Skip to main content
Select Source:

Thunderbird

Thunderbird

An important figure in Native American mythology, the Thunderbird represents the natural forces of thunder, lightning, and storms. It is also believed to protect humans by fighting evil spirits. Many groups have their own stories about the bird.

The Thunderbird is one of the main gods of the sky. It creates thunder by flapping its wings and causes lightning by opening and closing its beak and eyes. Usually described as a huge bird, the Thunderbird is large enough to carry off a whale to eat and to split open trees to find insects for food.

The Algonquian people consider Thunderbirds to be ancestors of the human race, involved with the creation of the universe. According to a Shawnee tale, Thunderbirds appear as boys and can speak backwards. Other cultures believe in four Thunderbirds that guard a nest holding an egg, which hatches all other birds of their type.

A Lakota Sioux myth says that the great Thunderbird Wakan Tanka was the grandson of the sky spirit that created the world and put people on it. But the water spirit Unktehi thought the people were lice, and she and her followers tried to drown them. The people retreated to the highest hill they could find and prayed for help. Wakan Tanka came to fight Unktehi and sent lightning crashing to earth. The ground split open, and Unktehi and her followers drained into the cracks. As a result, humankind was saved.

See also Birds in Mythology; Native American Mythology; Wakan Tanka.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Thunderbird." Myths and Legends of the World. . Encyclopedia.com. 19 Nov. 2018 <https://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Thunderbird." Myths and Legends of the World. . Encyclopedia.com. (November 19, 2018). https://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/thunderbird

"Thunderbird." Myths and Legends of the World. . Retrieved November 19, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/thunderbird

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles

Encyclopedia.com gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, Encyclopedia.com cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use Encyclopedia.com citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

http://www.mla.org/style

The Chicago Manual of Style

http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/tools_citationguide.html

American Psychological Association

http://apastyle.apa.org/

Notes:
  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most Encyclopedia.com content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.

thunderbird

thunderbirdabsurd, bird, Byrd, curd, engird, gird, Heard, herd, Kurd, misheard, nerd, overheard, reheard, third, turd, undergird, undeterred, unheard, unstirred, word •blackbird • yardbird • cage bird •jailbird • seabird • ladybird •dickybird • mockingbird • whirlybird •hummingbird • nightbird • songbird •shorebird • bluebird • lovebird •lyrebird • bowerbird • thunderbird •waterbird • weaverbird • Sigurd •swineherd • cowherd • goatherd •potsherd • catchword • password •headword • swear word • keyword •byword • watchword • crossword •foreword • loanword • buzzword •afterword

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"thunderbird." Oxford Dictionary of Rhymes. . Encyclopedia.com. 19 Nov. 2018 <https://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"thunderbird." Oxford Dictionary of Rhymes. . Encyclopedia.com. (November 19, 2018). https://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/thunderbird

"thunderbird." Oxford Dictionary of Rhymes. . Retrieved November 19, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/thunderbird

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles

Encyclopedia.com gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, Encyclopedia.com cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use Encyclopedia.com citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

http://www.mla.org/style

The Chicago Manual of Style

http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/tools_citationguide.html

American Psychological Association

http://apastyle.apa.org/

Notes:
  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most Encyclopedia.com content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.

Thunderbird

Thunderbird

Nationality/Culture

American Indian

Pronunciation

THUHN-der-burd

Alternate Names

Animikii (Ojibwa), Jojo (Kwakiutl)

Appears In

Various American Indian oral mythologies

Lineage

Varies

Character Overview

An important figure in American Indian mythology, the Thunderbird represents the natural forces of thunder, lightning, and storms. It is also believed to protect humans by fighting evil spirits. Many different cultural groups have their own stories about the bird, and some cultures even refer to groups or races of such birds.

Major Myths

The Thunderbird is thought by some to be one of the main gods of the sky. It creates thunder by flapping its wings and causes lightning by opening and closing its beak and eyes. Usually described as a huge bird, the Thunderbird is large enough to carry off a whale to eat and to split open trees to find insects for food.

The Algonquian people consider Thunderbirds to be ancestors of the human race, involved with the creation of the universe. According to a Shawnee tale, Thunderbirds appear as boys and can speak backwards. Other cultures believe in four Thunderbirds that guard a nest holding an egg, which hatches all other birds of their type.

A Lakota Sioux (pronounced SOO) myth says that the great Thunderbird was the grandson of the sky spirit that created the world and put people on it. But the water spirit Unktehi (pronounced UN-teh-hee) thought the people were lice, and she and her followers tried to drown them. The people retreated to the highest hill they could find and prayed for help. The Thunderbird came to fight Unktehi and sent lightning crashing to earth. The ground split open, and Unktehi and her followers drained into the cracks. As a result, humankind was saved.

The Thunderbird in Context

Though no evidence exists of gigantic birds that existed during the time of humans, the American Indian myth of the Thunderbird may have some basis in scientific fact. According to legend, the birds are the bringers of storms, which means they would appear in front of approaching storm clouds. Storm clouds generally form at the boundary between air masses of different pressures; this collision of air masses can also result in a strong updraft, or a wind that flows upward. Zoologists are already familiar with large birds that use updrafts as a way to fly without wasting energy; it is possible that the “thunderbirds” of American Indian legend were based on sightings of large birds, such as eagles or condors, that utilized the updrafts created at storm fronts in order to glide with little effort. To some, it might appear that such birds were leading the storm across the sky.

Key Themes and Symbols

The Thunderbird is an embodiment of the thunderstorm: its wings are associated with thunder and wind, and its eyes are linked to lightning. Although the Thunderbird is associated with fierce power, in many myths it also represents a protective or helpful force for humankind. The Thunderbird was viewed as a provider, since rain was necessary for the growth of crops and for the grasses that fed the buffalo.

The Thunderbird in Art, Literature, and Everyday Life

The Thunderbird is found in many American Indian cultures. It is often seen on the totem poles of the Kwakiud (pronounced kwah-kee-OOT-1) of the Pacific Northwest and in the art of the Navajo and Sioux. In modern times, the mythical creature is believed by some to be a real animal that has so far escaped human study, similar to Bigfoot. The legendary bird also loosely inspired a Marvel Comics superhero of the same name, an Apache with superhuman strength and speed whose costume was decorated with an image of the Thunderbird. Many commercial products have borrowed the name of Thunderbird, including a brand of bass guitar, an inexpensive wine, and a line of Ford automobiles, among many others.

Read, Write, Think, Discuss

Many products and services in modern times take their names from mythical figures. The Ford Thunderbird is one example, and the Venus women's razor is another. See if you can think of another example that has not already been mentioned. Why do you think so many products are named after characters from mythology? Do you think this reveals anything about the place of mythology in modern society?

SEE ALSO Native American Mythology

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Thunderbird." U*X*L Encyclopedia of World Mythology. . Encyclopedia.com. 19 Nov. 2018 <https://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Thunderbird." U*X*L Encyclopedia of World Mythology. . Encyclopedia.com. (November 19, 2018). https://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/thunderbird

"Thunderbird." U*X*L Encyclopedia of World Mythology. . Retrieved November 19, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/thunderbird

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles

Encyclopedia.com gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, Encyclopedia.com cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use Encyclopedia.com citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

http://www.mla.org/style

The Chicago Manual of Style

http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/tools_citationguide.html

American Psychological Association

http://apastyle.apa.org/

Notes:
  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most Encyclopedia.com content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.