Frigate Bird Misidentification

On February 23, 2011, in Sighting in Papua New Guinea, by Jonathan Whitcomb

You would think the humble Frigate bird incapable of masquerading as a featherless pterosaur with a wingspan of a Piper Tri-Pacer airplane, but some skeptics appear to be ignorant of the 1944 “pterodactyl” sighting by the U.S. serviceman Duane Hodgkinson. Whatever he saw flying up from that jungle clearing, just west of Finschhafen, New Guinea, it was no sea bird, for the head alone was about three or four feet long, not counting the appendage at the back of the head.

Let’s look at the details in this sighting by Hodgkinson, in relation to the conjecture that Frigate birds have caused people to think that they have seen living pterosaurs. Two army buddies were standing at one side of a jungle clearing (1944, west of Finschhafen, New Guinea); a large creature flew up from the ground of the other side of that clearing. The soldiers had a perfectly clear view of the “pterodactyl,” as it ran to their left and took off into the air. Hodgkinson still remembers how the vegetation swayed from the wing flapping. How critical is the size of that clearing! At about one hundred feet in diameter, that field was small enough to prevent any major distortion in estimating the size of the flying creature. An estimate of twenty-seven feet for the wingspan makes it impossible for it to have been a Frigate bird in masquerade.

Why did I choose Duane Hodgkinson’s sighting as an example? A certain ornithologist (I presume he is a bird expert; at least he purports to be one) who goes by the pen name of “PNG Wantok” has declared,  “The Ropen myth has taken a life of its own, started on no evidence and some local boys pulling the leg of naive visitors to their village.” Look carefully at his comment (on a blog post titled “Caught on Video: Dinosaur or Common Bird”); notice there is not a gram of evidence for his conjecture about how the living-pterosaur idea got started in Papua New Guinea. He says nothing about Duane Hodgkinson, probably because he is ignorant of that eyewitness account. But that American World War II veteran, along with his army buddy, were on the way to a local village, when they had their sighting of the giant “pterodactyl.” They were not leaving a village where natives had told them stories.

Is it Misidentification of Bird or Bat?

Eyewitnesses are seeing  ‘flying fox’ fruit bats or Frigate birds.” Nothing is easier than ignoring what passes through our hands, packing everything away while labeling the box with one word: “misidentification.” I suggest examining each eyewitness report. Duane Hodgkinson described a flying creature with a tail that was at least 10-15 feet long: obviously not any known bird or bat. Brian Hennessy described a beak that was indistinguishable from the rest of the head, a long tail, and no sign of feathers: not likely any bird or bat. Many eyewitnesses describe a bright glow from a nocturnal flying creature: not likely a fruit bat or a Frigate bird. How much better to examine descriptions rather than ignore them and only imagine what someone else has seen!

Marfa Lights on “Live Pterosaur” Blog

Why consider that American “ghost lights” relate to live pterosaurs? Consider the ropen light of Papua New Guinea. From them we can learn that at least some living pterosaurs are bioluminescent, in particular the apparent Rhamphorhynchoids of the Southwest Pacific.

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5 Responses to “Frigate Bird Misidentification”

  1. How much more enlightened would critics become, on this subject, if they would simply examine Duane Hodgkinson’s account, rather than use their critical imagination and invent an imaginary eyewitness account!

  2. […] the possibility of Frigate Bird misidentification, what else do critics suggest? Perhaps the oldest misidentification suggestion, for reports of […]

  3. […] Australia, and he concluded “pterodactyl.” Later, after looking at a photograph of a Frigate bird, he changed his […]

  4. […] the wing of a pelican, but its barely perceptable when compared with the bend on the wing of a Frigate Bird. Nevertheless, the Frigate bird is eliminated by the clear statement of the copilot: “It had […]

  5. […] had no feathers. She estimated the neck was about a foot and a half long (that alone eliminates a Frigate Bird misidentification). She also mentioned a “pointed crown” on the head; it was ”long and curved back […]