(Image: “Haida double thunderbird 1880.”)

The Thunderbird is a great, celestial bird, often associated with rain and storms, found in Native American legends all over North America. The beating of its gigantic wings produces the sound of thunder, and the glance of its shining eyes produces lightning (Rose 359). Although it has different food sources in stories from different cultures, it is almost always portrayed as a carnivore, eating insects, big game, whales, or sometimes even humans in the Yukon. The Thunderbird is a transformed boy who wishes to help his people in the Shawnee tradition, while it is a symbol of summer in the Arapaho tradition. Names for the Thunderbird also vary between groups (Rose 359).

Because of its strong ties with water and rain, the Thunderbird can be understood as a portent of rain, a creature to pray to during a drought for help and protection. However, the more sinister thunderbird of the Yukon that sometimes eats humans can show the destructive force of a storm that batters buildings and kills those who cannot escape a flood. The protective Thunderbird of the Shawnee may show the good of rain, ultimately showing that the Thunderbird shows the unbridled power of nature, both helpful and harmful.


  1. Hi!

    There is an interesting story that’s been going around message boards and magazines about monsters and weird tales for a long time now. It’s that there is a published photo of a huge “thunderbird” with its wings spread out against a barn and several men (cowboys) standing in front of it for scale, showing it’s huge. Many people claim that they saw this published in a magazine back in the 60s or 70s, but nobody has ever agreed on what magazine it was or found a copy. It seems to be some kind of urban legend of confabulation!

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