Just got a report from a couple, Bill and Jean Summers, that they saw a giant black bird yesterday (September 28, 2012) near their home. The Summers live near Buck’s Pocket State Park in North Alabama. I’d like you to read their account in Bill’s own words. Jean also sent me a comment to confirm she had seen it too.
Here’s Bill’s account:
“I witnessed a huge black bird with a white ring around its neck and had some white markings between the wings and tail. This happened yesterday 9-28-12 around 5:00 pm.
I was watching it out our kitchen window and it was about 100 yards out near my entrance to the farm. I looked up many birds in my bird book and have seen bald eagles out here many times, I really couldn’t believe my eyes as it flew over a field and then disappeared around some trees.
I told my wife Jean that I’ve never seen a bird that big and that it definitely wasn’t a bald eagle because I specifically looked for a white head, this bird had a black head. It flew over an old rusty hayrake near my entrance way and its wingspan was wider than the rake which is around 6 ft. wide. I would estimate its wingspan at round 10 ft.
I called a neighbor who lives around 1/4 mile from me and asked him if he had seen the bird. He [said he] watched it land on my county rd. 609 (gravel rd. to my house). He said that he could see a white head and that he thought it was a bald eagle. I told him that I actually saw a black head with a white ring around its neck. He told me that it flew from the road to a large pine tree near my lower pond where it sat for around 5 minutes and then it flew off in a southerly direction. He said that it looked to have a wingspan of at least 8 ft. and that he saw a white head on it.
I actually looked on the internet and found that an Andean Condor looks very similar to the bird that I watched yesterday. I think my friend could have mistaken the white ring around its neck for the white head of a bald eagle. Hope someone will be able to see this bird to substantiate my sighting.”
I’m very excited about this report because it is so FRESH! A couple things occur to me: I think his friend was actually seeing a bald eagle because Bill and Jean were very clear that their bird’s head was totally black, save for the collar ring which was white. He also said they have bald eagles in the area, so I think the neighbor thought they were looking at the same bird, but wasn’t.
Here’s a photo of an Andean Condor to the right.
Let’s review the stats for an Andean Condor: body about 4 feet long, wingspan 10.5 feet wide, weighs around 33 pounds. Males have the white collar around the neck. But here’s the hitch … according to National Geographic, “Like their relatives, the California condors, Andean condors have bald heads.”
Andean Condors like to live near mountains with reliable wind currents to help them get aloft. But they’ll also live near coastlines which tend to have good wind flow around them, as well as deserts which usually have strong thermal currents rising from the desert floor.
There are mountains in Northern Alabama. Living in or near a state park would also likely supply them with a good amount of food. Here are two close-ups of this bird:
These condors have been on the endangered species list for quite a while, but lately their numbers are improving thanks to captive breeding programs in place.
The wingspan of these birds varies between 8 and 9 feet, sometimes almost reaching 10 feet. However, note in the photos below, the head is reddish/fleshy looking in flight, and there is considerable white on the underside of the wings. I do not think the Summers’ saw a California Condor, so we can rule that out.
What Did They See?
I’m on the fence about the Andean Condor. Sure the males have the white collar, but their heads are bald. Bill was quite clear that the bird’s head was covered with black feathers.
There’s still a part of me that wants to believe these birds are either a hybrid of the condors, or perhaps a relative of Argentavis magnificens.
What do you think?
Also, please let us know if you spot any unusual “fly overs” in your area. Keep your cameras handy!