Giant BIRD of Pennsylvania.
Scientific names: Gymnogyps pennsylvanianus,
suggested by Hiram Cranmer; Mythopoeia titanornis,
offered by Gerald Musinsky in 1997.
Variant name: Eastern condor.
Physical description: Eaglelike bird. Length,
3–4 feet. Wingspan, 14–30 feet. Often described
as the size of a Piper Cub airplane. Black
or brown, becoming grayer with age. Large,
black eyes. Large beak, not hooked. Short neck.
Wings, about 12 inches wide. Short, thick legs.
Behavior: Possibly migratory, traveling south
in November through the Appalachians to West
Virginia and north in March to upstate New
York. Flaps wings slowly. Flies easily through
dense woodland. Feeds on carrion. Said to prey
on humans by seizing them by the shoulders and
carrying them to remote mountaintops to feed.
Distribution: Central and western Pennsylvania,
especially the Sproul State Forest in Clinton
County. Sightings have been reported from Bear
Run, Beaver Falls, Centerville, Clinton County,
Coudersport, Dents Run, Erie, Greenville,
Hammersley Fork, Hughesville, Hyner, Jersey
Shore, Lock Haven, Lycoming County, southern
McKean County, Murrysville, Ole Bull,
Renovo, Shingletown, South Greensburg, and
Sunderlinville. Also Chateaugay, New York.
Significant sightings: The earliest account
comes from Elvira Ellis Coats of northern Potter
County, who learned about Pennsylvania Thunderbirds
in the 1840s from the local Indians.
Around 1940, Robert R. Lyman saw a giant,
brownish bird standing in the middle of Sheldon
Road, 2 miles north of Coudersport. It flew
away when he got to within 150 feet, showing
off a wingspan of 20–25 feet and navigating
through second-growth trees with ease.
Hiram M. Cranmer watched a giant bird flying
at a height of 500 feet around Renovo on
March 27, 1957. It was grayish and had a
wingspan of 25–30 feet. Sightings continued in
the area for about three weeks.
On March 31, 1973, Joseph and Wanda
Kaye were driving near the Oregon Hill Ski
Area in Lycoming County when they saw a
large, black bird by the side of the road. Its
wings flapped slowly as they went past, and it
flew into the air.
Two school teachers, Debbie Wright and Sue
Howell, saw a huge bird in the spring of 1977
while driving to Du Bois near Drocker’s
Woods. It was very dark, with a huge beak.
In July 1993, Shane Fisher and his mother
and father saw a huge, eaglelike bird near Larry’s
On July 6, 2000, Robin Swope watched a
dark-gray bird with a 15–17-foot wingspan fly
over the Erie County Memorial Gardens near
An amateur birder of Greenville, Pennsylvania,
saw a bird the size of a small airplane on
June 13, 2001. It flew in from the south and
landed on a tree 300 yards from the house,
where it stayed for fifteen to twenty minutes. It
had dark-brown or black feathers with grayishblack
wings and was about 5 feet long, with a
Mike Felice saw a huge, black bird with a
wingspan of 10–15 feet in South Greensburg,
Pennsylvania, on September 25, 2001. It was
slowly flying about 50–60 feet above Route
119, apparently following some trucks, and
briefly landed on a large tree. He had it in sight
for a minute and a half, but there were apparently
no other witnesses.
(1) A California condor (Gymnogyps
californianus)—the largest U.S. vulture—
which reaches a length of 4 feet and a
wingspan of 9 feet 4 inches. It is black, with
white wing linings, and has a naked, redorange
head. An endangered species in
California, a condor population may have
persisted in Pennsylvania since the
Pleistocene. Fossil remains of this bird have
been found in New York and Florida.
(2) An unknown species of condor endemic
(3) See BIG BIRD for other possibilities.