Ever since the Mothman was first sighted, people have tried to come up with explanations for what the witnesses have seen. They suggest that instead of Mothman being legendary creature, it is just a simple real world animal being misidentified. The eyewitnesses disagree and it has yet to be proven or dis-proven what they've actually seen.
Sandhill CraneWildlife biologist Dr. Robert L. Smith at West Virginia University told reporters that Mothman sightings fit the description of Sandhill Crane. A large American crane stands on average of five feet and has a seven-foot wingspan featuring circles of reddish coloring around the eyes. He said that the bird may have wandered out of its migration route. Some think the Sandhill Crane's call could be an explanation for the eerie and monstrous sound heard by some witnesses. There are no officially confirmed sightings of Sandhill Cranes in West Virginia, although there have been unconfirmed reports in the past.
On November 19th 1966, A reporter named Ralph Turner printed an article in The Herald Dispatch newspaper about his interview with Dr. Robert L. Smith. The article was called "That Mothman: Would You Believe a Sandhill Crane?".
Witnesses rejected the idea of the creature being a Sandhill Crane. The Sandhill Crane is known for its long neck and the Mothman may not even have a neck at all according to the urban legend.
The crane's portions are also off. The Mothman is usually reported as seven feet tall with a ten to fifteen foot wingspan meaning that he would be taller with larger wings than the Crane. Neither the Sandhill Crane or the Barred Owl can fly at speeds of over 100 mile per hour like the Mothman is said to have done in the Scarberry and Mallette Sighting. "I just wish Dr. Smith could see the thing" said Eyewitness, Marry Mallette.
Witnesses were shown photos of Sandhill cranes and other birds, including even pterodactyl, during investigations in West Virginia. "That's not the thing we saw" said Roger Scarberry when he saw the crane pictures. "This thing could never chase us like it did".
"Wrong color, too skinny. I've seen pictures of Sandhill cranes on TV and uh no, in my opinion, professor Smith of West Virginia University was a hundred percent wrong" said Eyewitness Tom Ury.
Mason County Sheriff George Johnson, who the Scarberry and Mallettes told their sighting to, commented that he believed the sightings were due to an unusually large heron. The descriptions of MothMan do not resemble a heron and his off handed comment was never really taken that seriously.
OwlsSkeptic Joe Nickell says that a number of pranks and hoaxes followed the publicity generated by the original reports. Nickell attributes the Mothman sightings to pranks, misidentified planes, and sightings of various types of owls, suggesting that the Mothman's 'glowing eyes' were actually red-eye effect caused from the reflection of light from flashlights or other bright light sources. Not to mention that Mothman's often headless description is similar to an owl's shape. In 2002, He published an article about this on page 20 and 21 of the March issue of the Skeptical Inquirer.
The reflector-like nature of the creature’s eyes is revealing. As ornithologists well know, some birds’ eyes shine bright red at night when caught in a beam from auto headlights or a flashlight. “This ‘eyeshine’ is not the iris color,” explains an authority, “but that of the vascular membrane—the tapetum—showing through the translucent pigment layer on the surface of the retina” (Gill 1994).
The TNT area, which Joe visited both days and nights, is surrounded by the McClintic Wildlife Management Area which was then and is now a bird sanctuary. Owls, which exhibit crimson eyeshine, populate the area. Indeed, Steve Warner (2002), who works for West Virginia Munitions to produce .50-caliber ammunition in the TNT compound, told Joe Nickell there were “owls all over this place.” Conversely, neither he nor a coworker, Duane Chatworthy (2002), had ever seen Mothman, although Warner pointed out he had lived in the region all of his life.
Because of Mothman’s squeaky cry, “funny little face,” and other features, including its presence near barns and abandoned buildings, Nickell identifies it as the common barn ow. One Skeptical Inquirer reader (Long 2002) insisted it was instead a great horned owl which, although not matching certain features so well, does have the advantage of larger size. It seems likely that various owls and even other large birds could have played Mothman on occasion.
Joe did some further research regarding eyeshine, learning that the barn owl’s was “weak” and the great horned owl’s only “medium.” However the barred owl exhibits “strong” eyeshine (Walker 1974) and— according to David McClung (2002), wildlife manager at McClintic—is common to the area; indeed, it is even more prevalent there than the barn owl. It is also larger than the barn owl, which it somewhat resembles, and is “only a little smaller than the Great Horned Owl” (Kaufman 1996, 317). (Mounted specimens of these and other species of owls are profusely displayed in the West Virginia State Farm Museum near the McClintic preserve. Museum Director Lloyd Akers generously allowed me special access to examine and photograph them.)
Skeptic Joe Nickell thinks that in light of the evidence it seems very likely that the Mothman sightings were mostly caused by owls—probably more than one type.
Asa Henry's Owl
A man named Asa Henry shot and killed an owl, tentatively identified as a snowy owl, during the Mothman flap. Although only about two feet tall, a newspaper dubbed it a “giant owl” due to its wingspan of nearly five feet (Sergent and Wamsley 2002; 94, 99). In Point Pleasant Joe Nickell was able to view the mounted specimen and to speak with Mr. Henry’s grandson, David Pyles. Himself a taxidermist, Pyles (2002), who is “very skeptical of Mothman,” told Nickell that his grandfather always maintained that the Mothman flap ended after he had shot the bird. Jeff Wamsley appeared with the taxidermy Owl on an episode of Mysteries at The Museum. It now sits in public view at Point Pleasant's River Museum.
Flatwoods / Owlman
Owls are very likely responsible for other birdman sightings. One of the these is the 1952 case of the Flatwoods Monster that supposedly arrived in Flatwoods, West Virginia, aboard a flying saucer. Loren Coleman in his Mothman and Other Curious Encounters (2002) sees in that case “elements foreshadowing” the subsequent Mothman reports. However, as a Michigan Audubon Society publication concluded, Joe's investigative report on the case “convincingly demonstrates that the alleged flying saucer was really a meteor and the hissing creature from outer space was none other than a Barn Owl." (Those Monster Owls 2001).
Somewhat similarly, several sightings in 1976 in Cornwall, England, featured a “big feathered bird man” that was first seen “hovering over a church tower”—a common nesting place for barn owls (Kaufman 1996, 306). Appropriately, the entity became known as “Owlman” (Coleman 2002, 34–36).
As to Mothman, cryptozoologist Mark A. Hall (1998) has opined that it may be a hitherto undiscovered species of giant owl that has long existed in the Point Pleasant area. We can take this as an implicit concession that Mothman—of all the creatures known to science—most resembles an owl, except for size.
"Here then is the question separating the mystifiers from the skeptics: Is it more likely that there has long been a previously undiscovered giant species among the order strigiformes (owls), or that some people suddenly encountering a “monster” at night have misjudged its size?" says Joes Nickell. He asserts that latter possibility is supported by the principle of Occam’s razor, that the simplest tenable explanation is to be preferred as most likely correct.