Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Texas Pterosaurs

Periodically, people in South and/or West Texas report sightings of giant flying creatures. Sometimes, the animals are described as huge vulture or raptor-like birds; however, some report creatures resembling prehistoric "pterodactyls". It is this latter category of sightings that I'm going to address presently. Could a small population of pterosaurs have survived to the present day and be living in the arid Southwestern region of Texas? Could these creatures be behind at least some of the thunderbird sightings coming out of the area?

There are some photos that have circulated around the internet for years that suggest the pterosaurs have survived into modern times. Some of these are shown below.

Only two photos have really intrigued me at all. One of these photos shows a rancher, allegedly from the 1950s, holding a small pterosaur-like creature. The other photo I find interesting is the famous "thunderbird photo" which shows a large pterosaur nailed to the outside wall of an old homestead with several men in the foreground. Is it possible? Could pterosaurs still live?

There is a candidate in the fossil record that matches the description given by some witnesses who claim to have seen living flying pterosaurs. Currently, paleontologists recognize the previous existence of four species of giant pterosaurs, one of which that soared in the skies above what would become Texas some 70 million years ago. Quetzalcoatlus northropi is thought to be the largest flying animal that has ever lived. These reptiles were truly massive with 30-50 foot wingspans and heights approaching that of the modern day giraffe. This "Dragon of the Clouds" had a long neck, slender toothless jaws, and a head topped by a large bony crest. This flying beast was slight in build and probably weighed in the 200 lb. range. This is exactly the picture most of us envision when the word "pterodactyl" or "pterosaur" is uttered.

Could Quetzalcoatlus northropi still glide above the Lone Star State? Some anecdotal evidence suggests just that. In 1976 two San Benito, Texas police officers, Arturo Padilla and Homer Galvan, reported seeing what was to become known as the "Texas Big Bird". While that might invoke images of the Sesame Street character to most people, rest assured, the creature seen by these officers fit the description of a pterosaur. Shortly after the sighting by the two officers, Brownsville resident Alverico Guajardo had a frightening experience. About 9:30pm he heard a loud thumping noise outside of his mobile home. He looked out of his front door and saw what he described as a bird of monstrous proportions. But was it a bird at all? Guajardo said, "It's a bird but it's not a bird. He paused then added, "That animal is not from this world." Sightings of the "Big Bird" continued and tracks attributed to it were located. The tracks, measuring 12 inches in length were shown on a local television station. The resulting hullaballoo caught the attention of Texas Parks & Wildlife Department personnel who feared endangered whooping cranes might be mistaken for the "Big Bird" and shot. The TP&W issued a simple statement that said, "ALL birds are protected by state or federal law." In February of the same year, it was reported that several school teachers were "dive-bombed" by a creature matching the description of a pterosaur on their way to work. They reported the creature's wingspan to be at least 12 feet in length. There are other reports but you get the idea.

What are these people seeing? Is there a known animal out there that people could be mistaking for a pterosaur? I think this is very likely the case in many of the reports that describe large vulture-like feathered birds. I had an experience about a year ago when I did a double take initially thinking a massive bird was flying above me. I was out doing some maintenance on one of my game cameras in Central Texas in an area that was heavily populated by black vultures. There were several of these large birds circling overhead. I had paused to rest and was sitting on a log looking up at them when suddenly a bird three times the size of the others flew across my field of vision. At least it seemed the bird was three times the size of the others. It turned out to be a trick of perspective. I was focused on the vultures gliding a couple of hundred feet above me. The "giant" bird, it turned out, was flying considerably lower than these others. I realized this only when I saw this vulture light in the top of a large tree. Just for a few seconds I was taken aback by what my eyes told me was a huge bird.

Fine, you may be thinking, tricks of perspective might explain some of the sightings of enormous feathered BIRDS. Pterosaurs don't look like birds. What could explain these sightings. Well, sometimes birds do look like pterosaurs. As has been discussed here before, the frigate bird is a very likely candidate for at least some of the pterosaur sightings. Guest blogger Alton Higgins aptly summed up how this large bird could be mistaken for a pterosaur in flight. Revisit Alton's post here and check the photos below showing a female frigate bird in flight contrasted to what is purported to be a photo of a pterosaur in Papua New Guinea. As you can see they are all but identical. A person who reports a pterosaur in flight may very well be seeing a frigate bird.

But what of close-up sightings like that of Alverico Guajardo? These are more difficult to explain away. Certainly it is possible, if not likely, that hoaxes are being perpetrated in some cases. There are cases out there; however, where witnesses have been duly vetted and, seemingly, have nothing to gain by making things up. What animal could they be seeing that they are mistaking for a pterosaur? Up close no bird looks like a pterosaur. What about a bat of some kind? The wings of a bat are similar to what a pterosaur's would look like in that they are bare of feathers/hair. Bats in Texas are small, however, and no species would be big enough to be mistaken for a pterosaur. The largest bats in the world, the flying foxes, have wingspans of only 6 feet or so and are all found in other parts of the world and, therefore, not candidates for Texas pterosaurs.

What about some man-made aircraft? Standard sized airplanes are certainly not candidates for misidentification. That being said, ultralight aircraft have become very popular over the last couple of decades. The term ultralight refers to any one of several types of lightweight one or two person airplanes. The craze took off in the 1970s when many were looking for a cheap way to fly. In Texas, and most of the U.S., no license or training is required to fly ultralights. There are several different types of aircraft that share the ultralight designation, several of which that could conceivably be mistaken, at a distance, for a pterosaur. This possibility is further enhanced now that battery powered ultralights are becoming more common. These aircraft are virtually silent and eliminate the buzz of the small gasoline engines common to older models. Most would not expect an ultralight to fly silently and jump to another conclusion.

There are some other products out there that are actually meant to mimic pterosaurs in flight. Kites are among the most common. From a distance, the kites below could be mistaken for a gliding, dipping, and diving pterosaur. The string would be all but invisible to witnesses and could fool some into thinking they were seeing a live animal. Check out the product description for the Blackwing Brand kite seen in the picture below:

This prehistoric predator has great presence in the sky with a huge 11 foot wingspan. It's 3-dimensional body and tail both inflate and it's wings actually flap in the wind! Recommended 150 lb. Test Line, sold separately. Product size 11 ft x 15 ft.

It isn't too much of a stretch to think a kite with an 11 foot wingspan and wings that actually flap could hoodwink some people.

Finally, there are several radio-controlled airplanes on the market that mimic the look of pterosaurs. Check the video out below and the pictures below that.

Again, one can imagine how easily a person, not expecting to see something like this, could be totally taken aback and think they saw a real animal.

Frigate birds, ultralight aircraft, kites, and model airplanes. Do these things explain away all pterosaur sightings? No. I do believe they could explain some, however. These are just some of the possibilities that need to be investigated when a witness reports a pterosaur sighting.

Personally, I have a hard time buying into the ancient pterosaur as an explanation for modern day thunderbird sightings. Now I do have some thoughts on whether or not giant birds; true, feathered birds, might fly the skies of Texas and other parts of the world.

But that is a post for another day.


  1. Its impossible them to exist but nice for read

  2. I read somewhere a while ago that tribal people in parts of Africa have seen pterodactyls near a volcano or something- I don't remember that well.

    I don't think it's impossible tho. I think people have become too dismissive. They don't believe in anything unless it can't be proven, but what about believing in something until it is disproved??
    Either way we can't prove or disprove it- so why label so many things as impossible?

  3. In 2007, my brother was talking to a man and his son that my brother occasionally worked with that lives in his trailer park in Edinburgh, Texas. The man and his son said they had been fishing in the canal behind the trailer park the weekend before. They said a giant bird landed in the canal a hundred yards from them and was wading around in the water apparently looking for food. The bird saw them and it wasn't afraid of them. It was wading towards them. The man said it was big enough to easily carry off the son, and they got scared and left. The man told my brother they will never fish there again.

  4. My wife and I have seen one fly over our house several years ago .. YES they do exist ... AS a young boy I use to trace dinosaurs with what we called onion skin paper as well as I collected well over a ton of fossils .. I had many boxes stacked in the garage at our lake house on Cannandaigua lake NY ... DO NOT EXPRESS YOUR IGNORANCE BY TRYING TO SAY THEY CAN NOT EXIST ! .BECAUSE THEY MOST UNQUESTIONABLY DO ! .. If I had not seen one my self I would probably say you were full of it my self !.. I am 57 yo. and have nothing to gain or loose by telling you of their existence ... By the way the pterodactyle flew approx. 100 ft above our house in Tuscaloosa Al. app 4 or 5 years ago. But I was not interested in telling anyone what I had seen.. Say what you want to I could care less ..The only people that will know the truth are the ones that have seen it themselves !

  5. There are MANY old articles (i.e. 1850's) from the New York Times which tell of dozens of sea serpent sightings. I have read of witnesses in Indonesia and parts of remote Africa who claim to have seen pterodactyls/pterosaurs. They state that they have to bury deeply the bodies of any humans in graves or these creatures will eat the flesh.

    1. My father was in the navy during Korean War. The USS Wisconsin. He, his brother, and dozens of other men saw what my father described as a sea serpent riding along the bow of the ship with the wave made as it plowed through the ocean (north Atlantic). Dad said it was about 50 ft long and 3 or 4 ft thick, dark brown in color. Said it stayed with the boat about 10-15 minutes and dove off to the side into the sea not to be seen again. Dad said everyone just figured it was a massive sea snake. Who knows? Right?!!

  6. My wife and I saw one with about a 5 foot wingspan fly over a remote area west of Blanco, Texas in 2013. It was off Crabapple Road north if Kendalia. The claws on the wings and the unique head were clearly visible. It was about 60 feet in the air and gliding.

  7. My mother sister and my self have seen these on two different occasions. Both appearances were in Killeen Texas.

  8. My mother sister and my self have seen these on two different occasions. Both appearances were in Killeen Texas.

  9. My cousin and I saw a creature we could not explain in midland tx. We were working out at a local middle school in 2008. As we were jogging we heard loud thumps in the air above and behind us and looked up to see a large flying creature bigger than any bird I've seen.it had a large, long, pointed beak and appeared and appeared tan or brown in color. It was low enough that we could see it didnt look like it had feathers, maybe 30ft above our heads. It was about 6 ft long with a 8-12ft wing span. I believe we saw some rare or undiscovered creature that my cousin and I still call a pterodactyl.

  10. Me and my stepsister and brother and cousin were outside just a second ago we came running inside from a weird screech or scream I looked up and I saw it a big black bird like creature I didn't see any feathers all I saw was big wings and a large beak I screamed and yelled run inside and we all saw it I am scared and I will never forget this

  11. I saw one last night pass over my house and I had to step back cuz it scared me, on how big it was, it looked like it could carry me away since I'm 4'11

  12. I saw one last night pass over my house I had to take a step back cuz it scared me on how large the bird was it looked as if it can carry me cuz I'm really short 4'11

  13. Since 2000 I have been collecting testimonies of people that have seen pterodactyls, or pterosaurs or "el hombre pájaro"-- the bird man. On several ocassions people were attacked by the creatures. Two boys of 10 and 12 years of age were carried off in the lapse of 7 days near Toluca, city one hour west of Mexico City. I am trying to locate and capture one alive. I live in central Mexico, Zacatecas.

  14. For a thorough review of "modern pterosaur" sightings and photos, see:

  15. About 7-8 years ago I was driving around 9 pm on 1017 close to San Isidro, TX when suddenly something flew in front of my SUV I was driving around 55-60 miles per hr, it moved my vehicle made me go off the road, it was a black flying creature approx 7 feet tall and with extremely long wings, since that day I can't not explain what it was and has not taken that route at night AT ALL, this might sound difficult to believe but I still question that incident and can not explain what happened

  16. last week my wife saw what she described as a webbed winged, slender necked creature with a tail the length of its body. judging by distance from the ground it would have a 15 foot wingspan. this was flying over I 45 north of Houston. she said she thought she saw a dragon. being as she is not prone to flights of fancy we have been searching for any answer to what it could have been....thunderbird, pterosuar...dragon...whatever you call it, this world still hold surprises.

  17. You will not believe me but I once saw one it tracked me. No one believes me but most are kind enough to hear me out

  18. This evening (technically yesterday now at approximately 6PM or last light on 17 Dec 2020) I witnessed a large bird-like creature, estimated wingspan approx. 7 to 8 ft and tan in color from below while returning to my neighborhood from an evening run in Waxahachie, TX. I was cooling down by walking back between two of the new developments here where we live after having jogged from 5:30 to about 6PM. On the way between the neighborhoods I had been admiring the rising crescent moon and what I believe is the start of the much publicized 2020 great Christmas sign we are hearing about in the news this year unless I am wrong about that the actual vicinity of that phenomenon in the sky as it appeared just above the Southeastern horizon. The creature flew almost directly overhead from about a NE direction in that Southwestern course and seemed to briefly notice me as I noticed it. It seemed a little startled, veered slightly from its course and then continued onward in that same direction. I would estimate wingspan wad at least that long. Altitude of nearly 40 feet and appeared to be larger than a very large eagle or vulture. Almost reptilian appearance similar to coloration of a tan bat, distinct bonelike wing structure with approx. 4 ponts in rear of each wing along the length. I did not perceive the head shape as it was about directly overhead and then in front of me as I watched for about 20 seconds until it almost became imperceptible and a turned about to see a car coming towards and then passing by me. I had no device available to record anything. Thought perhaps a very large bat like the enormous black ones I have seen elsewhere I the world, buy apparently the largest bats known to be in Texas are only 14" in wingspan. I am certain this creature was at least 5 times that size, not nearly as nimble as a fruit bat, flying in a fairly direct course towards that Southeastern horizon. I have an inkling to return to that sight about the same time in case for whatever reason it may follow the same course tomorrow evening, except I will have my family tag along. Since in all reality it is not likely to be in the exact same place, taking a few others with me would not likely jinx much of anything anyways. I post this in all seriousness after having considered a few different possibilities and have seen enough natural things in my time to determine this as an unusual sighting and worth sharing to the world.