New Mexico’s Bighoot

Posted by: Loren Coleman on May 4th, 2007

Ornimegalonyx oteroi

Ornimegalonyx oteroi

Bighoot, the Flying Head by Mike Smith

In the piney mountains and desert mesas of southcentral New Mexico, citizens of the Mescalero Apache Indian Reservation still tell legends of an enormous and evil bird: Big Owl.

The Jicarilla Apaches, along the state’s northern edge, also talk of Big Owl-near slickrock canyons and beneath the gray bluffs of their reservation-but in their stories Big Owl will often paralyze humans just by staring at them, and after doing so swallows them whole, just as smaller owls swallow mice.

Mark A. Hall, noted cryptozoologist and author of Thunderbirds: America’s Living Legends of Giant Birds, is convinced that such stories may actually have a basis in fact, in sightings of an actual undocumented species of three-to-five-foot-tall giant owl, a species humorously nicknamed Bighoot.

Ornimegalonyx oteroi, or the Cuban giant owl, was an approximately three-foot-tall owl that lived in what’s now western Cuba up until about 8,000 years ago. In the last few decades, three nearly intact skeletons of this bird have been found in Cuban caves, and their size and bone structure suggest this owl was similar to an oversized version of the common burrowing owl, with long legs and an inability to fly for more than short distances.

Hall believes that perhaps some giant owls survived extinction, migrated, reproduced, and became part of New Mexico’s Apache oral histories-and a number of intriguing points support his case. Mentions of giant owls occur throughout the mythology of American and Canadian Indian tribes. Many Iroquois once feared what they called Flying Heads-man-sized, bodiless, open-mouthed heads covered in ragged hair-heads that could fly in a halting way, were armed with talons, and craved humans. Hall has theorized that the Flying Heads’ hair was actually wings and feathers, and the Flying Heads themselves actually giant owls.

Sightings of giant owls continued into the era of North America’s first European-American settlers. According to Hall, some settlers saw their livestock carried off by enormous birds they called Booger Owls-and such sightings have persisted into the present, into oral histories and urban legends, across America and across the Southwest.

“I have heard of them being encountered in Arizona, so New Mexico would be just as likely,” Hall said.

In a chapter of Cryptozoology and the Investigation of Lesser-Known Mystery Animals, New Mexico journalist Jerry A. Padilla recounted a Taos woman’s encounter with an owl she estimated to be at least four and half feet tall. This incident reportedly took place in the 1950s, not far north of the New Mexico-Colorado state line, when Taos resident Rosa M. Lucero was a little girl. Lucero recalled the giant owl wandering silently from a cluster of willows, walking back and forth, and just staring at her and her grandmother, Elena Bustos Lucero, as the two of them frantically gestured the Sign of the Cross.

“It just walked around in the garden by the willows,” said Rosa Lucero in the above-mentioned book. “My grandmother was convinced it was a nagual, someone taking the form of an owl, because she herself said that in all her long life she’d never encountered an owl so large and unafraid of people.”

Though generally described as making a hooting sound, owls are sometimes said to hum. The Internet is studded with mentions of owls humming as coyotes howl, owls humming the sounds of the night, and barn owls humming country folks to sleep. Taos Tales, by Elsie Clews Parson, includes a northern New Mexico oral history of a coyote who “went singing and at the end of every song he said like the owl, hum! hum! (grunt).”

A much better-known hum in northern New Mexico is the notorious Taos Hum-a low, pulsing throb of a sound that torments about two percent of Taos’s population, causing anxiety, dizziness, headaches, nosebleeds, and insomnia. Many people have suggested possible explanations-a government project, aliens, mass hysteria-but the cause of the Hum remains a mystery.

Would it be ridiculous, then, to suggest that maybe, just maybe, the Taos Hum might be caused by man-sized owls-by the Bighoot-by a number of such owls humming through the forests of the northern New Mexico woods?

Well, would it?

Yes. The answer is yes. It would be.

Permission to reprint this entire article was obtained from Mike Smith. Thank you Mike.

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.


16 Responses to “New Mexico’s Bighoot”

  1. Ceroill responds:

    To me this is reminiscent of the legend of the Chonchon, a huge human head that flies with its oversized ears. Here’s what Wikipedia has on them:

    The Chonchon, which is a creature of the Mapuche mythology and later also it presents in the Chilean folk myth and in some zones of Argentina, has the shape of a human head; its ears, which are extremely large, serve as wings for its flight on moonless nights. Chonchons are supposed to be endowed with all the powers of wizards and can only be seen by wizards. They are known for their cry of tue tue tue during their flights. It is said that they are dangerous when molested, and many fables are told about them.

    Perhaps another legend built up from encounters with giant owls?

  2. Bob Michaels responds:

    Why not the possibility of a “Giant Hoot Owl”. Owls come in all sizes. Extinct in Cuba, perhaps it’s the living version of the chupacabra.

  3. shovethenos responds:

    Interesting. If these alleged giant owls are configured like long-legged burrowing owls they could be responsible for some of the sightings of “bipedal lizards or dinosaurs” in the Southwest. Roadrunners could also be a possibility for the “bipedal lizard” sightings.

  4. Rillo777 responds:

    I know many disagree with this, but I still think Mothman was a large owl that got bigger with the telling. Even the sketches of it look like an owl. Could Mothman have been a remnant of this population of owls? Owls can be extremely aggressive and I have seen pictures of an owl here in Indiana that attacked a DNR officer in broad daylight. He happened to have a camera and took pictures as it attacked, ducking its swoops and hitting the dirt as it came after him, talons flared.

    An angry owl will try to take your head off, particularly if it is protecting its nest. I can’t even imagine how frightening a truly huge owl like Ornamegalonyx would be.

    My father also tells a story of how, when he was in the Civilian Conservation Corps, of an owl that attacked him and two friends at night when one of the boys with him lit a cigarette. Evidently it was drawn by the glow of the burning cigarette end.

    Thanks for the post, Loren.

  5. joppa responds:

    I was thinking Mothman too. But maybe the giant Apache owls were sightings of the Mothman.

  6. treeclaw responds:

    Makes sense to me also. That mothman was/is probably a giant owl they are talking about here.

  7. OKCurious responds:

    Maybe the Mothman was an ordinary sized owl with a lot of ambition!!!

    Good post! Very interesting!

  8. Jeremy_Wells responds:

    Well, maybe I’m biased, but I’d like to think the good people of Point Pleasant could tell the difference between and owl and a giant headless “mothman”.

    But, then again, the most notable feature of the mothman was that it had no “neck” or “head” and its eyes appeared to glow from the center of its chest. So, if it actually was some sort of a giant owl, that could explain why a distance “head” and “neck” couldn’t be seen.

    Interesting.

  9. tomdee27 responds:

    Rillo777:

    I completely agree. Sure makes more sense then the ol’ sandhill crane theory. Interestingly, Mark Hall, in an article written for Wonders back in 1998, stated that a large concentration of BigHoot type sightings have been reported in the West Virginia & Ohio area. Food for thought.

  10. Jeremy_Wells responds:

    Tomdee,
    Do you know if that article is available on the ‘net anywhere? Or in any printed compilations? I grew up in that area, but I’ve never heard of any “giant owls”. Giant snakes, yes. But the giant owl story is a new one for me (well, except for the folks who have tried to attribute the Flatwoods Monster to an owl.)

  11. BugMO responds:

    Jeremy_Wells, I believe that Mark Hall talks about the BigHoot sightings in the West Virginia & Ohio area in his book Thunderbirds: America’s Living Legends of Giant Birds. I think, I’m not sure. And I also agree that mothman was a giant owl.

  12. Rillo777 responds:

    Jeremy_wells:
    I have never seen this in real life, but on nature documentaries I have seen agitated owls duck their head towards their chest, particularly as they are lifting their wings. It could give the appearance of a headless or neckless creature with its eyes in its chest.

    Also, while I certainly don’t believe the folks of Point Pleasant are unfamiliar with their wildlife, owls are really only seldom seen. In the country I only saw two in my youth and only from a distance although I heard them for years. I have two or three that live in my neighborhood now on the southern edge of town. I hear them everyday and have for about three or four years. I’ve gone looking for them and still haven’t seen one. The ones I saw in my youth were huge Great Horned owls. (Got a good look at one through binoculars.) Just thought I’d pass that along.

  13. bill green responds:

    hey loren, very informative new article about new mexico owl. very interesting. thanks bill 🙂

  14. Jjm3233 responds:

    shovethenos – living in New Mexico I doubt seriously the Greater Roadrunner is responsible for sightings of anything. After all they get to be about a foot tall, and they are very common.

  15. LiberalDem responds:

    Loren, Excellent article! Isn’t Mark hall working on another book about giant owls?

  16. Jeremy_Wells responds:

    Rilo,

    I’ve only seen a couple of owls in the wild myself (a horned owl and a barn owl), and then in the daylight when they were unmistakable, so I don’t totally rule out the possibility of what you are saying.

    Besides, a giant owl is no less likely than any of the other theories that I’ve heard advanced for Mothman.




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