For the most part, birds are majestic creatures. They wake us up with their songs, stun us with their beauty, and inspire us to reach for the sky. It’s easy to think of them as gentle or even fragile, but in many places around the world, there are some birds that are just downright dangerous. Speed, flight, intelligence and talons all add up to a host of birds who are seriously deadly predators. So with that in mind, let’s take a look at the most dangerous birds in the world.
For centuries, people in Papua New Guinea have known to stay away from this bird. This is the pitohui, and though it looks pretty and sings an attractive song, this bird holds a dark secret. The pitohui is the only poisonous bird on the planet. The bird’s skin and feathers contain dangerous levels of neurotoxic alkaloids, similar to those produced by the poison dart frog. The poison is thought to be a defence against parasites or predators, and that the pitohui’s bright coloration is meant to warn predators of this.
Interestingly, the pitohui does not produce the toxin itself, but rather gains it from choresine beetles which make up part of the bird’s diet. Since it can’t be eaten without extremely cautious preparation, Papau New Guineans have long referred to the pitohui as the rubbish bird. Ptooey indeed.
14. Southern Giant Petrel
When you think about dangerous sea creatures, the first thing to mind isn’t usually seabirds, right? Well think again. This is the southern giant petrel: an aggressive airborne predator that feeds on both carrion and live prey. Here’s one with its head inside a walrus’s eye socket.
They can weigh over 12 pounds, sport a wingspan of over six feet, and are able to maintain a flight speed of 20 metres per second. The petrel mercilessly hunts other seabirds,such as penguin chicks and even injured adult penguins. Petrels have also been observed drowning Australasian Gannets, albatrosses, and other large birds by holding them underwater. Sadly, it has no natural predators, although it can take some damage if it messes with a nest of skuas. Skuaaaa!!!
13. Bearded Vulture
The Lammergeier, or bearded vulture, is easily the most dangerous and evil looking bird in this list, though it does tend to be more dangerous by accident. Let me explain with an ancient tale.
The unfortunate death of ancient Greek playwright Aeschylus is now the stuff of legend, but apparently, Aeschylus had been deliberately trying to stay outside in order to avoid a prophecy which had foretold his death by a falling object. But one day, all of a sudden, a speeding tortoise fell out of the clear blue sky and struck him on the head killing him instantly. Who’s the most likely culprit in this weird crime? The lammergeier.
Bone marrow makes up 90% of the lammergeier’s diet, but bones are difficult to break. So the lammergeier picks up bones and other hard food items, then drops them from a great height, smashing them open. It’s been known to use this technique on tortoises too…In the case of Aeschylus the unlucky playwright, it’s thought that the lammergeier mistook his shiny bald head for a rock that it could use to open up its lunch. Forget two birds with one stone – this bird bagged two meals with one tortoise.
12. Harris Hawk
Buzzards, or hawks, are among the most widespread birds of prey in the world. One popular species is the Harris’s hawk. These birds are remarkably cunning and are unique among raptors as they’re known to hunt in packs. Their intelligence makes them the most popular bird used for falconry outside of Asia. One jogger from Derby, in the UK, discovered the viciousness of the Harris’s hawk first-hand while he was out running one morning.
Seemingly out of nowhere, Andy Llewelyn felt an “almighty whack” on his head. He originally thought that he’d been hit with a stone, but two long, bloody claw marks across his scalp suggested otherwise. Experts believe the culprit is a four-foot Harris’s hawk, likely protecting its nest. Whatever it was, I’m sure Andy managed to beat his personal best on the run back home.
11. Australian Magpie
The Australian magpie is famously irritable: there are countless recorded incidents of the bird purposefully attacking humans. Many magpies become incredibly aggressive during breeding season, and swoop at people who happened to wander or cycle a little too close to a nest. The problem is so pervasive that some Australian municipalities recommend pedestrians wear wide-brimmed hats or carry umbrellas during magpie breeding season in order to defend themselves.
Some cyclists have even fitted their helmets with spikes to deter the psychotic birds. Even though the magpie is lacking the talons to inflict serious injury, an unexpected magpie attack on a cyclist could easily result in a traffic accident. You’ve been warned.
10. Peregrine Falcon
When anyone says the phrase “apex predator”, the peregrine falcon should be one of the beasts that springs to mind. This bird is a master of the skies,and its arsenal of hunting skills have made it one of the most geographically widespread birds of prey on earth. Lesser birds, rodents, bats and small reptiles from the arctic to the tropics need to keep an eye on the sky, or they could end up as dinner. Like this unlucky ducky.
Can you even spot the falcon in this gif? It’s the fastest-flying bird on the planet and technically the fastest animal on earth, able to reach speeds of up to 240mph while diving. With speeds like that, you’ll miss it – even if you don’t blink.
9. Mute Swans
Mute swans have been introduced to lakes, ponds and slow-flowing rivers throughout the world. But while they cut an elegant form, these birds can be aggressively territorial. The mute swan weighs as much as 28 pounds and can grow to have a wingspan of almost 8 feet long. Mute swans have been known to kill dogs to protect their nests, though reports of their ability to break legs with their wings have been greatly exaggerated.
In 2012, a man in Chicago was kayaking in a pond at a residential complex when he was charged by a swan that capsized his boat. According to eyewitnesses, the swan prevented the man from swimming to shore, which eventually caused him to drown. The sad tale of Anthony Hensley, a 37-year-old man who worked for a company that provided swans to keep geese away from property, stands as a reminder of just how dangerous birds can be.
8. European Herring Gull
The European herring gull is a larger and meaner version of the common seagull. The gulls are native to Scandinavia but they’re a downright annoyance to waterfronts all across Europe. The herring gull has adapted quite successfully to life around humans, but they seem to grow bolder by the day. Not only will they steal your French fries, but the herring gull will also become fiercely aggressive in breeding season.
Their main weapon is a fearsome beak, and if they feel particularly threatened, the birds may even spray vomit or feces to further harass their target. In the UK, an elderly couple were kept trapped in their home for six days by herring gulls who’d built a nest on top of their house. Someone needs to invent some kind of anti-gull drone for these elderly British folks.
7. Barred Owl
The barred owl is a nocturnal predator that’s tougher than it looks. These birds weigh less than 2 pounds, but can unleash a furious attack if they feel threatened. Known to terrorise hikers and runners from California to British Columbia, they swoop down from trees and claw at heads and faces with their sharp talons. They’ve also been known to attack household pets, like this cat.
The barred owl was even implicated in a high-profile North Carolina murder trial, which was the subject of Netflix true crime series The Staircase. Defence attorneys proposed what’s known as the Owl Theory, which states that it was not the defendant but a barred owl that had caused scratch-like injuries on the victim, who was the defendant’s wife. This attack then caused her to fall down the stairs to her death. While it sounds like a twisted joke, the more I learn about these creatures, the more convinced about the Owl Theory I become.
6. Great Horned Owl
The great horned owl is a larger cousin of the barred owl, but it has a similar temperament. It’s the largest owl from the Americas, weighing in at over a kilogram with wingspan of more than a metre. One of these large predators reportedly attacked a boy who was out sledding.
The great horned owl isn’t just large, it’s also seriously strong. Its talons have a clutching force of about 500psi, which is the same biting force as a large dog.So if you’re in the woods with one of these fellas, you’d better watch your head.
Eagles are large, impressive and deadly.They are spread throughout most of the world, and larger eagles are capable of taking on surprisingly big prey. Such as goats, for instance. In this video, a golden eagle drags a goat off a cliff in order to kill it. What about cats? This footage shows an eagle bringing a small cat back to its nest. And recently, a wedge-tailed eagle tried to carry off a small boy at a bird show in Australia.
Apparently the kid was doing something annoying with his zip, so he probably deserved it. This kind of behaviour only solidifies the position of eagles as some of the most dangerous birds on the planet.
And now for the first flightless bird in this list: the emu. Emus are the second tallest birds in the world, standing at well over six feet, and their lengthy legs allow them to achieve ground speeds of up to 31 mph. The strength of their legs also serves another purpose: self-defence. Emus are capable of delivering vicious kicks, and their sharp toe-claws can make this a deadly attack.
Combined with the emu’s innate curiosity and tendency to approach and even follow humans, the emu can definitely join snakes and spiders as a creature to watch out if you ever find yourself down under.
The ostrich takes what the emu has and goes one step further. Males can grow as high as nine feet tall and might weigh over 300 pounds, so the ostrich has some serious potential to inflict injury. Like the emu, the ostrich has long, strong legs, capable of reaching speed of 43 mph. Those same legs can deliver nasty kicks which could kill a lion, and certainly a person.
The most famous victim of an ostrich attack is country music legend Johnny Cash, who kept a particularly aggressive male ostrich on his property. One day the ostrich cornered Cash and kicked him in the abdomen. Fortunately, the ostrich’s claw caught him on the belt buckle, and Cash credits that large buckle with saving his life.
2. The Crowned Eagle
The crowned eagle is known as the “leopard of the air” in its native Africa and is perhaps the deadliest bird of prey in existence for mammals. Their diet consists of around 90% mammals and its principal prey are small deer-like creatures and small primates like monkeys. There have however been rumours that the skulls of children have been found in crowned eagle nests.
The oldest humanoid fossil, the Tuang Child, is the skull of an early human Australopithecus child who appears to have died of injuries consistent with an attack by a crowned eagle. Distinctive markings around the eye sockets indicate that its flesh had been stripped by talons, which is similar to what Crowned Eagles do to monkeys. That’s nature for you, kids!
This weird-looking bird might not look all that fearsome, but with at least 150 known attacks on humans and two recorded fatalities, the numbers speak for themselves. The cassowary is the second heaviest bird in the world and is about as fast as an emu at 31 mph. Like the ostrich, the cassowary’s go-to attack is a kick: only this time,there’s a four-inch dagger-like claw at the toe. The cassowary is fiercely territorial and can be very aggressive, but they are also reclusive, and tend to just wander around eating fruit all day.
Recently however, a 75-year-old exotic animal collector called Marvin Hajos was killed by a cassowary that he kept on his property. Reports say that the man fell over in his yard, and that was when the bird attacked him. Paramedics transported Marvin to a nearby hospital, where he later died of his injuries. Because cassowaries can’t be prosecuted, the offending bird went up for sale at auction in April 2019. I just hope whoever buys the murderous bird doesn’t suffer the same fate. As the old saying goes: you can never be too careful around a cassowary.
Which bird do you think is most dangerous? Have you had any terrifying encounters with birds that I should know about? Let me know in the comments below. Thanks for reading!