This post marks the first in a new series on folklore. I’ll be exploring how local tales and regional legends fit into our understanding of the paranormal and cryptozoology. This is culture… at its weirdest and snarkiest.
On the Bahaman island of Andros creeps a creature so fearsome it can turn your head around. Literally if the stories are to be believed. This equatorial beast, known as a chickcharney (sometimes spelled chickcharnie or chickcharnee), is about three-feet tall and most closely resembles an owl—if owls were the size of Dodo birds and super vindictive.
Okay, not vindictive, per se. Instead, chickcharnies prove to be rather mercurial creatures. Legend has it if you meet one and you’re polite, it will be glad to grant you good fortune. If you’re rude, however, and poke fun at the chickcharney, then you’ll be doomed to bad luck. Or as mentioned above, the chickcharney will turn your head all the way around. Or possibly both. Perhaps the bigger question here is why exactly someone who meets a giant mythic bird in the woods decides, “Hey, let’s taunt this avian!” and starts pelting insults instead of, you know, running or at least feigning friendliness. But there are those ‘Messing with Bigfoot’ commercials, so apparently, mocking cryptids is a very real pastime for some.
Maybe you aren’t buying the changeful chickcharney angle. I mean, really, are there any famous stories about such things? You betcha. None other than Neville Chamberlain, former British Prime Minister, fell victim to the creature’s vendetta. At the turn of the twentieth century, Chamberlain was commissioned to take over his father’s Bahaman plantation and decided to do what every big city transplant does when he reaches the country: chop down all vegetation in sight. Understandably, the chickcharnies, who are said to live at the top of any two trees that meet, were pretty angry at Chamberlain. To exact their revenge, the creatures doomed the plantation, which within a few years was declared a total failure and a major financial loss for the family. As a real kicker, some argue that Chamberlain’s inability to quell Hitler from attacking England during World War II was also due to his disrespect of the chickcharnies. That’s right. Infuriate a chickcharney, and Nazis might come after you. This is nothing to scoff at, people.
The folklore of the chickcharney almost certainly originates in a type of flightless burrowing owl that used to live on Andros. The species, known as tyto pollens, matches the overall description of a chickcharney and cohabited with settlers for many years until the forests were completely decimated by the newcomers. This supposedly sent tyto pollens into extinction sometime in the sixteenth century. But if the awesome coelacanth has taught us cryptid lovers anything, it’s that you should never discount an animal as extinct if people still report sightings.
A modern Burrowing Owl, or what a baby chickcharney might look like
In addition to their three toes on each foot and three fingers on each hand, chickcharnies are described to have a prehensile tail, something from which honestly, every creature, including humans, could benefit. This dexterous tail helps chickcharnies hang from whatever they feel like and consequently freak out people loitering in the woods. They’re also said to rotate their own heads all the way around, lending credence to the idea that they’re just an extinct (or super rare) kind of owl. This could mean that chickcharnies are apt to swivel the heads of passersby simply because they don’t know any better. It’s just a chickcharney way of saying hello.
During the mid-twentieth century, chickcharnies practically became pop culture superstars with articles about the cryptid species appearing in Time Magazine and Sports Illustrated. Though their popularity has waned somewhat in recent years, the chickcharney is still alive and well, at least in folklore. Because I want good luck, I’m aiming to be nothing but polite here and want to extend all the best wishes in the world to this super cool cryptid. You never know if a chickcharney learned how to use wireless.