New Thunderbird Photos

Posted by: Loren Coleman on May 13th, 2007


Please click on image for full size version

The above photograph was sent to me via a Cryptomundo reader.

Maybe people are already aware of this photo of a giant bird sighting. And maybe it’s a hoax. It looks pretty real to me though. I was stunned when I first saw it. Wish I knew who took it.

It is from a Hong Kong website, where people who fly RC airplanes post pictures. One of the pictures has an RC flying in front of an enormous eagle-looking bird. Kate, sent to Cryptomundo, May 2007

Kerala Thunderbird

French cryptozoologist Michel Raynal forwards the next photograph (above) from an Indian source. Raynal writes: “The picture is very impressive, indeed, but it might be an optical illusion.”

Raynal received the following information on the photograph:

I think I saw 2 gigantic birds above my house in Kerala, India. I guess the wingspan must be that of a small plane. I took a pic with my Motorazor v3i. Thunderbird in Kerala, India?

Raynal followed up with various questions, and filled out the background on the picture with this:

I’m a 32 yr Government Officer settled in the city of Trivandrum, Kerala State, India.

The pic was taken in March 2007. I don’t recall the exact date.

The birds suddenly appeared overhead (this was noon) when I was on my terrace. They seemed too large to be an eagle or other bird and albatross, Andean condor, etc. do not exist in India. I suppose the wing span must have been the size of a Cessna aircraft. I was too surprised to take a second pic, they passed overhead and left. I guess this is the first report of a “thunderbird” from the East.

Kerala has numerous coconut trees which are very large, hundreds of feet high. You can make out in the pic that the first bird, even though being much higher than the coconut trees, still appears to be very large. If it had been on the ground, the size would have been gigantic.

I am unwilling to provide my exact address and name, as I desire my privacy and I don’t want to be bugged by unwanted people.Samedi, May 12, 2007

These photographs are not to be confused with recent news of a sick, underweight cinereous vulture, supposedly from Mongolia, which was actually captured in Thailand several months ago. By the time it was released on May 10, 2007, it had grown to weigh about 18 pounds, and its wing span had grown past 9 feet in captivity. Or are they?

* * *

The cinereous vulture – nicknamed Anakin after the Star Wars character who becomes Darth Vader – was found in southeastern Thailand in December [2006], emaciated and apparently lost. Also known as the black or monk vulture, the species is in decline in Asia because of habitat loss, shortage of food and poisoning.

* * *

The cinereous vulture – normally not found in Thailand – is defined as near-threatened by the World Conservation Union. Though its numbers are declining in Asia, conservation efforts have boosted the population in Greece, Spain and other parts of Europe. Its global population is estimated at between 14,400 and 20,000.

* * *

“Rare vulture freed in Thailand
May 11, 2007

Could these photographs be photographs of vultures flying farther south than previously or regularly known?

The Eurasian Black Vulture (Aegypius monachus) is also known as the Monk Vulture, the Cinereous Vulture, or just the Black Vulture. It is a member of the family Accipitridae which also includes many other diurnal raptors such as kites, buzzards and harriers. This bird is an Old World vulture, and is not related to the New World vultures which are in a separate family Cathartidae. It is therefore also unrelated to the American Black Vulture despite the similar name and coloration. It breeds across southern Europe and Asia from Spain to Japan, but is endangered throughout its European range. It is resident except in those parts of its range where hard winters cause limited movement. It is the largest bird of prey (Falconiformes) in the world (as the unrelated, slightly larger Andean Condor is now affiliated with the Ciconiiformes). This huge bird is 110-120 cm (43-48 inches) long with a 250-300 cm (8-10 foot) wingspan and a body mass of up to 14 kg (31 lbs.) thus making it one of the world’s heaviest flying birds. It breeds in high mountains and large forests, nesting in trees. It has all dark plumage, and even at a distance can be distinguished from Griffon Vulture by its evenly broad “barn door” wings. It has the typical vulture “bald” head, and dark markings around the eye give it a menacing skull like appearance. The Eurasian Black Vulture is usually larger than Griffon Vulture. Among the vultures in its range, the Eurasian Black Vulture is best equipped to tear open tough carcass skins, ably using its powerful bill. It dominates all other vultures at carcasses.“Eurasian Black Vulture,” Wikipedia

So what do you think these new photograph show?

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.

21 Responses to “New Thunderbird Photos”

  1. dogu4 responds:

    Most humans are convinced that what they see is what there is. Unfortunately, it’s been proven repeatedly that human eye-witness reports are frought with inaccuracies, particularly when it comes to objects at a distance. Our human was evolutionarily adapted for tasks at hand for our ancestors: finding fruit, other primates and possible threats (flying birds included) and routes to and from those objects of innate interest to us monkeys. From the standpoint of 3D vision, which we use as a primary indicator of relative distance, when beyond 30 feet or so, our binocular vision can not discern relative distance. Other clues: atmospheric attenuation of the color and crispness (Da Vinci’s “Sfumato” effect), relative height above horizon and comparison to other objects in the field are subject to a lot of subjective evaluation. Maybe the pics can be analyzed by an expert to see if there’s any objective truth to the reports. I’d love it to be true.

  2. jayman responds:

    I’m not impressed. I think in the first photo the bird is just much closer to the camera than the plane. In the second the bird that seems larger is not much above the treetops. These seem to be old world vultures, some of which are quite large.

  3. fallofrain responds:

    Amazing what you can do with forced perspective.

  4. daledrinnon responds:

    I have seen the first photo from the internet before and said to have come from the USA.

    I think we are on the trail of a deliberate misrepresentation somewhere along the line.

    Nonetheless, there ARE far-Eastern Thunderbird reports and have been for a long time. I had suggested before that they were the same as “Our” Thunderbirds in an occasional outrange.

  5. elsanto responds:

    That first pic looks like a steppe eagle (which can have a 190cm wingspan) with a forced perspective. The subjects in the second picture do indeed resemble vultures, from what I can tell… I have to admit that I, myself, am a poor judge of distance, so I have to take the witness’ account with a dose of healthy skepticism.

    Just my two cents.

  6. mystery_man responds:

    I don’t see anything in these photos to suggest that these are of an abnormal, freakish size. I am no bird expert, so I cannot be sure what species these are, but some types of eagles, condors, and vultures can reach pretty large sizes that could suprise someone who was not prepared to see one. I think these are a large eagle of some sort, possibly vultures, and that the perspective of the photos makes them appear to be much larger than they actually are. I’d say that first photo is definately an optical illusion, with the plane being farther off in the distance and the bird closer to the camera, giving the impression that it is monstrously large. The second photo looks quite mundane to me, just a pic of some large birds flying above the trees, but nothing that causes me to want to label these as some sort of outsized new species. I would go with the theory that these are perhaps photos of a know species outside of its normal range.

  7. DWA responds:

    alanborky said it on an earlier thread: We may be seeing the tech-smartest generation in history.

    And the real-world-stupidest.

    The first photo can be identified, at a glance, as a bird within normal size parameters for known birds, flying much closer to the camera than a not-even-“real” airplane.

    The second: Impressive wingspan. For a known bird. And there isn’t one unusually large tree in that photo, despite Monsieur Motorazor’s overheated blathering about monster palms.

    Calm down. Step outside. Practice actually seeing stuff, rather than imagining it.

  8. Richard888 responds:

    Here’s my take on the two pictures.

    Picture 1:
    Likely a hoax. According to the sender, “one of the pictures has an RC flying in front of an enormous eagle-looking bird”. Is this that picture? If yes I don’t see how that conculsion is reached because to me the RC looks twice as far as the bird. If no then why didn’t the sender give us the picture that shows the bird behind the RC? No reason why this couldn’t be a black vulture or other large bird of pray.

    Picture 2:
    These birds trully look enormous. What puzzles me is the double knotted appearance of the wings. I compared them to pictures of eagles/vultures in flight and they don’t look similar.

  9. Kalashnikovnik responds:

    I dunno, despite having other objects in both pictures the true size of the birds is hard to judge. The first photo looks like a vulture and what appears to be a slightly forked tail and long narrow wings on the bird in the second pic makes me think that the birds may be some member of the kite family.

  10. UKCryptid responds:

    I’ve noticed some people mention that this was shot in a way that made them look big etc. The thing is to me they really don’t? They look no more significant in size to me than a good ol’ fashioned vulture or eagle. That’s the problem with birds in flight, it’s incredibly difficult to tell how far away the subject was and also how far away any other reference objects in the sky were, such as planes or other known bird species. This is a spectacular, but most likely very common species of bird.

  11. swampthing responds:

    Hmmm … “Practice actually seeing stuff, rather than imagining it” … Here’s the thing: By what method are we judging the sizes of objects in Pic #2? (I agree 100% with the consensus that Pic #1 is just perspective.) An accurate visual measure of the size of the bird depends upon an accurate measure of the trees and of the bird’s elevation above the trees. I don’t see how it’s possible to determine that “there isn’t one unusually large tree in that photo” without seeing the context of the trees or the bases of the trees. Unless perhaps you’re an expert on all the flora in Kerala, India. If the trees are more or less as big as the witness claims, and if the bird is above those huge trees (as it appears to me the bird is), then the bird–looking as big as it does for being so far from the camera phone–may be really abnormally f’ing big. In which case, that would be pretty intriguing, wouldn’t it.

    Is there any way the size of the trees at the location could be measured or estimated and verified? Is there any way the photograph could be studied to estimate the bird’s height above the trees? Is there any way this information could be used to form a solid estimate of the bird’s size?

    Personally, this is the way I’d prefer to approach these things. I consider myself fairly skilled at and dedicated to “seeing stuff” as well as “imagining stuff,” and both are absolutely crucial to any science.

  12. DWA responds:

    swampthing: another thing absolutely crucial to any science is not being too credulous, and applying Occam’s razor.

    If there’s a palm 100 feet high in that second shot I’ll eat my hat. I am an expert in perspective, as I’ve been alive for almost five decades and seen a lot of stuff. And I don’t have to be familiar with “all the flora in Kerala, India.” Just have to be familiar with one, the one in that shot, the coconut palm. Every tree.

    Another thing essential in any science: an identification guide. 😉

  13. searoom responds:

    It sure looks like a large bird and an equally sized Rc glider. Certain it is supicious.

  14. Rillo777 responds:

    There’s some strange pixilation going on under the lower left wing of the plane. I’m not sure what it is exactly, but when I took into microsoft digital and enlarged it I could really see it. In fact it looks almost like the plane was superimposed over another one that was not too carefully edited out.
    I’d have to take it to the lab to get a better look at it but it is very strange and very suspicious.

  15. Rillo777 responds:

    Ah yes–I have it now. I took into another program and blew it up. The plane has been photoshopped in – and not very well at that.
    Lots of fuzzy areas around it (which you don’t see around the bird) and an obvious attempt at blending.

  16. Rillo777 responds:

    The second bird is really two birds (although one looks like a frontal shot of the starship Enterprise 🙂
    There appears to be a lot of blending around it like the plane in the above photo. Not conclusive, but very suspicious.

  17. alanborky responds:

    Loren, as to the first pic’, the ‘giganticness’, at least to me, is a trick perspective thing – that’s if the pic’ is authentic.

    What bugs me more, though, is the bird’s apparent indifference to the fact it’s got these two interlopers in its airspace – the one in the distance and the one shooting the pic’.

    I’m also struck by the difference in the light/shade distribution between the bird and the visible plane.

    The angle of the light hitting the bird seems, at least to me, to correspond with the angle of the light hitting the landscape, a sort of midday, directly overhead look, whereas the angle of the light hitting the plane is more at an angle, as if it’d been shot earlier in the day when the sun was still rising, say.

    My suspicion is therefore the visible plane’s been photoshopped in to give the illusion of greater size.

    As to the second pic’, one of the things I always watch out for is too much unnecessary detail from the submitter: in this case, “I was too surprised to take a second pic”. This chap’s just told us he was aware of the birds suddenly appearing, which was presumably his motivation for taking the shot, yet he was too surprised to take a second one?

    If he’d said he was too afraid of his battery running out to take a second shot that would’ve chimed better, but until he pointed out he didn’t take a second shot I hadn’t even noticed there was only one pic’ – but the fact he was bothered enough to try to explain away why there was only one shot meant it bugged him, and that bugs me.

    But even that wouldn’t matter quite so much if his other details don’t quite match up.

    He tells us he shot the pic’ from his terrace, and implies the coconut trees in the pic’ are hundreds of feet high, yet we’re able to see much of the upper surface of even the highest leaves, something only explicable – to me at least – if his terrace has a very elevated position, but if he’s shooting from an elevated position, then the height of the trees as gauges of scale is far less relevant, and therefore an unnecessary detail.

    Finally, he tells us he shot the pic’ at noon. Now allowing for the possibility that in his part of the world noon doesn’t necessarily mean the sun is directly overhead yet – which fits with the angle the light seems to be hitting the trees’ leaves at – what I’m struck by is the ‘holding pattern’ of the two birds: for birds supposedly randomly flying in and out of the pic’ in different directions, they’re remarkably close together; they’re positioned, in fact, more as if they’re riding the same powerful thermal of rising, twisting hot air, the sort of powerful vortex I’d expect to develop much later in the day than ‘early’ noon.

    And that’s where the other possibly unnecessary detail comes in: if they are riding a vortex – and here let’s set aside the matter of what time of day such a vortex’d develop – then rather than suddenly hoving into view long enough to allow a pic’ of them to be taken before passing overhead and leaving (before a second one could be taken), they’re in fact not only effectively dawdling on the spot, but they’re at a distance and never over the head of the taker.

    But that’s only how things SEEM to me.

  18. scaryeyes responds:

    Re: Unnecessary detail in the description – it says the witness was responding to follow-up questions from Raynal. This referral to a lack of a second pic is much less suspicious if perhaps Raynal asked, was this the only picture you took?

  19. satarina responds:

    Well, the first pic says ‘hoax’ to me. as was pointed out, the light is wrong on the plane, so I totally buy the photoshopping comment. As for the second pic, I believe that’s just a large bird, nothing gigantic about it. I do have to say though that, while I’m very used to seeing turkey and black vultures here in the southern U.S, if i was to see a bird the size of the one in the second pic fly over my house, I’d probably flip out for a bit myself. That’s a darn big birdie.

  20. daledrinnon responds:

    I looked at the first photo again after the comment was made that the aircraft was dropped in by photoshop. This is actually visible to the naked eye if you know where to look–I hadn’t known to look for it before, The mountain area immediately adjoining the plane is discolored. So is the sky.

    Hoax, hoax, hoax.

    A couple of largish birds in the second photo by my guess, 10 foot wingspan MAX.

  21. shumway10973 responds:

    Oh Please, neither one is impressive. Maybe to someone who has lived their whole life in a major city where vultures don’t exist anymore, but these are nothing more than large scavenger birds enjoying some warm updrafts.

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