Misidentified Animals and the Jersey Devil
Skeptics believe that many sightings of the Jersey Devil may be explained away as misidentified animals. Sandhill cranes and great horned owls top the list of likely suspects, with seasoned researchers recognizing cranes as a popular explanation for such fortean favorites as West Virginia’s Mothman. The great horned owl is a likelier suspect, though, as owls are nocturnal hunters, and a great deal of Devil (and Mothman, for that matter) sightings take place at night. It wouldn’t be too unusual for someone to be surprised by a swooping great horned owl appearing out of the darkness, with its three-to-five-foot wingspan, large eyes, and horn-like feathers, and think they saw something similar to the Jersey Devil.
But while that may explain some of the individual sightings, it doesn’t explain the historic flaps recorded by major newspapers, wherein entire regions were stricken by fear of the mysterious creature. Residents of the Pine Barrens who are familiar with the local fauna, too, seem unlikely to be fooled by an owl. So, while some sightings could be explained this way, many encounters with the Jersey Devil remain a mystery.