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Thunderbird Abductions

In July, 1977, the Boston Evening Globe ran a story of a 10-year-old girl in Lawndale, Illinois, who was attacked by a bird with an 8-foot wingspan that tried to carry her off. Her mother claimed that her daughter was carried about 20 feet before she was able to force the bird to release her.

In September, 1977, a bald eagle picked up a small beagle and was able to carry it a distance of about 600 yards before it had to drop the dog.

And in a most gruesome account, in 1838 a huge eagle snatched up a 5-year-old girl from a mountain slope in the Swiss Alps and took her to its nest where it dined on the poor child. When the nest was found some time later, it was said to be littered with the bones of sheep and goats.

1 “A bald-headed eagle hovering over St. John’s Island suddenly swooped down and attempted to carry off a two-year-old child of Mr. Clancyl’s that was playing in the field alone. The light clothing gave way with every tug of the voracious bird and torn into ribbons. Some men working nearby came up in time to save the child from injury, but the eagle refused to go away until it was shot at.” (Evening Gazette, Reno, Nevada 8/26/1881 from the Toronto Globe)

2 “Saturday afternoon, while the wife of Jean Baptist Romillen, living ten miles from here, accompanied by here two-year-old child, was feeding the fowls, a large bald-headed eagle swooped down and bore the little one off in its talons. The neighbors turned out with shotguns, but the only effect of their firing was to accelerate the eagle’s flight. The bird alighted on top of a barn a mile away, and was seen to make several strokes at the child’s head with its beak. The neighbors had got pretty close by this time, and succeeded in frightening the eagle away. The child’s body was recovered, but life was extinct, a hole having been made in its skull, and a portion of the brains devoured by the bird.” (Manitoba Daily Free Press, Winnipeg, Manitoba 10/20/1885)

This was one of the rare (and tragic) successful and fatal avian abductions. 

3 “An eagle attacked a nine year old son of I. Martin of Hamilton township Franklin County a few days ago and attempted to carry him off. The glorious bird did not succeed in this but the boy was badly injured.” (Wellsboro Agitator, Wellsboro, Pennsylvania 8/31/1886)

4 “A few days ago a child of a Mrs. Smith living on West River street, was playing in the back-yard when a monstrous eagle swooped down, and fixing its talons in the child’s clothing attempted to fly away. The Screams of the child attracted the mother, who rushed out of doors at which the big bird flew away. It is thought that the eagle measured ten feet from tip to tip, and had it not been for the timely arrival of the mother the child would certainly have been carried off.” (Weekly Nevada State Journal, Reno, Nevada 9/17/1887 from the Truckee Republican)

This incident is eerily similar the Lawndale event in many ways. 

5 “Detroit, Mich., Aug. 5 – Two eagles had a duel to the death for the possession of a 6-month-old baby of Peter Shaw, who lives four miles north of Allis, in Presque Isle county. Mrs. Shaw had laid the baby down in the grass and returned to the house for a few seconds; when an immense eagle swooped down on the infant and sunk its talons into the little one’s flesh and clothing…Mr. Shaw arrived just in time to witness a terrible sight. Two eagles were hovering above the crag of rock, filling the air with their cries and battling for the possession of the baby that lay high upon the cliff. Before the father reached the summit one of the eagles had fallen to the ground, while the other had taken up the child for another flight. The father fired and the bird and baby fell into the water. The frantic father plunged into the lake and caught up the body, but the little one was dead.” (Galveston Daily News, Galveston, Texas 8/6/1892)

6 “Mrs. Anna McDowell, 19 years old, and a resident of Ouakoke valley, near Wilkesbarre, Pa., is at present superintending the work of a local taxidermist who is stuffing one of the largest bald eagles ever seen in that section. The giant bird was killed by the girl while it was endeavoring to carry off a three-year-old child named Nettie Hinkle…Little Nettie, badly wounded though she was, made her way to her home, a short distance away, and told her parents that “a good lady saved me from a bad bird at the creek”. (San Antonia Daily Light, San Antonio, Texas 1/4/1897)

7 “Council Bluffs, Iowa, June 23 – Mrs. Christina Mortensen, living near Honey Creek, Pottawatomie county, was attacked by an eagle yesterday while hoeing in her garden. The bird swooped down upon her from a cloudless sky, and with a scream sank its talons deep into the flesh of her shoulders in an effort to carry her off, notwithstanding the fact that Mrs. Mortensen weighs 160 pounds. Failing in its efforts to bear its prey away, the eagle beat the woman with its wings, at the same time tearing her face and head with its beak, lacerating her in a frightful manner…Owing to her age (70) and frail condition her injuries proved fatal. She appeared to suffer as much from nervous shock as from her wounds.” (Daily Republican, Decatur, Illinois 6/23/1897 and a follow-up from San Antonio Daily Light, San Antonio, Texas 8/4/1897)

8 “A resident of Eagle Valley says that a big eagle swooped down into his yard a few days ago and tried to carry off his child. Its mother saw the little one’s peril and drove the hungry bird away with a club.” (Daily Argus, Middletown, New York 9/6/1897)

9 “A bald eagle, measuring more than six feet between its wing tips, flew into the yard of William H. Berry, Pinedale, and attacked his 2-year-old son. Mrs. Berry ran screaming into the yard and the eagle rose, being joined by its mate, and both circles over the house.” (Weekly Tribune, Hornellsville, New York 9/8/1899)

10 “On Saturday the three children of Julius Housechild, two boys and a girl, were sent across lots by their mother to a neighbor’s house for milk. The youngest of the children is Paul, a boy 7 years old. The children started from the house about 9 o’clock in the morning and loitered on their way, “playing horse” as children do, with a rope for the reigns. They had come to an unfrequented place when the little girl looked up and then gave a scream. The boys started to look up to see what had caused the little girl’s fright when the flapping of great wings above their heads was followed by the resting of a heavy weight on the shoulders of Paul…An eagle had swooped down, striking the boy in the neck and had fastened its talons in the boys clothes. Paul had been the “horse” and the reigns were still under his arms, his brother still holding the other end. Slowly the eagle flapped its enormous wings, lifting the boy from the ground…Paul’s older brother held on tightly to the reigns, which were five feet long, and his weight added to that of his brother, was too much for the monster bird to carry, so that after getting five feet into the air the eagle sank down to the ground again…The little girl had run for a stick and brought a club she luckily found, and the big brother belabored the eagle with the club, until it let go off its hold and flew away.” (Daily News, Naugatuck, Connecticut 9/13/1899)

11 “Two wires which are strung across the lawn at the courthouse yesterday saved a 4-year-old boy from feeling the talons of [an] eagle in his tender flesh. That it was the intention of the bird when it swooped down to carry off the child there can be little doubt, but that it could have done so is doubtful…The bird is an unusually large black eagle. A number of them have been seen about the city lately and it is assumed that the recent snows in the mountains have driven them to the plains.” (Anaconda Standard, Anaconda, Montana 12/9/1900 from the Denver Republican)

12 “Colorado Springs, Colo., Sept. 29 – An immense bald eagle yesterday afternoon tried to carry away to the mountains Alfred, the 8-year-old son of Cornelius A. Starr, Sexton at Evergreen cemetery, southeast of this city. The timely arrival of the lad’s father and another man with a shotgun no doubt saved the boy from death or serious injury.” (Evening news, Lincoln, Nebraska 9/29/04)

13 “Coweta, Ok – The five-year-old son of Nero Charles, a farmer living near Coweta, was attacked by a large gray eagle a few days ago, and narrowly escaped with his life after being carried 50 yards by the fierce bird. So far as known, this is the first time in the history of Indian Territory that a child has actually been picked up and carried by an eagle…The child weighs 50 pounds, and at no time did the eagle succeed in getting more than eight to ten feet above the ground with him. The child was not injured save for a bruises and scratches when his parents found him.” (Evening News, Ada, Oklahoma 2/2/1907)

14 “Confluence, W. Va., -- A little child belonging to D.M. Riffee, a merchant of Braxton County, was nearly carried away by a large bald eagle to-day. The child was playing in the doorstep of its home, when the immense bird swooped down, catching the child about the shoulders and waist with its claws. The screams of the little one attracted its father, who came out of his store just as the bird was raising with the child. Mr. Riffee immediately seized one of the rakes which he had on display in front of his store, and with it literally raked down the bird and child. The child was injured but little, while the parent managed to deal the bird several telling blows with the rake. Despite this it managed to fly to some tall trees nearby, where, while nursing its injuries, it was killed by a rifle ball. The eagle is one of the largest ever seen here.” (Washington Post, Washington D.C. 5/14/1907)

15 “Medicine Hat, Alberta, April 23 – While Anna Jergensen, a 2-year-old child of a farmer, was playing in the yard of her home, near here, yesterday, an enormous eagle swooped down and carried her off in its talons. The bird flew to its aerie on a mountain nearby. The Parents are prostrated.” (Syracuse Herald, Syracuse, New York, 4/23/1908)

16 “Swooping down into a crowd of persons who were watching a recent baseball game near Point Richmond, S. I., an American eagle attacked John Pollackson, 8-years-old. A group of men set upon the bird and the father of the boy ran to his home, procured a shotgun and returning, killed the eagle…The eagle measured seven feet six inches from tip to tip.” (Fort Wayne Sentinel, Fort Wayne, Indiana 9/15/1908)

17 “New York, Sept. 18 – While Blanche Cribler, 3 years old, the daughter of Fred Cribler, a summer resident of Helmetta, N.J., was at play near her home, a large eagle swooped down and attempted to carry the child away in its talons. Cribler was working near by and the screams of his daughter attracted his attention. He fought off the bird and as it attempted to fly away his brother, who came up with a shot gun, fired and crippled the eagle. Its capture was then an easy matter. Except for a few scratches, the child was unhurt.” (Fort Wayne Sentinel, Fort Wayne, Indiana 9/18/1908)

18 “Eau Clair, Wisc. May 19 – Harold Ness, the ten-year-old son of Otto Ness, a farmer near here, was attacked by an eagle while he was walking through a grove. Though the big bird fastened his talons into the child’s shoulders, causing much pain, the boy seized the neck of his feathered assailant and wrung it until death ensued. A few minor injuries were received by the lad.” (Iowa City Citizen, Iowa City, Iowa 5/19/1909)

19 “South Norwalk, Conn., June 15 – The largest eagle ever seen or shot in these parts attacked Emma Trewald, an eight-year-old girl, in the rear of her home in Westport. The bird which measured seven feet from tip to tip of the wings, soared down on the child while she was picking daisies. The eagle grabbed the girl by the back of her gingham dress with his claws and started to fly away with her, but the goods gave way and the child fell into the grass.” (Gettysburg Times, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania 6/15/1912)

20 “Binghamton, N.Y., July 6 – Only the brave fight put up by Mrs. Martin Hunsucker, of Geneganslet, Chenango county, prevented her son William, 4 years old, [from] being carried away, or at least injured, by an eagle this afternoon. The child was playing near the house when the bird swooped, fastening its talons in his hair. The boy screamed, and the mother, catching up a stick, beat off the eagle. The big bird at first gave battle, then suddenly released its hold and soared away.” (Washington Post, Washington, D.C. 7/7/1913)

21 “Geneva, Switzerland, Aug. 8 – An enormous eagle carried off the 4-year-old child of a woodcutter while it was playing near him when he was working in the forest in the vicinity of the village of Andeer, not far from Chur. A large body of hunters, accompanied by dogs, set off to rescue the child, but they were unable to find any traces of the eagle or its prey.” (Daily Bulletin, Van Wert, Ohio 8/8/1913)

22 “Glendo. Wyo., Nov. 23 – Attacked by a giant eagle, with a wing spread of more than eight feet, which had apparently swooped upon him with intention of carrying him away, eight-year-old Walter Spaulding seized his adversary by the neck and screamed for help. John. Walter’s 7-year-old brother, came to his assistance and beat the eagle with a club. A third brother ran for help. Mrs. Spaulding came and attacked the eagle with a stick, but the bird continued the attack. Mr. Spaulding arrived on the scene with a shotgun and dispatched the bird.” (Standard-Examiner, Ogden City, Utah 11/23/1920)

23 “Lubec, Maine, Aug. 11 (AP) – An immense eagle swooped down into the yard at the farm of Guy Lyons, near here, yesterday, seized 2-year-old Buddy Lyons in its talons and sought to carry him away. Buddy’s 5-year-old brother grasped the child’s and after a tussle pulled him free. The bird, which had a wing spread of 7 feet soared to a nearby tree and remained there all day. It was the first time that an eagle had been known to attempt to carry off a child in this territory.” (Fresno Bee, Fresno, California 8/11/1928)

24 “Sturgeon Bay, Wis., May 31 – After a vain 12-hour search for 3-year-old Edith Dorschell, who disappeared at a picnic yesterday, belief grew today that the child was carried away by a pair of giant eagles which have attacked sheep flocks in this vicinity for two weeks…The child wandered away from the group and disappeared in a wild wooded area nearby. Picnickers recalled that the eagles had hovered over the picnic grounds shortly before the child had disappeared.” (San Mateo Times, San Mateo, California and Sheboygan Press, Sheboygan, Wisconsin 5/31/1929)

25 “It is reported that Mrs. Callahan, of Gallagher township, Clinton county, had a desperate fight the other day with an eagle which was trying to carry away her two-year-old child. The child’s face and hands were torn by the bird’s talons, and Mrs. Callahan was quite painfully pecked before she succeeded in driving off the big bird.” (Standard-Examiner, Ogden City, Utah 5/30/1931)

26 “Trento, Italy, July 28 – An eagle today carried off Ola Marie Robizert, year-old daughter of a peasant farmer, as she slept on the edge of a field her father was cultivating.” (Indiana Progress, Indiana, Pennsylvania 7/29/1936)

27 “With his father’s shotgun, 14-year-old John Naglish, Monday, killed a 50-pound Mexican eagle as it swooped toward a baby girl in the yard of his father’s farm at 110th and Calumet Lake. The bird had a wing spread of seven feet and would have been able to injure seriously, if not carry away little Jean O’Neil, 13-months-old, target of his swoop. The eagle had been carrying away poultry and small pigs in the vicinity, and the gun had been kept in readiness.” (The Pointer, Riverdale, Illinois 9/11/1936)

28 “Cold ran the blood of a Finnish farmer one day in 1931. His two-year-old child had been playing outside his cottage near the Russian border. Now the baby was the gone. He and his friends searched far and wide, found no trace. Last week, near the farmer’s home, lumbermen brought down a tall pine tree. High in the branches they spied an eagle’s nest. They came close to examine it. What they found made them cross themselves. There, surrounded by tatters of baby clothing, lay the skeleton of a 2-year-old child.” (Sheboygan Press, Sheboygan, Wisconsin 2/4/1937 from Time magazine)

29 In 1927, Edward Forbush, then the state ornithologist of Massachusetts and the author of A Natural History of American Birds, related the following current account: “M. Spencer Mapes, British Columbia, witnessed an attack by a golden eagle on Ellen Gibbs, nine-years-old…As the child ran toward her house, the eagle flew directly over [Mapes’] head in pursuit of the child. The bird sank its claws into her arms before he could reach her. He had partially disabled the eagle when the child’s mother rushed up and killed it with an ax.” (Fresno Bee-Republican, Fresno, California 7/18/1937)

30 “Carlsbad, N.M. (AP) – A pair of pliers and a bed slat were the weapons used by a Carlsbad couple to save their four-year-old son from an eagle’s clutches. The mother, Mrs. C.J. Reinhart, told it this way: The child was playing in the yard while she hung out a wash. Suddenly, the big bird swooped down and dug its talons into her son’s head. For a minute she pulled in vain at the eagle’s legs, then ran to the house. Returning with a pair of pliers, she jerked the talons free, snatched up her son and rushed him to a doctor. Three talons had pierced the child’s skin.” (Herald Journal, Syracuse, New York 2/21/1948)