May 4, 2007

New Mexico’s Bighoot

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.

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