Teratorn sightings in New Mexico and beyond

Throughout most history and almost all cultures there has been tales, stories, and legends of giant birds.

Myths and legends about creatures from the Chupacabra to the Jersey Devil to Bigfoot are everywhere, but in southern New Mexico and parts of Texas people say they’ve seen birds so big they seem prehistoric.

One man claims the rugged landscape near Las Cruces hides a mystery that’s haunted him for years.

Dave Zander has lived near the Dona Ana Mountains for more than 30 years spending almost all his spare time hiking, exploring and fossil hunting in the range between the Robledo and Organ mountains.

He saw something that he’s unable to explain and many people find hard to believe.

He recalls the day nine years ago when he spotted something extraordinary: two creatures perched on a mountain less than a mile away.

“These creatures were so huge they looked like the size of small planes, ” Dave Zander said. “All of the sudden one of them jumped off dropped off the top of the mountain, came down the front of the mountain and all the sudden these huge wings just spread out. 

“I would say the wings were at least a 20-foot wingspan.” Definitely something out of the ordinary.

“Not a normal bird, definitely of a giant variety, ” Zander continued. “”It makes you feel like it could come over and carry you off if it wanted to.”

Zander witness a real-life scene out of the movie Jurassic Park?

One ancient bird in the vicinity is an Andean condor living at the Rio Grande Zoo in Albuquerque. But it’s wingspan of 12 feet pales to what Zander described: birds with an unprecedented twenty-foot wingspan, with pink bald heads and all-black bodies, and feathers on their enormous wings.

There is nothing on the modern record like it.

Guadalupe Cantu III was busy working his newspaper route, but he says the big news of that day 10 years ago flew right over his car. He says he’s seen what most have not, an unidentified flying object, one that still scares him.

“We were afraid that it would come at us. So we stayed in the car till it passed this way, ” witness Guadalupe Cantu III said.

“This thing’s all feathers, all black. Much bigger than me. It looked at us. It had very stooped-up shoulders.”

The beast has been spotted from the Rio Grande Valley to the mountains of New Mexico.

“(It) looked like what was possibly two people standing on top of a mountain up there, ” said David Zander, who saw the monster in New Mexico. “Something that big … I guess it kinda makes you feel like it could come over and carry you off if it wanted to.”

There is a story that in April 1890, two cowboys in Arizona killed a giant birdlike creature with an enormous wingspan. It was said to have had smooth skin, featherless wings like a bat and a face that resembled an alligator. This description has some similarity to that of a prehistoric pterodactyl—an animal whose existence was known at the time. They are supposed to have dragged the carcass back to town, where it was pinned with wings outstretched across the entire length of a barn.

Traditionally, teratorns have been described as large scavengers, very much like oversized condors, owing to considerable similarity with condors. However, the long beaks and wide gapes of teratorns are more like the beaks of eagles and other actively predatory birds than those of vultures. Most likely teratorns swallowed their prey whole; Argentavis could technically swallow up to hare-sized animals in a single piece. Although they undoubtedly engaged in opportunistic scavenging, they seem to have been active predators most of the time.

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The large, and reportedly extinct bird, has been seen as far away as West Virginia.

An event occurred near Clendenin West Virginia, in late September or early October of 2007, as an unidentified motorist followed a two-lane road in broad daylight, around 8 a.m. Rounding a curve, the driver slammed on his brakes to avoid striking a large, winged creature standing on the pavement, eating roadkill. As described to Gordon, the bird-thing stood at least four feet tall, with a “dominant” head poised above the car’s roof line. Its head was bare above a long and “somewhat crooked” neck, separated from the bird’s coat of thick dark feathers by “a very dominant yellowish orange collar of plumage”. Its chest was “very distinct and well formed”, while the dark body perched atop bare feet and legs.

“We both startled each other it seems, ” the driver remarked, “for it looked as shocked as I was. In seeing me, it turned me and in an awkward way, ran from my vehicle so as to fly away. It was more like a jumping, hopping run which took probably a distance of five yards before its absolutely huge wingspan lifted it into flight. Its wingspan easily was as wide as the two lane road which we were on”. The driver later measured the road’s width, a total of twenty-one feet.

Teratorn, Extinct Bird

“The wings were, as I can remember, as arms of a human are attached. It had shoulders. It had a very muscular upper torso and the wings were as if they were its arms. The wing beat, as you put it, seemed distinct, not panicky or cumbersome but distinct in its fluid motion. The only thing cumbersome was the gait in which it seemingly ran jumping from one foot to the other in a hopping manner while flapping to gain speed to take off. As the bird did gain flight and in flapping away, it appeared the wings were massive feathered arms. Shoulders were evident, however not huge athletic sized shoulder.”

After his sighting, the witness did some research in an effort to determine what he’d seen. Gordon writes, “He said the closest thing that he could find, was a drawing of a Teratorn, an extinct bird.”

In fact, the family Teratornithidae includes at least five species of prehistoric birds, with a sixth species disputed. The Largest, Argentavis Magnificens, known from a fossil found in Argentina, boasted a wingspan of twenty feet or more, tipping the scales at 176 pounds, and is presumed to be extinct for some eight million years.

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