Thunderbirds are immense avian creatures, typically resembling birds of prey, with a connection to or control over storms and lightning. Their powers generally revolve around storm-focused Weather Manipulation, but may also revolve around a broader form of Shock and Awe with less focus on inclement weather but including phenomena, such as electromagnetic pulses, not associated with angry skies.
Thunderbirds are originally from the mythologies of various native American peoples, and although broadly similar creatures have arisen in other cultures as well the North American kind is the one most likely to influence their modern portrayals.
Alternatively, thunderbird-like creatures can be derived from simply associating birds (the animals most commonly associated with heavens and the sky) with thunder, lightning, and storms (the most dangerous and dramatic phenomena to manifest in the sky), without direct derivation from Native American traditions.
They may sometimes be contrasted with or compared to phoenixes when these are treated less as birds who periodically immolate themselves and more as actively pyrokinetic creatures. Lightning/Fire Juxtaposition is likely a factor in this.
Not to be confused with the series Thunderbirds.
- Digimon: Thunderbirdmon is a Digimon resembling a giant blue bird with an armored face, lightning bolt-shaped feathers and yellow lightning patterns over its body. Its two attacks are both based on manipulating electricity — Thunderstorm generates a powerful electrical surge, while Spark Wing sends a hail of electrically charged Feather Flechettes flying at the enemy.
- Raideen is a Humongous Mecha named after the Japanese god of thunder, lightning, and storms and comes with the powers that that implies. It can also transform into the God Bird.
- Zapdos, one of three legendary birds from Pokémon probably counts.
- Hilda: The recurring character the Great Raven is a thunderbird. He can shoot lightning from his wings, and is able to speak. In his true form he's big enough to carry at least two human children on his back, but he can also sizeshift to the size of a regular raven. The citizens of Trolberg mistakingly believe him to be the messenger of a god worshipped in older times, and that he brings good luck.
- Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them: Thunderbirds are gigantic, serpentine, six-winged birds capable of creating storms as they fly. A thunderbird named Frank is among the creatures in Newt's menagerie: the latter rescued him from animal traffickers in Egypt and is at the start of the film trying to reach Arizona to release him in his species' natural habitat.
- The Areas of My Expertise: The 51st state, Hohoq, is a clouded floating plateau inhabited by airplane-sized thunderbirds that shoot lightning from their eyes and can transform into men.
- Harry Potter: Thunderbirds are magical, albatross-like birds, somewhat taller than a man, that create storms as they fly, and whose tailfeathers can be used to make wands. They can sense danger, and thunderbird-feather wands are known to fire of spells on their own during dangerous situations.
- The Heartstrikers: The Thunderbird appears as one of the many powerful nature spirits who now work for Algonquin, Lady of the Lakes and ruler of the Detroit Free Zone. He's specifically the spirit of the storms that form over the Great Plains.
- Thunderbirds are extremely prominent, both as creatures and as symbols, in the mythologies and cultures of several native tribes from the Pacific Northwest of North America, as well as those from the Northeast, Great Lakes, Plains and Southwest.
- Thunderbirds appear very often in the mythology and symbology of Pacific Northwest peoples. They are generally protective entities, and their physical remains and possessions are believed to have significant power and value, but can be dangerous if angered or offended. They are often at odds with sea creatures, especially whales, and make thunder with the beating of their wings. They are also very large; a single Thunderbird feather may be as long as an oar. In one myth, Thunderbird fought against a monstrous whale that was killing other cetaceans, devouring fish stocks and attacking coastal villages. It dove into the sea, seized the whale in its claws and dropped it from a great height; the sound of the whale hitting the sea is the source of thunder.
- In the mythologies of the Algonquian peoples of the Great Lakes and the Northeast, the thunderbird is typically depicted a creature of the sky and thus at war with creatures that dwell underwater or in the underworld, such as underwater panthers and horned serpents. They fight these by hurling thunderbolts at them, hence why lightning strikes the earth from the clouds. They are also associated with rain and other forms of precipitation.
- In Menominee myth, the thunderbirds that dwell on a floating mountain in the west are bringers of rain and hail, delight in fighting and valiant deeds and are enemies of the horned serpents, which they prevent from overrunning the world and destroying mankind.
- In Ojibwe myth, the thunderbirds exist to war against evil underwater spirits, and arrange their seasonal migrations to coincide with the spirits' most active periods. They also punish humans who act in wicked or immoral ways.
- The lightning bird or impundulu is a recurring figure in the folklore of South African tribes, and is described as a human-sized black-and-white bird that can summon lightning with a flap of its wings. Unlike the American thunderbird, however, this is an evil creature and an avid drinker of human blood. Also rather than an eagle, it is said to resemble a hammerkop, a wading bird related to pelicans indigenous to sub-Saharan African.
- In cryptozoology, large, unidentified avian creatures are often called thunderbirds. They're usually hypothesized to have served as inspirations for the Thunderbird of native myth (sometimes with the addition that such large flyers would need to seek out strong winds to stay aloft, hence the association with storms) and to be surviving teratorns, a group of gigantic, extinct vulture relatives with wingspans often in excess of four or five meters — one genus may have reached as much as eight. However, cryptozoological "thunderbirds" are routinely described with characteristics no bird ever had, including membranous wings, tooth-filled mouths and reptilian heads. More out-there theories posit them to be surviving pterosaurs, but in all likelihood they're simply misidentified condors and vultures or simply hoaxes.
- Exalted: Thunderbirds are air elementals resembling immense raptorial birds who create wind with the beating of their wings and coax lightning out of clouds, and who can take on human shape. They're passionate beings who thrive in both love and battle, and share other air elementals' hatred for spirits of water. Notable thunderbirds include Chief Storms-as-He-Walks, the most influential thunderbird chieftain within Creation, and Zutaka, the Daimyo of Blizzards within Heaven's Bureau of Seasons.
- Thunderbirds are large, Roc-like birds with magical control over wind and rain. They can cast control weather at will, cast thunderbolts at their foes, and are constantly wreathed in lightning and lashing winds, and are both hailed as bringers of rain and feared as heralds of hurricanes and destructive storms. They also have a complicated relationship with phoenixes, respecting the stronger creatures' beauty and mastery over their own element but considering them too soft and forgiving towards humanoid civilizations.
- Tempest behemoths resemble immense, six-winged eagles capable of hurling thunderbolts, and their arrival is heralded by powerful storms and gales.
- Shadowrun: Greater and lesser thunderbirds — Avesfulmen splendidus and A. minor — are Awakened birds of prey capable of generating powerful EMPs (something especially dangerous when a large chunk of the population has electronics wired into their heads), and enjoy playing in active thunderstorms. Rumors persist that they are also able to summon thunderstorms, but these are officially unsubstantiated. They also explode violently when they die, due to the sudden release of electricity stored within their bodies.
- Warhammer 40,000: Invoked with several Space Marine ships like the iconic Thunderhawk, a powerful transport/ground attack craft (and variants like the Stormbird, Storm Eagle, etcetera) and the Stormraven, a Lightning Bruiser fighter.
- Devil May Cry: Despite its name, the Griffon has more in common with a thunderbird than a typical griffon, having only two legs and no leonine features and fighting using beams of electricity.
- Fantasy Life: The Thunderbird is an electrogenic, black-and-yellow bird found in the Drysand Desert, and drops a number of electricity- and thunder-based items when killed.
- Final Fantasy:
- In Final Fantasy IV: The After Years, Thunderbirds are golden eagle-like birds that attack by throwing thunderbolts and electromagnetically paralyzing opponents.
- In Final Fantasy VII, Thunderbirds tend to attack in groups and to strafe the whole party at once with lightning attacks. Their original Japanese name, Raijincho, is a portmanteau of raijin, a mythical Japanese thunder beast, and cho, meaning "bird".
- Final Fantasy VIII replaces the standard Ramah summon with Quetzalcoatl, an enormous bird seemingly made of lightning who summons a thunderstorm.
- Genshin Impact: Oz is a raven with a wingspan of over five feet, and mechanically is what gets invoked for most of Fischl's combat Lightning powers.
- Heroes of Might and Magic III and IV have Thunderbirds as flying units for the Stronghold faction. Whenever they attack an enemy unit, there is a chance that the unit will be struck by a lightning bolt, dealing extra damage.
- Horizon Zero Dawn: Stormbirds are eagle-like machines the size of a small plane that were created to clean up Earth's atmosphere after the Faro Plague left nothing but a toxic miasma behind. Background material suggests they were one of the very first designs to be conceived by GAIA, during her time when there were still humans around. Despite being primarily airborne terraforming machines, Stormbirds are extremely powerful opponents that fight with a range of physical and electrical attacks, with their main weapon being a powerful Lightning Gun built into their chest.
- Zapdos, one of the three Legendary Birds of Kanto, is a powerful Electric-type that lives inside thunderclouds and that can create powerful storms by beating its wings. It's part of a trio with a Fire-type phoenix and another Ice-type bird.
- Tapu Koko is a looser interpretation. It's an Electric/Fairy-type with a rooster motif. Personality-wise it's noted to live by its own whims regardless of how it affects others, much like the weather.
- Terraria: Thorium: The Grand Thunder Bird is an immense, vulture-like flier that in battle calls lightning from the sky, shoots electric blasts, and in Expert mode rains down lightning bolts that summon tornadoes.
- In Thunderbird Strike, made in response to the building of oil pipelines on Native American land in 2017, the player controls a thunderbird that uses lightning to destroy monstrous, living oil pipelines shaped like enormous snakes.
- Warcraft III:
- The Beastmaster hero can summon a Hawk/Thunder Hawk/Spirit Hawk (which looks more like an eagle), a flying bird that attacks with bolts of lightning.
- The expansion's orc campaign has Thunder Phoenixes, which look identical to the regular Phoenix except that they attack with lightning bolts.
- Zelda II: The Adventure of Link: The penultimate boss of the entire game is called Thunderbird, though it actually attacks with fire magic and doesn't really seem to be incredibly avian in appearance. Its reason for being named after the mythological beast is a bit tenuous, as it is actually necessary to hit IT with the Thunder spell to allow Link to strike it with his sword.
- There is no GATE; we did not fight there: In the interlude "The Myth, the Legend, the King of the Sky", the titular King is an enormous thunderbird made out of storm channels, blotting out the entire sky. Kytheus compares its size to that of the earth dragon his grandfather had slain before his birth and whose bones have the main city of the Rhavenfell built into them.
- Whateley Universe: While no physical Thunderbirds have been shown in-story, two Thunderbird spirits are, both of which are associated with students at the titular Superhero School: Thunderbird (Scott Emerson) is a power mimic who permanently bonded with a Thunderbird spirit while copying an Avatar's powers (he refers to the spirit as 'Sparky'), while Heyoka (Jamie Carson) is an Astral Avatar whose most frequent 'guest' is a Thunderbird spirit. Both qualify as Magical Native Americans, though Scott doesn't look the part, and Jamie, being a heyoka (hence his/her codename), is in some ways more of a Deconstruction of that trope. It has been implied that Sparky had been in at least a semi-corporeal state when Scott encountered him.
- TierZoo: Thunderbirds were among the cryptids discussed in the April Fools' Day episode. When compared with other raptor builds, Thunderbirds are massive tanks that lack their guild's strongest attributes, such as speed and stealth. They were determined to be B-tier level builds, lower than most other raptors.
- Aladdin: The Series has Thundra, the giant bird goddess of weather, who can summon stormclouds and lightning as part of her powers. Luckily, she takes a fancy to Iago, who even fills in for her in one episode (of course, being Iago, it doesn't take much for Thundra's arch-enemy, the Feathered Serpent Malcho, to steal her necklace from Iago)
- Gargoyles: During Goliath's world tour arc, the heroes run across a pair of Oberon's Children masquerading as Native Americans in an effort to protect/drive off a tribe inhabiting the area they were in. In an effort to convince the tribe's new, modern-thinking chief that All Myths Are True, the benign one (Grandmother) takes the form of the Thunderbird to get him to engage in a ritual magic battle with the hostile one (Raven) for control of the land. This rather backfires when the heroes mistake the transformation as an attack and accidentally down the Thunderbird before the chief can see it.
- Hilda: The Great Raven is a thunderbird; fittingly, he's one of the only characters in the series with an American accent.
- In the US Army, the 45th Infantry Division (which was based out of Oklahoma and had a large number of Native Americans in its ranks) used a swastika as its divisional insignia; in the 1930s, for obvious reasons, its insignia was changed to a stylized thunderbird (which is still used to this day).
- The Thunderbirds are also the name of the U.S. Air Force's aerobatic display squadron, which features Native American-style "thunderbird" artwork on the undersides of its jets.
- Ford Motors' popular Thunderbird (T-Bird) line of cars debuted in 1955 and lasted until 1997, with a brief revival in the early 2000s.
- The thunderbird is the school mascot for a handful of grade schools and colleges, with the University of British Columbia and Southern Utah University as the most prominent examples.
- Thunderbird is an infamous brand of cheap fortified wine, though recently its makers (Gallo Winery) have tried a more upscale rebranding.
- The thunderbirds of Native American legend are considered to possibly have been inspired by the teratorns, a group massive birds of prey native to prehistoric North and South America that were some of the largest flying birds of all time. Many teratorn fossils have been found in sites that were inhabited by prehistoric humans, so they were obviously known. Most teratorn species had wingspans between 10-13 feet, but the largest was a South American species with a wingspan of at least 20 feet, possibly up to 26 feet, and a weight of up to 180 lbs.
- The extinct Woodward's Eagle is another bird believed by scholars to be the inspiration for the thunderbird. One of the largest birds of prey known to science, with an estimated total wingspan of up to 9 feet.
- Due to the myths among the Native Americans describing thunderbirds as the mortal enemies of water monsters, it's been speculated thunderbird may have taken some inspiration from pterosaur fossils in the region, with the water monsters being the fossils of dinosaurs and extinct marine reptiles.