Most Dangerous Birds to Avoid in the Wild
With their melodic overhead twittering and their glorious sky gliding, birds aren’t usually thought of as dangerous. Aside from Alfred Hitchcock’s movie “The Birds,” they’re not typically portrayed as a threat to humans.
And while many bird species are generally docile and do their own thing in the sky and on land, there are a handful of birds who have some genuinely unnerving traits that humans should not tempt since they could be used to hurt us. There are even a few species that flat-out can and will attack humans if provoked.
Here are some of the most dangerous birds who are less like feathered friends and more like feathered fiends.
Weight: 8.8 to 26 pounds, depending on the species
Physical traits: Larger birds with a deep throat pouch and long beak, typically found on or around water, watching prey
Where to find them: Around the world, but always nearby some larger body of water
Bottom Line: Pelican
As a relatively common bird, many people have likely encountered a pelican in their lives. But one look at their massive size and impressively deep throats, and you may quickly wish you hadn’t.
Though these birds aren’t generally interested in humans and, in fact, will usually abandon their colonies if they perceive too much of a human threat, they’re still not an animal you can trust your little ones around. Great white pelicans can devour pigeons. And some species, including the Austrian, brown and Peruvian pelicans, have been known to eat their own chicks.
24. Golden Eagle
Weight: Between 5.5 and 17 pounds
Physical traits: Mostly dark-brown birds with impressive talons and intense-looking curved beaks
Where to find them: Around the world, usually in rugged and mountainous areas
Bottom Line: Golden Eagle
Don’t let the fact that this species of eagle is the most common let you think for a moment that it’s the most civilized. These creatures don’t like to be near cities or city centers, preferring to be out in the mountains where they can hunt prey with unnerving accuracy. And if they’re really hungry, they can eat up to 2 pounds in one sitting.
With their large wingspans and intimidating talons, they are protective of the land they’ve carved out for themselves. While they aren’t known to typically engage with humans, preferring to majestically soar above, they are not easily scared creatures. So, it’s best to leave them (and any of their eggs you might find) alone.
Weight: Between 1.65 and 2.2 pounds
Physical traits: Brown and olive green birds with bright orange feathers visible when they’re wingspan is open
Where to find them: The South Island of New Zealand
Bottom Line: Kea
For anyone who has ever used “bird brain” as an insult, they’ve obviously never met a kea. These highly intelligent birds have been known to work together in flocks with a common goal, to solve complicated pushing and pulling puzzles in order to get food and to prepare and use tools to help them. Because of their smarts, it’s best not to underestimate them.
They’re also omnivores who typically feast on berries, roots and insects. But they can and have killed much larger prey when they’re in the mood. There are instances of them killing various livestock, including sheep.
22. Black Vulture
Weight: Between 2.6 and 6.6 pounds depending on species
Physical traits: Featherless almost reptile-looking head and neck with a thin beak and brown eyes atop a black feathery body
Where to find them: Southern North America, Central America, most of South America
Bottom Line: Black Vulture
Vultures are notoriously ominous birds. Between their unnervingly almost dinosaur-like faces and their love for eating dead carcasses, it’s not a huge surprise that these birds can be considered dangerous. Though the black vulture is smaller than its turkey vulture cousin, its eyesight is much better. And it typically works in larger flocks of birds. So, where there is one, there are usually several others to follow.
While they’re happy and willing to scavenge for garbage or eggs, they will also kill newborn animals — even large ones, like calves. So, keep your children in close sight when a black vulture is nearby. Oh, and they also don’t have a vocal box, so they just grunt and hiss when nearby. Fun!
Weight: 1.4 pounds at its largest
Physical traits: Medium-sized birds with various species having brilliant, colorful feathers
Where to find them: All around the world
Bottom Line: Cuckoo
Cuckoos may be only medium-sized, but their impact on human culture (and their symbolism) is supersized. Most cuckoo breeds are solitary and keep to themselves. But others have developed not only a camaraderie with others in their species but also a trust of humans. Don’t let that fool you, however. These birds are relentless in getting what they want.
They gain most of their parasitic tendency to put their eggs in other bird’s nests to be cared for until they hatch, no matter what the consequences to the other eggs in the nest. And, though they’re mostly nocturnal, some breeds like the great lizard cuckoo have bright red eyes that, if you do catch a glimpse of, will send chills down your spine.
20. Harris’s Hawk
Weight: Between 1.3 and 3.6 pounds
Physical traits: Brown and reddish feathers with a distinctive brown plumage.
Where to find them: Southwest United States and parts of South America, including Chile, Argentina and Brazil
Bottom Line: Harris’s Hawk
Unlike other hawks, this breed is not only social but also highly intelligent. That means while many hawks may leave you alone, preferring not to engage with humans, these hawks aren’t scared. And they’re not scared to work with other social birds in order to achieve a goal.
While they’re not outright aggressive towards humans, they are by far the most social birds of prey who, thanks to the fact that they happily work together in both hunting and breeding, can take down bigger animals. They’ve been known to kill rabbits, herons and even wild turkeys. Though humans can train them, it’s best not to kid yourself that a wild one has any desire to be tamed.
19. Peregrine Falcon
Weight: Between 1 and 3.5 pounds
Physical traits: Typically dark-gray wings with pointed, black-tipped bottoms and a short, curved beak
Where to find them: Almost everywhere around the world
Bottom Line: Peregrine Falcon
These birds are not only skilled hunters, they’re also the fastest known birds. That means they’re one of the fastest animals in the entire animal kingdom. And they don’t have any loyalty to their own kind, with a diet that is made up mostly of other smaller birds.
They’re willing to eat foods that aren’t birds, however, like mammals, reptiles and insects, but their main diet is other birds. And since these birds are particularly versatile, you will likely see them in even the most densely populated areas. So, if looking at their intense stare and beaks that eat their own kind makes you nervous, you’re out of luck because they’re pretty much everywhere.
Weight: Between .09 and .13 pounds
Physical traits: Typically grey, brown, black, white or some mix thereof, with curved beaks, medium-sized bodies and a very distinctive call
Where to find them: Across Europe and Africa, with some in North America, typically in open spaces, like savannahs
Bottom Line: Shrikes
You know those movies where barbaric humans impale the bodies of their enemies on stakes? That’s basically everyday for shrikes. They typically hunt smaller insects and impale their small bodies on whatever sharp point they can find. They then wait for the bodies to decompose and come back to eat them.
And, because they have all these decomposing bodies around them, they’re incredibly protective of their territories. Some species kill their prey not by impaling them on some random object, but instead by shaking them violently after piercing their neck. While they likely can’t do damage to an adult human in the same way they can a bee, they’re still protective and fierce (and not to be messed with).
17. White-Bellied Sea Eagle
Weight: Between 5.5 and 9.9 pounds
Physical traits: White feathers with gray-tipped wings, a white head and a hooked beak found in most birds of prey
Where to find them: Australia, Indonesia and areas of South India and Sri Lanka
Bottom Line: White-Bellied Sea Eagle
Like most eagles, this bird has an impressive size and an intense stare that makes it pretty intimidating to approach. But the way this particular bird’s feathers fall on its large-chested, white-bellied body make it look like a birdie bodybuilder just looking to pick a fight. Like their name implies, they typically prefer to be out in the ocean and seas, living in areas that allow them to spend most of the day in the ocean hunting.
But just because they live like surfers doesn’t mean they have the same chill. They’re intensely territorial and opportunistic eaters. They don’t generally care what’s for dinner and can kill fish, snakes, turtles, penguins, flying foxes, swans or whatever else seems to fit their fancy. So, make sure to stay out of their waters lest they decide you also fit their fancy.
16. Red-Shouldered Hawk
Weight: 1 to 2 pounds
Physical traits: General brown and rustish red feathers with white stripes especially visible when their wingspan is open
Where to find them: Generally East and Midwest North America, with some on the West Coast
Bottom Line: Red-Shouldered Hawk
While some birds don’t mind announcing their presence with powerful calls, red-shouldered hawks prefer to surprise their prey. They soar high in the skies and can drop down quickly on unsuspecting animals that they powerfully kill with their large beaks and strong talons.
They can kill something as large as they are, though they usually kill smaller animals like rats, mice, gophers, moles and chipmunks. They’re generally not interested in humans. But they’re also not too scared of humans. And though there aren’t any kills on record of the species, they have talons large enough to do serious damage.
15. Australian Magpie
Weight: .48 to .75 pounds
Physical traits: Generally black with white feathers, a straight white beak and a particularly musical-sounding call
Where to find them: Australia
Bottom Line: Australian Magpie
What’s black and white and fierce all over? An Australian magpie, that’s what. These animals are aggressively territorial. They work in flocks to protect certain areas from other intruders. And they don’t leave each other hanging.
If one Australian magpie in a flock calls out that there’s an issue, the rest of the flock come without hesitation. They all work together to take out the intruder, often without giving them a warning. While they’re relatively small and don’t typically mess with people, you do not want to get on their bad side because these intelligent birds could make sure you regret it.
14. Hooded Pitohui
Weight: Between .14 and .16 pounds
Physical traits: Reddish-brown chest mixed with black wing feathers and plumage
Where to find them: Around the world, typically in forests and usually not above 6,600 feet above sea level, especially in New Guinea
Bottom Line: Hooded Pitohui
This medium-sized bird may not look like a killer, but it very much is. It is one of the few known poisonous birds on the planet. Its toxins derive likely from its diet. And they are potent. It’s worth taking note of what they look like if you’re ever headed into a forest because most skilled hunters know to avoid them.
Though they’re not outright aggressive, they have no problem protecting themselves or their territory when provoked. What makes them even sneakier is the fact that they disguise themselves with the coloring of a nonpoisonous bird. But don’t be fooled: They’re dangerous birds.
13. Great Northern Loon
Weight: 4.9 to 16.8 pounds
Physical traits: Darker, more brilliant black and white feather patterns while breeding, darker brown and white when not
Where to find them: Mostly North America, parts of western Europe and southern Greenland
Bottom Line: Great Northern Loon
Also called the common loon, these birds have a not-so-common and very haunting-sounding call. They are popular particularly in Canada, where they’re featured on the one-dollar coin. While they’re typically not interested in hurting humans, they are protective of their young and have been known to use their sharp knife-looking beak to stab and kill predators as large as a fox.
And because they’re so, well, common, they’re accustomed to humans. They have no deep fears of people and aren’t scared away too easily. So, if you think just making a loud noise will make them fly off or head back into the water (where they’re most comfortable), think again.
12. Harpy Eagle
Weight: Between 8 and 20 pounds
Physical traits: Gray head, white feathers on their belly, with dark feathers on the underside of their wingspan as well as the same curved beak found on all eagle species
Where to find them: Mexico, Central and South America
Bottom Line: Harpy Eagle
Like most eagles, this breed has the same intense eyes and intimidating stare as its counterparts. They are considered the top of the food chain in the areas where they hunt and breed. And with the largest talons of any eagle species, it’s understandable why other animals don’t typically mess with them.
The larger, stronger females in the species regularly grab up to 20-pound monkeys while hunting and continue flying while killing them in the air as if it’s nothing. They’re incredibly strong and very powerful birds. And while humans aren’t typically on the menu, they have talons that could kill smaller children and seriously injure even the biggest human adults.
Weight: Between 9.9 and 17.2 pounds
Physical traits: A tail longer than their wings, usually dark brown with a yellowish white head and an unnerving red circle around its yellow eyes
Where to find them: Mountainous regions, mostly across the Middle East and Asia
Bottom Line: Lammergeier
Also known as the bearded vulture, these birds look like a fun-house mirror version of a falcon. And like most fun-house mirrors, they’ll also make you feel a little off put while you stare at them. One of the creepiest parts about these birds is the fact that their stomach acid makeup is so strong, they can digest large bones within about a day or so.
So, that rotting carcass that other animals have left alone for weeks is a delicious breakfast for the lammergeier (bones and all). While they prefer dead food, they’ve been known to kill larger living prey, like tortoises. That combined with their impressive size, wingspan and girth makes them a generally unwelcome visitor for most humans.
10. Barred Owl
Weight: Between 1.3 and 2.5 pounds
Physical traits: Gray and white with dark brown stripes, large owl eyes and an extra-crooked long nose
Where to find them: Mostly eastern North America, including the east coast of the United States and southern Canada, though they’ve been found in midwestern states in Kansas and Nebraska and even as far sound as Mexico
Bottom Line: Barred Owl
As an opportunistic predator and a skilled, silent hunter, this owl is not one to be messed with. It flies silently through the air, most active at the times when human eyes are not at their best — evenings, dawn and dusk. It is intensely territorial and uses its powerful talons to protect whatever it deems its territory.
It’s one of the few birds to have a record of attacking humans. Even though the attacks weren’t fatal, it proves that these birds are both fearless and fierce. And you likely won’t hear or even see them coming.
9. European Herring Gull
Weight: Between 1.57 and 3.3 pounds
Physical traits: White bodies with slate gray wings and black tips on their plumage as well as webbed orange-yellow feet
Where to find them: East coast of Europe, as far north as Scandinavia and parts of Russia
Bottom Line: European Herring Gull
Despite their seemingly average gull appearance, these European herring gulls should give you pause before approaching them. They’re omnivores and opportunists. So, whatever they want to eat, they just go for it. And since they’ve become accustomed to humans encroaching in their territories, they’ve adapted to become pretty bold when it comes to getting close to humans, their food or whatever else they may want to eat (like prey the size of a small dog … or even that small dog).
Maybe even most unnerving is the fact that they’re one of the few birds on record that have had a reaction to the human gaze. That means they’re smarter than they look and not afraid of going after what they want. It’s probably best to just stay away.
8. Snowy Owl
Weight: Between 3.5 and 6 pounds
Physical traits: White feathers with dark brown and black spots, most distinctively on the back of their heads, and bright yellow eyes
Where to find them: Like the name implies, in colder and snowy areas — the northernmost places in the globe, including Alaska, north Canada, Russia, Iceland and Greenland
Bottom Line: Snowy Owl
As one of the largest owl species, these cold-weather birds are distinctly good hunters. Like many other owls, they’re opportunistic eaters, too. And with their excellent hunting skills and large, sharp talons, they can kill almost any creature smaller than them.
They’re almost-all-white appearance and stealthy hunting abilities make it hard to see them coming.They are also monogamous and will work with their partner to defend their territory. So, you won’t just be up against one large owl if attacked; you’ll likely be up against two.
7. Red Tailed Hawk
Weight: 1.5 to 2.8 pounds
Physical traits: Brown wings with white and brown underside and dark tips with, you guessed it, a red tail
Where to find them: Typically in open areas, including commonly in North America, Central America and even in the West Indies
Bottom Line: Red Tailed Hawk
While they’re not usually interested in humans, they are fiercely territorial during mating season. When they’re in that level of protective mode, they can and will attack any creature they deem a threat to their young — including humans.
Even though these interactions may only cause cuts or scrapes, they can certainly be traumatizing. Not to mention that these birds, like many other bird species, can carry all sorts of dangerous avian diseases that human immune systems are not adapted to handle well.
6. Great Horned Owl
Weight: 2 to 5.5 pounds
Physical traits: Brown, black and white feathers; large yellow eyes; and especially large ear tufts
Where to find them: In forests across the Americas, as far north as Alaska and as far south as the tip of Argentina and Chile
Bottom Line: Great Horned Owl
The talons of this beastly bird can force up to 28 pounds to open. They’re strength and sharpness are typically used to sever spines of whatever unlucky animal they’ve hunted down. They eat almost anything, from mice to scorpions, even sometimes taking down birds that are larger than themselves.
They’re very territorial and especially protective of their young. If you get too close to a nest, whether or not you meant to, it’s not unheard of that these large birds will swoop down and attack you. And with those talons that are basically equal to the bite of a guard dog, they can do serious damage if they decide to do so.
5. Mute Swan
Weight: Between 19 and 26 pounds
Physical traits: Large, white birds with black-looking marks around their eyes as well as orange bills and webbed feet
Where to find them: Around the Great Lakes of the United States and areas of the Pacific Northwest
Bottom Line: Mute Swan
Don’t let their beauty fool you, these animals play ugly. While there are many species of swans, the mute swans are particularly territorial. And with their bigger size and acclimation to humans, don’t expect them to get out of the way if you’re walking nearby. In fact, if you’re too close to their territory, they can be very protective.
Like most other birds on this list, if you get close to their young, they’re notoriously aggressive. What makes them even more dangerous than many birds is the fact that they’re relentless. They have a reputation for continuing to attack an intruder long after they’re officially out of their territory, just to make sure they stay far away. Though they don’t have sharp teeth, they have some seriously strong bills and know how to use them.
4. Martial Eagle
Weight: Between 8.8 and 10.4 pounds
Physical traits: Dark brown feathers with white and speckled underside and an impressive wingspan, averaging over 8 feet
Where to find them: Sub-Saharan African countries, including Zimbabwe, Malawi, Nigeria, Chad and Sudan
Bottom Line: Martial Eagle
These birds eat mostly mammals and are excellent hunters, which makes them particularly dangerous for small creatures. Though they mostly stick to rabbits, mongoose and hares, they can be a persistent and fierce predator for their mark.
They’re capable of killing even pangolins, which are able to withstand the bite of a lion. They also prey on monkeys, including baboons and chimpanzees. And they’re one of the only bird species to have actually intentionally preyed on young humans, sadly killing one child in Ethiopia and hurting two others in 2019.
Weight: Between 79 and 88 pounds
Physical traits: Dark and light brown feathers that go up it’s long neck, a black head and long, strong legs
Where to find them: Across Australia
Bottom Line: Emu
Emus are generally relaxed and docile birds. But they are also large. And their legs are powerful. And they are protective of their young. So, though their nature is to pretty much live and let live, if you get too close to a female emu’s young during breeding season, she can and will attack anyone, including a human.
There are a few documented cases of emus attacking humans on record, which confirms that they will do so even if it’s not in their (usual) nature. If you see one fluffing itself up to look bigger or hear it begin to hiss at you, best to do whatever you can to get away safely and quickly.
Weight: Between 140 and 320 pounds
Physical traits: Distinctive long necks, long legs and brown short bills
Where to find them: Mostly in Sub-saharan Africa
Bottom Line: Ostriches
One look at the weight of these birds alone, and you can understand why they’d be dangerous. While they’re not typically interested in humans as friend or foe, they will hurt any creature they deem a threat.
As the fastest known birds, they can run up to 45 mph, so typically they can just run away. But if you get too close, they can kick you with enough force to kill a lion. And with 4-inch talons attached to their powerful legs, if the kick doesn’t kill you, the talons can at least do major damage.
1. Southern Cassowaries
Weight: Around 97 pounds
Physical traits: Differ per species, but all have black feathers, colorful (red, purple or blue) necks and a little horn (called a casque) on top of their head
Where to find them: Typically in dense forests and rainforests in Australia, New Guinea and parts of Indonesia
Bottom Line: Southern Cassowaries
These birds consistently top the list of dangerous birds for good reasons. While they typically will leave humans alone unless provoked, they will attack if they deem it necessary. And their attacks are ruthless and can be fatal. Many of their features are holdovers from dinosaur times, so they attack humans with the same defense mechanisms their ancestors would have used on much larger predators. They have three large talons on their feet, including a middle talon specifically designed to work like a dagger.
Though they typically prefer to charge at their perceived threat first, if the charging doesn’t work, they can and will kick with their dangerous knife-like claws. With two kills on record and multiple other attacks to humans, these birds should make any human weary. Even though the majority of the attacks were directly provoked by humans, they can still be protective, and their fury should never be tested. Even so-called domesticated birds will kill their owners without a second thought.