The term Big Bird in this particular instance does not refer to the lovable 6 foot tall, yellow feathered bird from the hit children’s show Sesame Street but rather a mysterious creature that was sighted several times in the Rio Grande Valley of deep South Texas during the mid 1970’s. Big Bird, as the creature was dubbed, was described by witnesses as being five feet tall, having a huge wingspan of up to 12 feet and possessing two large red eyes on a gorilla like face.
One of the first sightings of the creature, known as Big Bird, occurred on the morning of January 7, 1976 when policemen Arturo Padilla of San Benito, Texas, spotted something unusual in the headlights of his cruiser. Padilla described the creature as looking like a big bird, a really big bird. A few minutes later Padilla’s fellow officer, Homer Galvan, also reported seeing the creature in the form of a black silhouette that glided through the air. That evening a man by the name of Alverico Guajardo of Brownsville, Texas, also encountered the creature, describing it as a giant bat.
A week after these initial sightings a man named Armando Grimaldo, at Raymondville, heard a sound like the flapping of bat wings and a funny kind of whistling, as he pondered the source of the sound large claws gripped his back and ripped his shirt, knocking him to the ground. Grimaldo raced to his feet and dashed under the nearest tree as the creature flew away. Grimaldo would later describe his assailant as a flying creature with leather skin and a monkey like face.
Sightings like these continued in the region for several weeks and for a short period a wave of Big Bird hysteria swept the region, even attracting some national attention. Local radio stations played parodies about the creature and Johnny Carson even joked about the creature on The Tonight Show. As reports of the creature continued to multiply in the early months of 1976 a local radio station offered a reward for the beast’s capture. Shortly after a television station broadcast a picture of an alleged Big Bird track, which measured some twelve inches in length. Fearing that hunters might mistakenly shoot and kill large, rare and protected birds, like the whooping crane, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department took action and announced that all birds are protected by state and federal law.
As the months went by some Big Bird sightings were revealed as likely hoaxes, this coupled with the capture of a jabiru, a large stork with a wingspan up to 9 feet long usually found in Latin America, that had become lost during a migratory flight and inadvertently wound up along the Rio Grande River led belief in the Big Bird phenomenon to quickly fad. Video footage of a large blue heron, native to Texas, was also aired as footage of the Big Bird, casting further doubt on the entire story.
While that’s where the story of the Big Bird ended for some there were still those who believed that the jabiru and the blue heron could not adequately account for all of the Big Bird sightings, mainly those which included the descriptions of glowing red eye and primate like faces. These researchers have suggested several other theories to explain what was sighted in Texas that year. One of the main theories seems to be that of a living pterosaur.
Pterosaurs were an order of flying reptiles that are thought to have gone extinct along with the dinosaurs nearly 65 million years ago. They were the first true flying animals that had vertebrae, their wings composed of a membrane of skin that stretched from the side of their body, along the arm, out to the tip of an elongated fourth finger and back to the ankle, similar to today’s bats. Interestingly enough, the fossil remains of the largest known flying pterosaur, Quetzalcoatlus, were first discovered in Big Bend National Park, Texas, just four years before the first sightings of the Big Bird, in 1972.
Another theory presented by some investigators to explain the Big Bird sightings is that of the legendary Thunderbird. Thought to be a North American myth, these huge birds were thought by Native American Indians to cause thunder by the flapping of their mighty wings. Though thought to be just a legend sightings of a gigantic bird roaming the skies of North America are still reported to this day, one such sighting occurred in 1969 when the wife of a Allegheny Plateau, Pennsylvania sheriff reportedly spotted a huge bird sitting in the middle of a creek near their cabin. When the creature unfolded its wings to take off she estimated they where roughly 75 feet across.
We may never really known what haunted the Rio Grande Valley Area in 1976, what ever it was seems to have disappeared completely. A few researchers have linked Big Bird to the Point Pleasant, Virginia sightings of a creature that became known as Moth Man, a roughly 5 foot tall winged beast with red eyes thought to be the messenger of ill omen. Most dismiss this theory though as nothing that would be considered a disaster occurred in or near the Rio Grande Valley that year. And thus the Big Bird remains a mystery and will most likely remain that way as all evidence of the creature has long since disappeared and no new sightings have occurred to give continued insight into the creature’s identity.