This summer I met a Wyoming rancher who was convinced that aliens from outer space mutilated the dead cows he would occasionally find on his ranch. Now I’m not a rancher, but if I found a dead cow, obviously worked on by something, why would aliens come to mind as the cause? I could come up with dozens of other possible scenarios. It seems to me that if the earth was actually invaded by aliens, mutilating cows would not be their highest priority.
My blogs go on the web and float around cyberspace indefinitely. Of the nearly 200 blogs I have written the one about the Ivory-billed Woodpeckers and mythical creatures like Sasquatch and the Loch Ness Monster is the most popular. Why is that? Well, people are fascinated by such stuff because it is interesting but somehow manage to ignore the evidence or lack of it.
About twice a year someone e-mails me and tells me they have seen an Ivory-billed Woodpecker. From their description and language, these people are not experienced birders. So Ivory-bills have been reported in backyards, on a suburban golf course, and even in British Columbia. When I tell them it is highly unlikely and suggest a photograph, I get huffy or silly responses like “I don’t carry a camera with me,” or “the government hides the sightings.” I always wonder why the “government” would hide data about the Ivory-billed Woodpecker. The Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology has offered a $50,000 reward for solid evidence of the Ivory-bill and it goes unclaimed. One person says he has a photo but won’t show it to Cornell to protect his rights – huh?
I’m willing to believe that the Ivory-bill might still exist, just like I’m willing to accept that there might be intelligent life on another planet, but there just isn’t evidence for either. Show me the evidence. Many Americans are too ready to reject real science and believe in nonsense like ghosts, angels, horoscopes, homeopathy, moxibustion, and aliens from outer space. As Mark Twain said, “The trouble with the world is not that people know too little, it’s that they know so many things that just aren’t so.”
Other bird myths abound –don’t touch a bird’s nest or eggs or young or the mother will abandon the nest; hummingbirds migrate on the backs of geese; young hawks learning to fly are caught by their parents if they fail; feeding birds rice at weddings will cause them to explode. If you devote a minute’s analysis to each of these, it’s easy to see why they don’t make sense. Same with Bigfoot, acupuncture, and aliens.
There’s a pseudoscience called “cryptozoology”, literally “the study of hidden animals” and refers to searches for them. These hidden animals are never small obscure creatures such as insects or nematodes, but large or monster animals such as Sasquatch. Interestingly, there are few cryptozoological birds. In the past there were Thunderbirds and the European equivalent called the Roc, both resembling a pterodactyl. In 1890 two cowboys supposedly shot one and dragged it into a saloon. A few reports of large predatory birds stalking humans have surfaced since then and I even had the privilege of investigating a sighting for a TV station many years ago in Illinois. A large bird “tried to take a baby out of its stroller” while it was parked in a backyard. The TV station was unable to capture a video of the kidnapping, but it did get a video of the menacing Great Blue Heron flying overhead!
No doubt there are some animals, including birds, yet to be discovered. Except for the deepest parts of the oceans, newly discovered animals tend to be small and secretive and hard to find. If the Ivory-billed Woodpecker, Bigfoot, the Loch Ness Monster, or the acclaimed dinosaur-like creature of the Congo existed, we’d have some real evidence, but we don’t. None at all.
By the way, the photo above is a lenticular cloud.