In the Hispanic folklore of Mexico and Texas, tales are told of a strange shapeshifting witch known as La Lechusa. In Spanish, the word lechusa (also spelled lechuza) simply means “owl.” To those who believe the stories, she is known as the “Witch Bird.” According to legend, La Lechusa was once a curandera (someone who practices white magic) who, after being exposed as a witch (or bruja), was killed by the angry and frightened townspeople. Folklore says that she returned from beyond the grave as a ghost to seek revenge upon those who murdered her in the form of a human-sized bird with a woman’s face. Sometimes, she is the ghost of a woman who was widowed by a man who remarried, or was the devoted wife of an unfaithful husband. At least, that’s what they say.
The legend of La Lechusa is very popular in Mexico and Texas. She can appear at any time, and seems to be particularly widespread in Zavala County. She particularly enjoys attacking people who have had one too many beers. Many people believe in her existence, while others claim to have actually seen this creature. The legends seem to vary quite a bit. In some, she is a vengeful spirit. In others, she is a woman that has sold her soul to the Devil in order to gain supernatural powers. Every night, she is said to transform into a five to six-foot tall bird (most commonly an owl) with the face of a beautiful or wizened old woman and enormous wings. This resembles the Harpy of Greek mythology in many ways, but she also bears traits of the Siren and the Banshee. And like those two entities, La Lechusa uses sound that bears a supernatural compulsion to lure her prey to her. It is said that when Lechusa locates her prey, she perches herself in a hidden area, and will then commence making strange whistling sounds or an eerie sound resembling the crying of a newborn baby. And anyone who attempts to locate the source of the sound risks their lives, for they may become the Witch Bird’s next meal. Once she has them in her sights, she swoops down on the confused and frightened individual and carries them off to her lair, where she may devour them at her leisure. In the manner of the Banshee of Irish and Scottish legend, to hear the cry of the Witch Bird is an omen that someone in the household of the one who heard the cry will die. In this day and age, most encounters with La Lechusa occur when she swoops down on cars that are driving on a deserted road late at night. Usually, nobody is hurt in these encounters. But all who report such sightings mention one thing: the encounter terrified them.
Having made a pact with Satan as a witch, La Lechusa possesses supernatural powers that are granted by her magic and her shapeshifting abilities. The Lechusa possesses a nearly supernatural degree of strength, as she can pick up children and possibly adults with her talons and carry them off. This makes her more powerful than any known bird. One of the distinguishing powers of the Witch Owl is her ability to summon storms (and, quite possibly, to direct and control them). In the olden days, sightings of La Lechusa almost always coincided with the appearance of thunderstorms. One of the more obvious abilities of La Lechusa is her power of shapeshifting. She is able to become a man-sized bird creature by night. However, it is unknown if she is able to take the form of other birds, or if she is only limited to becoming an owl (although some legends do tell of her becoming an eagle). Furthermore, as mentioned previously, she can disguise her voice to make it sound like a crying infant’s in order to draw human prey closer. It is said that La Lechusa is immortal, and that mere bullets and forged steel cannot harm her.
Other legends of the Witch Bird beg to differ. According to these tidbits of folklore, La Lechusa can be killed or warded off. Like most creatures that serve the darkness, the Lechusa hates salt (renowned for its purity). An unbroken line or circle of salt should ward her off (either table salt or sea salt will work, but it must be free of any impurities, like iodide). Saying the “Hail Mary” backwards (in Spanish) will cause her to flee. Cussing at the creature in Spanish will also drive the Witch Bird away. Some of the older tales suggest that a Mexican shaman can walk out to where the Lechusa is supposed to be and, after he recites a specific prayer, the creature will drop dead out of the tree. It is recommended that one fall back on four basic remedies if La Lechusa comes after them: Prayer, tying seven knots into a piece of string or a rope, hiring a good witch (again, a curandera), and finally, blasting the creature with a shotgun while she has taken the form of a bird. Some legends say that the gun must be loaded with bullets that have a cross engraved into the bullet's head (which can be done by cutting into the soft lead with a knife to make the cross shape). Folklore varies widely, so knowing all of this may prove to be invaluable when hunting this creature.
Ironically, it is said by some that not all Lechusa are evil, or even bad. Some only go after those who have done harm to others. But, as the people of the border say, “Las lechuzas, por regular, no son peligrosas.” What does this mean? That La Lechusa is not dangerous. Normally.
I would like to thank my good friend Jaime Gallinar (aka Cryptid Hunter) for introducing me to this strange creature the other day. He provided resources and information for me when I needed it. Thanks, Jaime! I owe you one, man!