A curious type of cryptid that has managed to remain pervasive all around the world is that of the flying monster or winged humanoid. Such reports come in from all over the world, and often feature strange creatures that are remarkably similar in appearance. Why this may be is beyond the scope of this article, but there are numerous bird or bat-like beasts that seem to lurk in the dark corners of our planet. One good example of an avian mystery is a massive, seemingly humanoid beast that has long been sighted in the southwest United States, and has managed to elude understanding.
Sprawled out over 4,872 square miles along the northern Rio Grande River in the southernmost tip of South Texas lies the Rio Grande Valley. Once known as El Mágico Valle del Río Grande, or “The Magical Valley of the Rio Grande” by the people of the region, the Rio Grande valley is at once one of the fastest growing regions of the United States and also home to majestic, vast expanses of untamed, unspoiled wilderness, encompassing numerous wildlife refuges and national parks including the Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge, Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge, and Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park, which draw in droves of tourists and outdoorsmen every year.
It is here in this rugged region that a very strange, avian flying creature has been sighted since at least the 1970s. What has come to be known as the “Big Bird” or sometimes the “Bird Man,” the beast is usually described as being a massive vaguely humanoid bird of some type, with a face reminiscent of a gorilla, a 6-inch long beak, a bald head, and blood-red eyes that are sometimes reported as glowing. In the 1970s there was a spate of sightings of this creature, which started, or was at least thrust into the public consciousness, on January 1, 1976, when 11-year old Tracey Lawson was out playing in the backyard of her home near Harlingen, Texas, along with her 14-year-old cousin, Jackie Davies.
At some point they noticed something very bizarre lurking around 100 yards away near an irrigation canal, which upon observation with binoculars was described as being a “horrible-looking” giant bird around 5 feet in height, with a face like a gorilla, a bald head, and enormous luminous red eyes. The strange beast glared at them for a time and then reportedly let out an unearthly shriek before disappearing from view behind some trees. At first the girls’ parents did not believe them, but the next day Jackie’s stepfather, Tom Waldon, would find unusual three-toed tracks measuring 8 inches across in the area where the creature had been seen. Also strange was that the Lawson family dog, which was usually friendly and rambunctious, began to act very strangely, cowering in its doghouse and refusing to go outside.
The next sighting happened a week later in San Benito, where in the early morning of January 7, two police officers named Arturo Padilla and Homer Galvan saw what they described as a massive bird-like creature around 5 feet tall, with a gorilla-like face, a 12 to 15-foot wingspan, and glowing red eyes. Later that very same day witness Alverico Guajardo spotted the creature near his home in Brownsville. He described it as having somewhat bat-like wings, eyes as big as silver dollars, and possessing a long, thin beak through which it issued a loud, unearthly groan. Guarjardo would tell the Brownsville Herald, “I was scared. It’s got wings like a bird, but it’s not a bird. That animal is not of this world.”
There were other sightings, which I have covered here recently with my Batsquatch article but will go over here again. For instance, there was the case of brothers David and John Daut, who were driving along a rural road in the Rio Grande Valley when a bat-winged humanoid with a head reminiscent of a wolf and estimated as being 8-10 feet tall landed in front of them, forcing them to screech to a halt. As they tried to back up away from the nightmarish creature, it loped forward as if about to attack, only to alight into the air and fly over them with an audible whooshing of its wings. In another case a father and son claimed to have been out hunting deer in Hidalgo County, near Houston, when the creature had swooped down to grab the father and try to carry him off, with the man only barely managing to escape when the son shot at it with his rifle. The man was apparently left deeply shaken and with broken ribs and nasty talon marks on his body.
Attacks like this seem to have been par for the course with some of these reports. Things took a turn for the truly frightening with a report from January 15, from a man named Armando Grimaldo. The witness claimed that he had been out having a cigarette at his home in Raymondville when he heard a flapping sound and something that sounded vaguely like a strange whistle. When he looked up, he said that an immense bird-like creature with a simian face and leathery skin had clawed at him with its talons, ripping apart his shirt and jacket in the process, and indeed he was found with shredded clothes and in a state of shock by neighbors who had heard his desperate screams for help.
That very same week another man named Francisco Magallanezs reported that he had also been attacked by a giant birdman at Eagle Pass, and doctors confirmed that he had sustained deep scratches by some sort of wild animal. When these scarier reports hit the papers it caused a bit of hysteria, with some people refusing to leave their homes after dark for fear of being attacked by the beast. There were even claims that pets were disappearing and that there were cattle mutilations in the region at the time, further painting a sinister veneer over it all.
Three days later, on January 18 there were two separate sightings of the creature, one by two sisters in Brownsville and another by two soldiers near Poteet. Indeed, sightings of the Big Bird began to come in on an almost a daily basis over the next few weeks, from people of all ages and all walks of life, and the creature started to appear all over the news. One notable sighting was made on February 24th, 1976, when three teachers saw the creature near Harlingen, this time with the interesting detail that they thought it looked similar to the prehistoric flying reptile, the pteranodon. Sometimes the Big Bird was seen multiple times by the same witness, such as is the case with an Alex Resendez, who claimed to have seen it three times and said it had short legs, glassy, black eyes, striped wings, and a translucent beak. He would say of it:
You have to look close because his beak is very transparent. If you see it real fast, you’re going to think he ain’t got no beak… I never seen a bird that big. He was brownish, like dirt… He does not have long legs and does not stand like other birds.
Big Bird mania got so heated that there were large rewards offered to capture or kill the creature, which drew in hunters looking to cash in. These reckless, money-hungry hunters went out traipsing around the wilderness looking for any big birds to shoot, which made quite a few wildlife conservationists nervous as they believed that the Big Bird could be a large endangered species of bird. During this time there were a few false alarms, such as a mass sighting of the “Big Bird” just south of Alamo, which was filmed and later identified as a blue heron, which is what quite a few skeptics thought people were actually seeing.
Although the sightings eventually died down, they never really did stop altogether, and the monster has been spotted throughout the 70s, 80s, and beyond. One rather terrifying encounter occurred in 1977, when a local woman at Santa Rosa spotted a gigantic bird with black eyes and a face like an old woman in a tree. The creature then flew straight at her, and when she retreated into her home it continued to scratch at the door for some time before being chased away by some neighborhood dogs. The dogs purportedly chased it out of sight, but the next day when the animals did not return searchers found their mangled bodies, torn apart and mutilated by some immensely powerful animal. Since then the creature has been sporadically reported all the way up to today, and has become a persistent local legend in the area, sort of like Nessie at Loch Ness.
It is not even the U.S. side of the Rio Grande that has seen sightings of such a bizarre creature. In one sighting, a man was driving along a remote dirt road near the town of El Tigre, Chihuahua, in Mexico, and was startled when a giant bird passed right over his vehicle, after which it continued to make relentless passes at him. On one of these passes it allegedly smashed into the windshield and fell to the road, and the witness ran it over. When he looked into his rear-view mirror he reportedly saw it get back up as if it was nothing and fly off into the night.
Interestingly enough, the Rio Grande region on the south of the border has long had legends and sightings of a creature that seems very similar to what has been seen in Texas. Locals of northern Mexico and the Rio Grande of Texas have long spoken of a giant bird creature which they call La Lechuza, that can supposedly stand up to 7 feet high and have a wingspan of 15 feet or more. Often described as looking like an oversized owl or raven, La Lechuza can be black or white, and is often said to have a face like that of an old woman. The creature is most often seen as being a part of local folklore, where it is depicted as a vengeful supernatural spirit that feeds off of negative emotions and kidnaps children to eat, but there have been actual sightings of these things in the area for centuries. Could this have anything to do with the Big Bird sightings?
Besides magical Mexican spirits, there has been much speculation as to what the creature could be, with most skeptics saying it is nothing more than some large species of bird like a stork or heron, and there have been cases of exotic out of place specimens of a type of Central American stork called the jabiru in the Rio Grande region. The jabiru is certainly imposing enough to be mistaken for the beast, which can stand 5 feet tall and have a wingspan of around 10 feet and interestingly also has a featherless head, which fits into reports of Big Bird having a bald head. It also looks suitably eerie enough to perhaps generate reports of something strange for those who have never seen one before.
However, it is hard to see how any stork or heron could possibly be mistaken for having an ape-like face, vicious talons, or glowing red eyes, and reports mentioning short legs on the mystery monster do not match either. Storks and herons don’t typically attack humans either. So what else could it be? More mysterious explanations have mentioned that it could be some new species, aliens, inter-dimensional beings, or even the infamous, enigmatic Mothman. Then there is the possibility that this is all just an urban legend based on hoaxes and lies, but that would be strange considering the wealth of reliable witnesses who have claimed to have seen it, including two police officers.
So what are we dealing with here? These creatures have been spotted all over the Rio Grande by witnesses of all ages and all walks of life. Are they all just making things up or misidentifying normal birds? Or is this something weirder? Are these visitors from some other plane of existence, perhaps trickster spirits having some fun at our expense? Whatever the case may be, the Birdmen or Bid Bird of the Rio Grande has continued to be featured heavily in the cryptozoological and paranormal lore of the area, and looks likely to remain that way for some time to come.