Bird Picks Up Boy

Posted by: Loren Coleman on January 27th, 2008

Why does that headline looks vaguely familiar? What may be inside of us, almost at a genetic level, that remembers such incidents?

I’m not talking about the Lawndale, Illinois, case of Marlon Lowe being picked up by one of two large birds, then dropped. That took place in Logan County in April of 1977.

Instead, I’m reminded of my sense that there is a new such event due, by reading about an earlier case, highlighted recently by anomalist Scott Maruna. Maruna posted his finding of a copy of an old article about a bird identified as an eagle picking up a boy in 1929 Kentucky.

Maruna compared it to the Lawndale abduction attempt of Marlon Lowe, which I detailed in Mysterious America. Maruna’s reasons were to talk about the legacy of the ridicule of such encounters. But I want to point out something else: The context and the new surprise that such events do occur.

ky 1929

September 24, 1929, Columbian Missourian, Columbia, Missouri.

Mark A. Hall in his 2004 book, Thunderbirds: America’s Living Legends of Giant Birds, wrote about the Kentucky case in a larger context. Hall spends some time in his chapter “Birds That Carry Off People,” sharing contemporary news accounts back to 1866 of such incidents.

As you read through the incidents, you become aware that you are touched by how commonplace such events must have felt in a more rural America.

We often lose our way in such things, as history becomes forgotten. Cryptozoology is focussed on specifics, and in these exercises we must remember others around us look only to what is happening now, without reference to the greater configuration of the times. In the 1920s, Maruna’s article discovery should remind us, it wasn’t out of the norm to read such a news article.

Hall records this context through publishing a passage he discovered was written in 1948:

Some years ago the New York “Herald Tribune” reported in Kentucky a bald eagle lifted a 50-pound [23-kilogram] boy over twenty feet in the air. In Mississippi another eagle was shot, supposedly because the bird, having a 7-foot [2.1-meter] wingspred, flew away with a 50-pound calf. A four-year-old boy was reportedly attacked and lifted off the ground by an eagle in Florida.David Jacobsen, The Affairs of Dame Rumor, NY: Rinehart & Co., 1948: 27-31.

Hall points out that skepticism ran so high for these reports that Nature Magazine in 1936 and Audobon Magazine in 1948 ran articles dismissing “fake eagle stories” and accounts of “super eagles.”

Then Lawndale happened, in 1977, and everyone was shocked, ridicule set in, and it was seen as an odd or weird piece of news.

As Maruna simple finding of this old news article should remind us, within context and with some historical memory, we should be prepared to not be surprised when the next giant bird attack happens.

Loren Coleman About Loren Coleman
Loren Coleman is one of the world’s leading cryptozoologists, some say “the” leading living cryptozoologist. Certainly, he is acknowledged as the current living American researcher and writer who has most popularized cryptozoology in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Starting his fieldwork and investigations in 1960, after traveling and trekking extensively in pursuit of cryptozoological mysteries, Coleman began writing to share his experiences in 1969. An honorary member of Ivan T. Sanderson’s Society for the Investigation of the Unexplained in the 1970s, Coleman has been bestowed with similar honorary memberships of the North Idaho College Cryptozoology Club in 1983, and in subsequent years, that of the British Columbia Scientific Cryptozoology Club, CryptoSafari International, and other international organizations. He was also a Life Member and Benefactor of the International Society of Cryptozoology (now-defunct). Loren Coleman’s daily blog, as a member of the Cryptomundo Team, served as an ongoing avenue of communication for the ever-growing body of cryptozoo news from 2005 through 2013. He returned as an infrequent contributor beginning Halloween week of 2015. Coleman is the founder in 2003, and current director of the International Cryptozoology Museum in Portland, Maine.

29 Responses to “Bird Picks Up Boy”

  1. shumway10973 responds:

    Great article. Our ancestors were so good at ignoring most anything the natives told them, it’s a wonder America is still here. I do believe the Thunderbirds could still be out there somewhere.

  2. plant girl responds:

    What an amazing story about the boy! If a bald eagle is picking a child up as a food source, I am assuming.

    Does this mean that their regular food sources are becoming less?

  3. eireman responds:

    You’re right that certain societies embrace such things without question while others seem to hold them back with ridicule. In my book, I recount an incident of a “thunderbird” (they called it a haint) in Oklahoma from the 19th century as told by “hill folk,” a people who have a long history of embracing the truth of what they see, despite criticism. Perhaps if more took this position instead a defaulting to staunch skepticism, more cryptid accounts could be confirmed as truth.

  4. kittenz responds:

    “What may be inside of us, almost at a genetic level, that remembers such incidents?”

    Coincidentally I am almost finished re-reading (for the nth time lol) Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors- A Search for Who We Are by Carl Sagan & Ann Druyan. I love this book. The authors follow behavioral traits that we humans have from protomammals all the way to humans.

    One of the traits that most primates share is enhanced awareness of avian predation – we are genetically programmed to watch for danger from the sky. Many primate species have special alarm calls that mean “watch out – eagle!”, and those calls are understood by others of that species even when they are raised in isolation.

    There are large eagles in the tropics that specialize in hunting monkeys, and even larger eagles existed in prehistoric times. I have no problem believing that a large eagle could pick up, and maybe even carry off, a child.

    Eagles are very rare in eastern Kentucky, but that was not always the case. The eagles indigenous to my area are golden eagles; bald eagles (although still uncommon), are found more in the central and western parts of the state. For at least two centuries, eagles were considered vermin and were shot on sight. That, added to the widespread use of DDT in the mid-20th century, was a double whammy that nearly wiped out the eagles (along with many other birds of prey).

    Thankfully, attitudes are changing, DDT is no longer used, and the eagles and hawks are coming back.

    There’s a new stretch of highway, with a high elevation, that opened up about a year ago. I travel that highway to work. There aren’t any homes or businesses along that stretch (yet :(), and it’s quite common to see wildlife. Loads of deer and several flocks of wild turkeys live there, and I’ve seen a couple of coyotes and a roadkilled bobcat. About a month ago, right around Christmas, I was driving along that road and saw a huge bird feeding on a roadkilled deer in the median. My first thought was “vulture” but as I came alongside I could see that the bird was a golden eagle. I crossed the highway at the next crossover, and turned back, but when I got back to the carcass the eagle was gone. Maybe I had spooked it when I slowed down for a closer look.

    I keep a camera in my car, and I’d love to have gotten a shot of that bird. I have not seen it again, but that area is pretty wild and there may even be a nesting pair nearby. I sure hope so.

  5. flea responds:

    I know it’s the other side of the world, but can I throw the Haast Eagle (New Zealand) into the melting pot? There’s a theory that as human predation began to cause a serious decline of moas, the primary foodsource of the eagle, and being a hunter of large bipedal creatures, the eagle may have turned its attention to the Maori’s themselves!

  6. gkingdano responds:

    If I remember right the first people to colonize New Zealand had to face a extremely large bird of prey that could and did attack people. I don’t recall what show I saw it on, but they had a couple of people out gathering in a field when this “eagle” comes down and hits one in the head with it’s talons and kills the person. Maybe someone knowledgeable in extinct New Zealand animals may be able to provide more.

  7. cryptidsrus responds:

    Great article.

    Great posting by you too, KITTENZ. As always.

    I wonder if George Meece is still alive?

  8. Ann Unknown responds:

    What may be inside of us, almost at a genetic level, that remembers such incidents?

    Genetic, indeed!

  9. Ann Unknown responds:

    More on the Taung Child.

    (slightly more than, sort of gross!)

    West African eagles are known to kill monkeys in a particularly gruesome fashion. They swoop down, pierce the backs of the monkey’s skulls with their hind talons, while piercing the front talons through the eye sockets. Then – they just hover around till the meal stops being uncooperative (possibly while engaging in the usual obligatory, inane small-talk with their fellow avian diners). To eat their prey, they peck through the front of the skull, producing a distinctive set of tell-tail cuts through the shallow bones behind the eye sockets, and scoop out the yummy insides first as an appetizer, before preceding on to the main course (monkey de jour).

    Apparently, something very similar was going on about 2-million ago in the time of our ancestors.

    This is why I never bother going to horror movies. I read too many anthropology articles.

  10. Ann Unknown responds:

    Love your post kittenz.

  11. dle responds:

    Long-time reader, first time for commenting…

    As an avid birder for more than 30 years, I can say without hesitation that no bald eagle could lift a 50 pound child. No way. We must also remember that a seven or eight-year-old boy is not dead weight, either. No kid is going to sit still while carried off by an animal. That makes the story even less likely, at least if the bird in question is a known type of eagle.

    Might it have been an even larger cryptid avian species misidentified as a bald eagle? Possibly, though still highly doubtful. Such a bird would have to be immense. Don’t believe me? Watch the nature videos and see how poorly even the largest bald eagles fly when hauling the average six-pound salmon. Just getting off the ground proves an enormous challenge to the eagle, if it can get airborne at all. A thrashing 50-lb. boy (equivalent in weight to three full-weight bowling balls)? Not in this universe.

  12. kittenz responds:

    The bird quickly dropped the boy, maybe because the boy was too heavy.

  13. dle responds:

    The bird quickly dropped the boy, maybe because the boy was too heavy.

    The most likely story in all these case was not that anyone was lifted off the ground, but that the bird simply attacked. An eagle might snatch at someone who disturbed it, with a child perceiving the bird’s reaction against a threat as an attempted “it tried to fly away with me!” Large raptors will defend their nests by digging their talons into another animal’s head or back and yanking–again, a mistakenly perceived attempt at trying to fly away with the attacker.

    I suspect that this is what occurred in all these cases and that this behavior was “amplified” by the person who was attacked and turned into an attempted “abduction.”

  14. gavinfundyk responds:

    I have been thinking about this subject recently. dle makes the point that it’s difficult for a bald eagle to lift a salmon out of the water. But I think that is the point. Water is denser than air. And going into the water, and then pulling something out is going to nearly stop the bird’s flight.
    However, I wonder if an eagle was diving at something fairly tall (an 8 or 9 yr old child), and therefore did not lose airspeed, if it might pull a child off the ground for 10-20 feet.
    Besides, we don’t know what a “thunderbird” might be.

  15. Ann Unknown responds:

    Animals can be as prone to bad judgment as people, particularly when in a state of consciousness distorted by pain, or desperation, i.e. mad dogs.

    My neighbors once witnessed a young, female mountain lion, emaciated, and maybe only 40 lbs, attack a range bull of nearly 1 ton. The best outcome she could have hoped for, had the cat been sane, was for the bull to end her suffering. After an attack that dragged on for over half an hour, and involved numerous attempts to bring the enormous bovine down, the bull’s owner was able to end it for her. (It’s not easy to hit a small lion, attacking a rampaging bull, without hitting the bull.) On inspection of the body, she was found to be inflicted with porcupine spines, and was, without doubt, nearly blind.

  16. Ann Unknown responds:

    Continuing – (I hit “Submit Comment” by mistake, must be some porcupine spines in my eyes ;))

    Dle makes a good point, that an eagle would never attempt such an abduction, at least not a normal one.

  17. dle responds:

    dle makes the point that it’s difficult for a bald eagle to lift a salmon out of the water. But I think that is the point. Water is denser than air. And going into the water, and then pulling something out is going to nearly stop the bird’s flight.

    I’m not talking about a bald eagle trying to snatch something from water, just merely raising a six pound prey off a flat patch of dry land with little or no wind assistance for takeoff. Some studies have shown that from a higher spot with a strong wind, a bald eagle might be able to handle up to ten or twelve pounds. But that’s under absolutely optimal conditions, likely not the case with carrying off a child. And again, even under the best possible conditions for the eagle, we’re still talking less than a quarter the weight of a 50-lb. child.

    Massive cryptid avian species that science has not encountered before? Highly improbable, but possible. Known eagle species? No chance. (The only possible known raptor rarity in N. America that could have been large enough to be mistaken for a bald eagle would be the Steller’s Sea Eagle, a much brawnier relative sometimes found on the far western coasts of Alaska. Still, that Steller’s would have to have been completely out of its range. And even then, I seriously doubt it could lift much more than its bald eagle cousin.)

  18. Ann Unknown responds:

    And what of other possible, massive cryptid bird species? Have there been any more reports from the other major big-bird sightings region, the border lands of AZ, NM, TX? Could any of this northern activity be explained by an occasional avian emigrant?

    Makes me wonder what really could be down there in the less explored parts of the eastern slope of Mexico’s Sierra Madras, and its bordering marshes. I understand that no extensive bird survey has ever been done there. It always seems to be hampered by politics, poverty, the danger of drug trafficking, and the sheer logistics of such a huge, rugged area.

  19. Rangoon responds:

    Monster Quest did a good job at describing the mechanics of a raptor attack on monkeys which makes me skeptical about a small boy being caught by his loose clothing.

    Normally raptors drive their talons deep in the initial strike and do devastating damage to the prey. I don’t think it impossible or even that improbable that a 50lb boy could be snatched up, but the surviving part would be amazing.

  20. kittenz responds:

    “I don’t think it impossible or even that improbable that a 50lb boy could be snatched up, but the surviving part would be amazing.”

    That’s the part of this story that always bothered me, too. Given the speed of the bird in its stoop, and the fact that a child’s center of gravity is different than an adult’s, plus the possibility that the boy may have been running in more or less the same direction as the bird, I think it’s possible that a large eagle could lift a 50 lb. child off the ground (probably briefly). But unless that kid was wearing a bullet proof vest, how could a child survive, at least without incurring deep wounds from the talons? Maybe if the child was wearing something like a heavy leather or denim jacket he would escape relatively unscathed, but those birds hit their prey hard. And anyway the incident happened during warm weather, when it would be unlikely that anyone would be wearing a heavy coat.

    So I’ve always been a bit skeptical of the Lawndale incident, but I think that something involving a huge bird happened to that family that day.

    I agree, it’s very, very unlikely that a previously unknown giant species of raptor exists in the central USA. Maybe it was an unusually large bald eagle. Maybe a Stellar’s; they are awesome birds. Maybe it was an extraterritorial tropical eagle. Maybe it was something other than an eagle, although I think that is much less likely. And I don’t think it’s out of the question that a big eagle could lift a 50 lb. child. Unlikely, certainly, but maybe not impossible.

  21. afeeney responds:

    I also remain skeptical about the Lawndale incident as well as this one. The physics of any known eagle being able to carry away a child who weighs more than a toddler are so unlikely. Witness observations that the eagle actually lifted the child are questionable, at best. And here we have children as apparently the only witnesses. Is it coincidence that they say he was carried about ten feet and that the eagle’s wingspan was about ten feet? It could be that for them “ten feet” was the number that sounded about right.

    So either we’ve got unknown eagles (or other birds of prey) that are large and strong enough to carry off fairly large children, or we’ve got exaggerated stories based on normal-sized eagle attacks on children.

    That said, there is evidence for eagles preying upon very small children, especially ones that might already be injured or sick and unable to struggle.

    Also, remember the legend of Ganymede? Zeus fell in love with a young human child and appeared as an eagle to carry him up to Olympus. I’ve always wondered if that was a story that somebody invented to console a grieving family after an eagle carried off a very small child.

  22. kittenz responds:

    I asked my grandmother about any anecdotes that she might recall involving eagles. She was born in 1914 and she grew up here in eastern Kentucky.

    She said that there were eagles around, in her youth, but not very many of them. They would occasionally take poultry, and when she was still a young adult, in her twenties, one eagle picked up and carried off her older brother’s squirrel dog. I asked her how big the dog was and she said it was a “good-sized fiest” (which is sort of a terrier type dog), and probably weighed about 25 lbs.

    They had more problems with chickenhawks (red-tailed hawks) and owls than with eagles, she says; eagles kept mainly to the mountaintops and did not often venture down around human dwellings.

  23. Ann Unknown responds:

    I think I am coming to about the same conclusion as most on the incident. That something did happen. It involved a large bird. And that children, the only witnesses, found it difficult to describe.

    Where we live, there are frequent problems with owl, hawk, and eagle attacks on domestic animals, mostly poultry. This area supports a large and varied population, but only an occasional individual seems to become a problem. From my observations, I doubt that any of the offending raptors have been healthy before they turned chicken-eater.

    Our last attack was by a Great Horned, and in broad daylight. As my mother watched, the owl failed with a glancing hit on the unsuspecting chicken. After the botched kill the huge bird was to impaired to lift off and leave the hen yard. The FS personnel who came to collect it diagnosed it as having, “a body riddled with buckshot”. I suspect that many of the attacks on children may have been caused by an unhealthy bird this way. This could explain why the felling strike was unsuccessful (no talon marks).

    Side note: Mono-filament fishing line, strung back and forth in a grid pattern over the hen-pen, put a stop to any future predation attempts. Hmmm, this may not be a bad idea over your children’s play area, if this child-snatching-eagle post is beginning to make anyone nervous.

  24. gavinfundyk responds:

    I don’t believe a normal size eagle could fly off with a child. The reports of child predation, or other sightings, are of massively over-sized birds.

    I realize there is always the comment that eyewitnesses are unreliable. But that doesn’t mean that EVERY eyewitness is off by 75%.

    The idea that what we see is unreliable has become such a mantra that it seems to be forgotten that we are visual creatures. You can’t measure, evaluate, explore or test without “seeing” the results.

    Is an estimate equal to actual measurement? No.

    But the idea that we can never accept eyewitness sightings for any sort of accuracy is arrogance on the part of “mainstream” scientists.

    I realize that this has not really been the focus of this article; this is something that has bugged me for some time now. And this was not about anyone’s posting on this topic.

    Just venting. 🙁

  25. brittney m responds:

    Yea. I’m starting to focus mainly on thunderbirds now. They’re very interesting.

  26. mtcarver responds:

    In Oct of 2005 while coming home from a craft show, I saw a huge bird near Pound Va (app 10 miles from Ky state line). it was about 6 pm. Then a few days later a friend’s son was telling me he saw a huge bird. I hadn’t said anything about my sighting. What he described was similar to what I had seen, both had a wingspan of 10 feet or more.

  27. G. Lawliet responds:

    Nein, I don’t believe normal-sized eagles could ever succeed in lifting the weight of a human child, let alone an infant.

    However, it is difficult to judge the wingspan and size of the bird at a distance; it could just be forced perspective, exaggeration, or that person was on crack and/or not wearing the proper prescription of glasses or contact lenses if they’re vision is not 20/20.

    But…despite all this…it’d have to be a pretty large bird to lift a human child.

  28. Innocentwolf15 responds:

    I live in north GA,one day last summer while driving home,I was amazed too see a huge shadow of a bird coming down the road at me,it passed over my car,the shadows width was wider than the road,a two lane,going one way.there were no clouds in the sky,and it looked like the shadow of an eagle.this thread is very interesting!..thanks!

  29. sketko responds:

    Golden Eagles are very large birds, and definitely do attack animals as large as young deer and mountain goats. HOWEVER, if you watch them hunt these large prey items, they always rely on surprise: they swoop down to hit the back of the head/neck as hard as they can, driving their talons in to prevent the prey from fighting back. They have to incapacitate the prey nearly instantly, because even the strongest predatory birds are vulnerable to injury by flailing prey (think of those delicate, hollow wing bones). They also never pick up the heavy prey, just kill it where it stands. They might knock a small fawn or goat kid off a cliff or hill and manage to slow the fall by flapping, but they can’t carry much heavier prey. I know Great Horned Owls can carry skunks, and Harpy Eagles can carry medium-sized monkeys, so I wouldn’t put it past a very large bird of prey to take a baby or a very small toddler (though a toddler would be extremely difficult for any North American raptor to handle). I think these eagle attack stories are just the result of witnesses exaggerating after the birds swoop to defend their nests, or in the rarest cases when a bird has made a failed predatory attempt. Show me a living, North-American raptor that can carry a 10-year old for 10 ft, and I’ll eat my words, but good luck!

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