Alfred Hitchcock was really onto something when he made a horror film about birds. These feathery animals are the closest evolutionary relatives to dinosaurs, and their genetic disposition for violence is pretty clear in certain species.
These are some of the world’s most dangerous birds, and I personally hope to never encounter any of them (and neither should you).
Great Horned Owls
Many owl species have been known to attack animals who threaten their young, and great horned owls are known for their powerful claw grip, which rivals the bite of a large guard dog. There have been reports of them swooping in and attacking people’s faces and heads in Washington and Oregon.
Hawks are some of the most intelligent birds in the world and also some of the most dangerous. They may attack humans who threaten their nests with quick, direct swoops with their talons out. When it comes to their food, they literally smash their prey to death.
These flightless birds are stout-bodied with long legs and can run at a speed of 30 mph. The birds’ toe-claws are able to slash and kill a wide variety of predators and prey alike. While they don’t tend to kill humans, they are known for injuring them—there were 100 emu-related human injuries in 2009 alone.
This colorful songbird may seem like an absolute delight, but natives of Papua New Guinea know to keep their distance. The hooded pitohui is actually one of the only known poisonous birds in the world, and the toxins in its feathers can cause numbing and burning sensations.
The harpy eagle is the most powerful bird of prey in the world. While it used to be found from Mexico to Ecuador, it now inhabits areas in Panama, Colombia, Venezuela, and Guyana, living in large undisturbed tracts of lowland tropical forest. The one pictured here is a female and has a 7-foot wingspan, weighs about 16 pounds, and eats sloths and monkeys.
Don’t let their beauty and grace fool you: mute swans, which are found across northern Europe, can be extremely vicious when they feel their nests are threatened. They can cause serious injuries to humans when they attack by striking their opponent with their large, powerful wings.
The most northern predatory bird, snowy owls are extremely intelligent birds. When attacking, they aim for their target’s weak spots and exposed areas; if their target is a human, they go for the eyes first.
The Crowned Eagle
Known as the “leopard of the air,” the crowned eagle is a fierce predator indigenous to Africa. Its diet mainly consists of mammals, with their primary prey being small deer-like animals and small primates like monkeys. There are also rumors of children’s skulls being found in their nests.
Indigenous to the plains of Africa, ostriches are extremely fast and can run at a pace of 45 mph. Their feet are shaped similarly to hooves, and these birds possess the ability to kill large predators, such as lions, with a strong kick.
Great Northern Loons
Loons live in the boreal forests of Canada as well as the Arctic tundras. While they might not seem intimidating, weighing only 8–12 pounds, their beaks are razor-sharp for spearing fish and, on a few occasions, humans.
These birds just look villainous. Marabou storks stand over 5 feet tall and have a wingspan over 10 feet wide; their fleshy, featherless head is often covered in the blood of their prey, which they pick apart with their 14-inch bill. These storks, native to sub-Saharan Africa, have been known to lash out and kill children who have approached them.
Lammergeiers (Bearded Vultures)
These birds definitely look evil, and the fact they eat bones just adds to their image. These birds will drop bones from great heights to break them open so they can eat the marrow, and they also have the ability to dissolve bones in their stomach within 24 hours. The biggest threat they pose to humans is that they might drop something on your head.
Geese actually have keen hearing and excellent eyesight as well as an aggressive nature. Much like swans, they attack by flapping their strong wings at opponents, with some species also snapping their beaks. Geese are so aggressive that a police station in Xinjiang, China, has used them to replace guard dogs.
Though small, the Australian magpie is a famously irritable bird that loves to pick fights (especially when they have a nest of babies). There are countless incidents where they have attacked humans—often unprovoked. In fact, some Australian cyclists have spikes on their helmets to help deter the violent magpies from attacking them.
Just about everyone knows that eagles are fierce predators, and their reputation is well-deserved. They are able to take on prey that is substantially heavier than themselves, including goats. They don’t often attack humans, but I wouldn’t try to test the odds.
Antarctic Giant Petrels
The Giant Southern Petrel has a 7-foot wingspan that allows it to easily stalk and terrorize penguin populations across Antarctica. These birds love to brutally butcher their prey before eating it. Luckily, these birds aren’t much of a threat to humans since they inhabit remote areas of Antarctica.
This bird literally haunts my nightmares. Living in areas across Australia and Papua New Guinea, the cassowary can run at a speed of 31 mph and has been known to use its sharp talons to disembowel humans.
Native to coastal areas of Scandinavia, herring gulls are the more threatening relative of the common seagull. They’re known to aggressively swoop in to steal food from humans, and they aren’t afraid to inflict injuries in the process using their beaks.
Great White Pelicans
The great white pelican lives in coastal areas of Europe and Asia and has an uncanny ability to swallow its prey, including fish and smaller birds, whole while they’re still alive. They even drown and eat gulls, their close evolutionary relatives. Luckily, most humans can’t fit in their large beaks, keeping us safe from their carnage.
While these birds pose no real threat to humans, a bizarre and terrifying fact about them is that they can develop into cannibals if they feel crowded, stressed, or merely bored.