When the phrase ‘dangerous beast’ is mentioned, birds usually don’t spring to mind right away. But Mother Nature is dirty business, and at the end of the day, only the toughest members of the animal kingdom come out on top. And birds, for all their grace and winged majesty, definitely know how to roll with the baddest of ‘em. Here are some of the gnarliest avian species (yeah, I said it) on the planet.
Also known as ‘avian pirates’ (seriously), the arctic skua is known to ‘hijack’ other birds by attacking them mid-flight, forcing them to drop the tasty critter in their talons, and then plundering the booty. Terns, puffins, and smaller birds are the skua’s primary targets, but when food is scarce, they’ve been known to go after much larger species, such as the great blue heron. Human travelers to the Arctic have also noted numerous ‘dive-bombing’ incidents. Yarrrr.
The title of ‘world’s most dangerous bird’ is dubious at best, since there aren’t any avian species that naturally hunt or prey on humans. That being said, you really don’t want to mess with the cassowary, an Australian species aptly described as an emu from hell. The bird’s feet are equipped with nail-like claws which, according to noted ornithologist Thomas E. Gilliard, can “sever an arm or eviscerate an abdomen with ease.” Numerous injuries, as well as a few deaths, have been attributed to the cassowary. Seriously, cross the street if you see one… slowly. This is easily the most dangerous bird on the planet as far as humans are concerned.
Also known as the ‘lamb vulture’ or ‘bearded vulture’, this ugly SOB has a very particular taste. Rather than feasting on the flesh of rotting animal corpses, the lammergier prefers to eat the marrow lodged inside the bones that have been freshly picked by his less finnicky counterparts. In order to access this gooey delicacy, the lamb vulture will grasp the animal’s skeleton in his talons, fly high up in the air, and drop the remains onto the hard continental crust. Resourceful, and pretty cool when you think about it… except that one of the bird’s favorite foods is the tortoise, and several people — including ancient Greek playwright Aeschylus, according to legend — have been killed by carcasses dropped by the lammergier. They’re found throughout Europe, Africa, and Asia.
The idea of a dude killing a lion to protect a group of unclothed females sounds like something straight out of Shaft in Africa, but this is common behavior for the male ostrich. Ostriches have also been known to dispatch hyenas, crocodiles, wild dogs, and other predators threatening the members of their harem — as well as the occasional human. The ostrich’s land speed is another oft-overlooked characteristic; faster than any other avian species, ostriches can race up to 43 miles (or 70 kilometers) per hour. Though they have many natural predators, only the cheetah — the world’s fastest animal — can outrun the birds.
It’s always the flightless ones you have to watch. The rhea, which is essentially a smaller version of the ostrich that is native to South America, has an extremely strong set of legs and feet outfitted with a spur-like appendage. Add these two together and you’ve got a pretty powerful kick — 800 pounds of force per square inch, scientists estimate, which is more than enough to shatter a few ribs or put a serious crack in your tib-fib. It also has claws. When a trio of rheas escaped from a farm in England in 2006, this is what local RSPCA collection officer Roy Jezard told Daily Mail UK: “They look nice and people want to pat them, but I really don’t recommend it. They’re so strong it’s unbelievable. They’re not listed as a dangerous animal but they can kill you with one strike of their feet because their claws are six inches long. They will also go for your eyes with their beak.”
This majestic denizen of the African savannah (and national symbol of Sudan) has an unusual way of snaring its lunch. Thanks to a powerful pair of kickers, the secretarybird is able to not only outrun most rodents, lizards, snakes, and other prey, but also quite literally stomp them to death. We know it sounds unbelievable, so here’s a video to silence the naysayers.
Despite the fact they only measure up to 20 inches in length, shrikes have several telltale traits of a bird of prey, including a hooked beak and a carnivorous palate. However, the bird’s relatively diminuitive size and lack of talons prove problematic when it comes time to capturing and eating live food. Fortunately, shrikes are resourceful; after delivering a death blow, the birds will impale their prey on any skewer-like object in the general vicinity — sticks, sharp blades of grass, or even barbed wire usually do the trick. The shrike’s prey may include lizards, bats, and other birds.