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.