5X5 Episode 8

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5X5 Episode 8
Crytozoology - Hunting for the Thunderbird
25th February 2008

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5X5 7 5X5 9
Skeptical Rogues
S: Steven Novella
R: Rebecca Watson
B: Bob Novella
E: Evan Bernstein
ML: Mike Lacelle
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Crytozoology - Hunting for the Thunderbird[edit]

You're listening to the Skeptics' Guide 5x5, five minutes with five skeptics, with Steve, Jay, Rebecca, Bob and Evan.

S: This is the SGU 5x5, 5 minutes with 5 skeptics. This week, Mike Lacelle is sitting in for Jay Novella. And this week’s topic is a close encounter with a – quote-unquote – "Thunderbird". This is an article written this week by Stan Gordon from Paranormal News. Stan Gordon was writing about the recent alleged sighting of a thunderbird in West Virginia. According to the witness he saw a bird with a wing span of over 20 feet.

R: That’ a big bird.

E: You’re a bird watcher Steve, correct?

S: Yes, I am.

E: And do you know, are you aware of any birds that have wing span of approximately 20 feet?

S: Well, I’ll tell you Evan. The largest bird is the Andean Condor. Largest flying bird I should say. And that has a wing span of just over about 10 feet. The Wandering Albatross is also has a similar wing span of over 10 feet, maybe up to 12 feet. The condors are a little bit heavier, the Wandering Albatross has a little bit bigger wing span. So those are the two largest flying birds and they’re about half the size of what the witness describes seeing. Also neither bird lives in the East Coast of the United States, in the West Virginia area, or in the Pennsylvania area where a lot of alleged sighting have been made. Occasionally, birds are spotted well outside of their natural range. When that is the case they are called accidentals. So it would not be impossible or even that unusual for a condor, for example, to be accidentally found on the Eastern Coast of the United States.

R: And let’s remember that we’re hearing this report second, well, third hand. It’s Stan, this guy Stan Gordon he has his own UFO sighting website basically, so he’s really into this stuff. And he’s just reporting on this unnamed witness who may have seen something back in October of 2007. So when you have a story that’s been, you know, passed along through multiple people, it’s very easy to see how it might get exaggerated. So it’s not totally out of consideration that it could be going from 10 foot wingspan to a 20 foot wingspan.

ML: Yeah, and that’s the problem with this type of claims, the cryptozoological claims, their main evidence is usually just, you know, like eyewitness accounts, and I think we all know how reliable those could be.

S: Right.

R: Right. And the article even says that the guy had a cell phone camera next to him and just didn’t think to use it.

B: Agh jeez! Also, the classic problem with this cryptozoological creatures is the amount of specimens you would need for a viable community of these animals. You know, unless, unless you’re saying that this is the last one. How does a community of birds with 20 foot wingspans just kind of escape notice? You know, It’d be like, Bigfoot, it makes Bigfoot seem like, you know, where’s waldo.

R: Yeah. It’s like Bigfoot living out on the prairie.

E: Well, plus, plus how does this person really know this wingspan was 21 feet, you know

S: Ah-hmm

E: ...UFO sighting, they always get the distances and measurements wrong. Things that appear to be close up and, moving fast, are really, you know, very far away objects, so… who knows?

S: Well, he did say that it was on the ground and that he used the road as a guide. So it's wingspan was as wide as the road, which they later measured as 20 feet. But still either the story is exaggerated or that sighting was simply an error, for whatever reason. Because the angle of that was viewed at, or whatever. Certainly as Bob said, that's a much more likely explanation than there’s a hidden population of birds with 20 foot wingspans that is somehow escaping notice. I mean, it’s one thing, this does remind me a little bit of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker which was thought to be extinct for about 80 years, but then recently a couple of individuals thought that they might have seen one, and there’s in fact a video of this bird although... it’s probably just a Pileated Woodpecker, the video, so far it has not been authenticated as an actual Ivory-billed Woodpecker. But here we’re talking about a, you know, a specimen that’s relatively small although, you know, it’s actually large for a woodpecker, it’s actually, you know, it’s a small bird, and living deep in the swamps. Yeah, okay, that could es- a swamp population of Ivory-billed Woodpeckers could escape notice. Not a population of 20 foot enormous birds. Okay, so we’ll file this one under another implausible claim of the cryptozoologists.

S: SGU 5x5 is a companion podcast to the Skeptics' Guide to the Universe, a weekly science podcast brought to you by the New England Skeptical Society in association with skepchick.org. For more information on this and other episodes, visit our website at www.theskepticsguide.org. Music is provided by Jake Wilson.

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