Thunderbird Matters: Mysterious Stone Nests

Tim Yearington

Power of the Great Bird

During the spring is when we pay attention to the return of the thunderbirds. We know when they’ve arrived; we hear their thunder, see their lightning, and feel their rejuvenating rains. We visit their mysterious stone nests to help us renew our vision and purpose.

A long time ago the Earth was made only of rock. No life forms yet existed. But one night the Great Spirit of the Creator had a dream. In this vision he saw a way to make life spring into being, so he followed through with what he’d seen.

In the springtime, he sent “spirit birds” down to Earth. These great birds were made of the Great Spirit—the powerful element of life itself. When they flapped their wide wings, they made the thunder! When they blinked their bright eyes, they made the lightning! This is how those original great spirit birds came to be called the “thunderbirds.”

When the thunderbirds got to Earth, they grew worried because all they saw was rock. Where would they live on Earth to do their work? What could they use to make their nests? No plants had been created yet. There were no grasses, sticks, or tree branches. Only stones lay strewn about.

The thunderbirds saw they’d just have to use what they had. If all they were given were stones, well, they’d use stones to make their nests! From the sky, they flew down and grabbed big stones in their talons. With thunderous wings, they lifted the stones, carried them, and flew up to the high places. The thunderbirds landed and placed their stones on the hilltops. Flight after flight of heavy stones, the thunderbirds soon had enough. They arranged the stones into large, circular nests—their thunderbird nests.

Nested and comfortable, the thunderbirds began their work helping the Creator make life. They blinked their eyes and lightning bolts fired out like arrows! They shot their lightning arrows onto the rock. The power of their electricity sent the good medicine of life into the Earth. Tiny growth emerged. Lichens and mosses grew upon the face of the rock. Shoots of grasses, flowers, shrubs, and bushes soon sprang up. Trees rooted and grew tall! These new, green, lush life forms became the Plant World.

The thunderbirds were pleased with their work of helping make life spring forth. They stayed around all summer to help the Plant World prosper. They’d fly into the sky and flap their wings, forming thunderstorms full of medicinal rain. The water nourished all the residents of the Plant World, now called the Plant People by the first human beings.

In summer, the Plant People continued growing and became healthy. They grew so healthy the Plant People had much to offer. They gave what they could spare to human beings: leaves, roots, berries, fruits, nuts, medicines, and beauty. The Human People grew up healthy thanks to the gifts of the Plant People. And with all this abundance the People—both plant and human—remembered the role of the thunderbirds in helping the Creator make a healthy life on Earth for everyone.

All the People now made regular offerings of thanks to the thunderbirds for their assistance and medicine. They respected the high places where the thunderbirds made stone nests and resided. They left the thunderbirds alone to lay their eggs in peace so their thunderbird chicks would hatch each spring. Because now they knew; the more thunderbirds there were, the more medicine all forms of life on Earth would receive from the Great Spirit.

Year after year the thunderbirds came each spring, and everyone knew when they were back. When they’d hear thunder and see lightning, the People knew the thunderbirds were returning to their stone nests in the high places. They grew to respect the thunderbirds for all the medicinal work they did for the sake of maintaining a practical, natural way of life.

Still today, in the spring, summer, and autumn is when the thunderbirds are around. In the summer is when they do their medicine work. Because they get tired too, they often lay and rest in their nests while asking the Creator what to do next. They stay cozy in their stone nests while seeking vision and guidance from the Great Spirit.

In autumn, the thunderbirds prepare to leave their nests for winter. Some fly south like many other species of birds. But some other thunderbirds fly west—back into the dark mystery of the Spirit World—to recharge their great electrical power. Because when these thunderbirds return each spring their job is to eradicate the serpents! But that’s another story. 

To celebrate and thank the thunderbirds we visit them at their sacred stone nests on the land. Here we offer them a gift of tobacco or a serving of food. We purposely feed the thunderbirds because we know it’s they who actually feed and empower us in life.

Stone thunderbird nests are real, rock-solid places upon the Earth. There are many upon this land. By returning to the land we will all gain good medicine: We’re all native to the Earth.

Tim Yearington is a knowledge keeper, teacher, storyteller, writer, and artist. He is the author of the book, “Quest for the Thunderbird Nest, Returning to Algonquin Spirituality.” Tim is the guide of Bird Mountain Journeys which brings people on wilderness walks to explore beautiful highland regions. To learn more about Tim’s work, please visit or email him at

Nest of the Great Bird