There are plenty of stories about all the awful things that happen to birds, like getting covered in oil or smuggled n some dude’s underpants into another country, and about the things we should be doing about it. But what about the things that the birds are doing about it. Yes, your average Winter Wren looks like a perfectly harmless handful of grams of feathers, but is that tiny exterior hiding the heart of a killer?
This was at least what I was left pondering this week as read about a rogue swan attack here in New Zealand that almost left a whitebaiter dead. (Whitebaters are a peculiar kiwi breed of fishermen that catch tiny migratory baitfish and then fry them up in a kind of pancake. This is apparently very appealing to the people here, but six years of living here hasn’t given me the inclination to try that yet). Apparently a swan in the US recently succeeded in its murderous attempts. Which led me to wonder, just how dangerous are birds?
Very dangerous, at least in the past. New Zealand was once home to Haast’s Eagle, the largest eagle in the world. It isn’t actually known if Haast’s Eagle ate people, but considering its prey was human sized giant birds it hardly seems unreasonable conjecture to state they probably at least made spirited attempts to do so. And dangerous birds remain today, a fact that was made very clear to me earlier this year when a Southern Cassowary attempted to re-enact a scene from Jurassic Park with me.
But what about the more innocuous, not to mention commonly encountered birds? I had a look for information provided on animal attacks in New Zealand, where the data is collected by the ACC (the government run accident insurance scheme for the whole country). But while around 2000 people in New Zealand were hurt sufficiently by spiders to claim for damages (an astonishing figure considering the paucity of dangerous spiders here),and 2600 odd people somehow managed to hurt themselves with a cat (see, it isn’t just the birds they hurt), and 80 people managed to come undone at the hands of a goat (at least they doubtless had a good story), the data for birds wasn’t there. Presumably birds account for an unknown percentage of the 59 thousand people hurt by animals who listed “other” (I mean, it isn’t like you could have many anaconda or gorilla accidents here).
Bereft of an actual statistic to quote at you about how menacing a hummingbird actually is, I will instead merely take the opportunity to warn you about the way a bird will most likely take you out. The biggest cause of car accidents is… not birds, but distractions. And if you are a birder, the birds are a serious distraction on the road. We’ve all done it, swerved or diverted our attention when something interesting has flown by. Some of us may have had lucky misses. And sometimes we laugh it off, but it isn’t actually funny. So please be careful. Try an pull over. If you can’t, well, claim it was a rare vagrant that got away. And get it next time.
Duncan, you forgot about the “downing” of planes by birds. But seriously a Wren, a killer, well it’s about time our avian friends got revenge for our destructive ways. As for goats? I would love to know what they were doing to them goats I’ve heard stories from my Aussie mates about what some Kiwi’s get up to with goats lol
I took a 3″ gash across the back of my hand trying to free an immie Great Black-backed Gull from a fish weir, ungrateful creature.
Haast’s eagle was ultimately hunted out. I’d be more scared of the islanders.
Don’t forget the poisonous Hooded and Variable Pitohuis. I’m pretty sure they are planning on being eaten by unsuspecting humans…
While birding in a restaurant’s garden in Ecuador, I followed a narrow trail to the neighboring creek only to be confronted by an extremely aggressive male chicken that jumped at me several times, feet extended, as I slowly backpedaled to the restaurant.
That last paragraph…we haven’t all driven recklessly due to seeing birds while driving. I refuse to pay much attention to birds while driving, always have, unless they’re trying to cross my path, and even then I haven’t swerved. I have, however, seen fellow birders stop their oversized SUV in the middle of a road on a blind curve where people regularly drive 70 mph, so I agree with you there that birders need to practice road safety (first).
Well, I am a little late to this post but I have a tale of bird-related woe to share.
I kid you not, I had my bridge knocked out by a Satyr Tragopan. One angry pheasant left me with a fat lip and a £3000 dental bill (sadly I still have a missing tooth…).
Beware Galliformes 🙁
Don’t forget Eric Hosking a famous bird photographer in the 50’s 60’s and 70’s lost his eye to a Tawny Owl
I’m not sure how far that would go towards their considered ‘survival behaviour’… 🙂
Nice post- the calibre of writing on this site and on http://www.comebirdwatching.blogspot.com is of such a nature that I seldom fail to raise a chuckle whilst reading. Bang up job, mate!
Some years back, while commuting by bicycle to work, I was dive-bombed (and hit!)by a very territorial Red Winged Blackbird. This happened repeatedly for at least a few weeks. I got to where I anticipated the attacks, and could see the feathery hoodlum perched on a power line ahead of me, waiting, waiting… I still bear the emotional scars.
Toucans and aracaris are generally thought of as harmless birds. However, in season, any bird can be a terror. I’ve heard stories of aracaris trying to take people’s eyes out when they get too close to the nest.
In rehab, we often wear protective googles when dealing with sea/shore birds – especially GBH and cormorants.