:57 am

    • I live in IL. Actually, we just got some sightings of vultures in our area a few days ago. So, vultures apparently do come here once and a while.

      Also, I can name 3 off the top of my head, people that have exotic animals and then either let them go or they escape. i.e. alligator, very large owl, and a lemer.

      Steve B.

      April 8, 2011 at 7:13 am

      • i live in Lawndale Illinois and i got cut by the thunderbird and it was so scary [crys]

        Izabella Raven

        June 10, 2011 at 6:45 am

  2. Monster quest did a pretty good episode on this encounter titled “Birdzilla”. They didn’t reach a final conclusion but misidentification of a known species such as a vulture seemed most likley. They also demonstrated how difficult it is to corectly estimate size of an object in the sky while standing on the ground. So maybe the “witness” saw a couple of turkey vultures gliding overhead. It wouldn’t take much of a leap to tie that into the mothers attention grasping illusions.

    Did a quick Google search on movies for 1977 and nothing obvious jumps out. The highest grossing movie of the summer was Star Wars and second place was Close Encounters, neither had giant birds. The Rescuers was third and it did have an albatross character who acted as a “taxi” for the mice detectives. It came out a month before the incident in question.

    Oh and in the news Elvis died that summer, maybe the mom’s psychological state was impacted by the passing of the King. I thought that pretty much solved the case but alas Elvis died the month after the alleged attack.

    Oh and the rings of Uranus were discovered in march of 77 if you are looking for a cosmic tie in.

    Josh V.

    January 25, 2011 at 12:11 pm

  3. I saw the one on MONSTERQUEST one BIRDZILLA i do belive that giant birds still exist today and possibly where the legendary THUNDERBIRD came from

    SPURWING PLOVER

    March 27, 2011 at 11:53 pm

  4. Being as this is my family this happened to and knowing other facts around this particular case.. Yes there were actually two carcuses found one being burned by a farmer and the other being destoyed after it was struck by a vehicle… The logan county sheriffs deptment has no record of this why… Simply put the didnt want mass hysteria… Knowing my Aunt Ruth and cousin marlon I feel the scares that remain show just how true it is!!!!!

    Lawrence Taylor

    August 28, 2011 at 1:54 pm

  5. Well, escaped (or released) exotic birds are certainly a reasonable explanation. I won’t argue.
    — Doug

    unitedcats

    September 7, 2011 at 2:57 pm

  6. […] involved in events I describe have chimed in. I can only be flattered in such cases. In the Lawndale Thunderbird case a family member added some details, maybe undocumented details, I don’t know. And even if […]

  7. For those of you who are having a hard time picturing what happened just watch http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-iFOVi0vJGU. (An eagle grabs a full sized goat and flies away)..
    After viewing that video take note how big that bird looks and then realize that the golden eagle is not one of the largest birds of prey, and any bird bigger than that would definitely shock and awe some ppl up close and as previously stated the black vulture does fit the description of the witnesses

    joseph

    July 16, 2012 at 4:25 am

    • Well, when I see a video on youtube that defies the laws of physics, I dig a bit further. See The most amazing eagle footage ever … faked.” It’s from a Spanish wildlife “documentary” in the 1970s. A bird can carry maybe half its weight. Now it certainly is possible he was attacked by a large bird of some sort, in fact if some of the comments are to be believed, it seems probable. A bid large enough to carry a ten year old boy? I still don’t think so. — Doug

      unitedcats

      July 16, 2012 at 9:06 am

  8. I don’t really get why this one is a mystery. There are plenty of birds with 8 and a bit foot wingspans, some of them in the USA, so while it would be a very big bird it wouldn’t necessarily be a “Giant” in the Hagrid sense (or a less childish reference, whatever). Is it not most likely that one of these birds went a bit nuts, swooped down on this kid, he falls over as bird flies away and protective mum gets hysterical and thinks she saw it pick him up.

    I don’t know if any of the large birds living in the US fit the description but I doubt this poor woman’s testimony is 100% reliable given the circumstances. I’m also sure they don’t usually live in this area and don’t attack kids but that doesn’t mean it couldn’t happen. In fact, what are the chances of something like this never, ever happening when you share a country with animals like these? Obviously I don’t know what happened but this just seemed an immediately obvious solution.

    Ronan

    July 17, 2012 at 2:22 am

  9. Birds do migrate, and it is a fact that some do stray on occasion, from the flock. It would be interesting to know if there were any climactic changes, or any other earthly changes that would have effected the internal compasses of birds over the U.S. during the weeks before the incident.

    Heady

    February 21, 2013 at 6:41 pm

  10. I’ve seen turkey buzzards on the ground from a distance of about ten feet, and they’re not that large. Herons can look a bit odd at first but after a few seconds you can recognize them.

    Jim

    May 18, 2013 at 7:23 pm

  11. I saw 3 thunderbirds in saint charles missouri in 1993, they were huge, the entire span of a 12 lane highway

    dano

    April 11, 2014 at 7:35 pm


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