Yeah, I’m goofing around, but it’s the week after Christmas! And, the dismal suspense of the fiscal cliff isn’t enough to keep me going.
Last week’s Eagle-Steals-Baby viral video, which turned out to be a hoax, was an expression of a pretty common tall tale or legend. The Globe and Mail, in the country that brought us the hoax video, explains:
Stories about eagles carrying off people, especially small children, go back centuries and are found all over the world. In fact, the student’s digital prank is not the first film hoax of an eagle carrying off a baby; no less than Thomas Edison made an early film that depicted an eagle carrying off a baby, as did other early filmmakers. There are also drawings and paintings of eagles attacking children and scores of stories from all over the world with the same motif: It seems to be a falsehood we are compelled to return to.
Last week was an occasion for local wildlife experts to intone on the evening news about just how little danger your infants are in of imminent carrying off by birds of prey. I say pish-posh to all that quelling of fears. Let the panic begin!
Hence, my exhaustive search for bird attacks that really happened. There are two relatively famous American accounts of small children being carried away by large birds. Treated as credible in the cryptozoology community, your mileage may vary. First a newspaper report from the New York Herald-Tribune in 1929:
Somerset, Ky., Sept. 22— George Meece, eight years old, today narrowly escaped death from an attack of a bald eagle which swooped down to the hill on which he and four companions were playing, seized him by his overalls and took him about twenty feet into the air before dropping him. In falling, the boy, who weighs fifty pounds, landed on his head and was stunned. According to the boys, the eagle had about a ten-foot spread of wings. It is thought the shouts of Meece’s playmates frightened the bird and caused it to drop the lad.
The Somerset newspaper has since done enough research to determine the story originally appeared in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and was misreported in the Herald-Tribune version. In the original account, it was the more plausible 35-lb Jim Meece who was picked up, with George among his watching playmates. Descendants of the Meeces believe the story.
The story of the 1977 Lawndale, Illinois Thunderbird had several witnesses, but resulted in not much other than ridicule for its purported victim, Marlon Lowe. Lowe’s family and several neighbors were at a summer cook-out when they report having seen the 10-year-old carried for a short distance by a giant bird that roughly fit the description of an Andean condor. Andean condors can have 10-ft wingspans but are South American and mostly scavengers. Lowe and his mother have stayed true to the story, however, retelling it for a Discovery Channel special in 1997, which is where I first heard about it.
Now, onto more recent attacks and mishaps at the hands of beautiful birds of prey.
Australia, 2007: Paraglider escapes death at hands of killer eagles: (Reported by Reuters)
Britain’s top female paraglider has cheated death after being attacked by a pair of “screeching” wild eagles while competition flying in Australia.
Nicky Moss, 38, watched terrified as two huge birds began tearing into her parachute canopy, one becoming tangled in her lines and clawing at her head 8,200 feet in the air.
“I heard screeching behind me and a eagle flew down and attacked me, swooping down and bouncing into the side of my wing with its claws,” Moss told Reuters this morning.
“Then another one appeared and together they launched a sustained attack on my glider, tearing at the wing.”
The encounter happened on Monday while Moss – a member of the British paragliding team – was preparing for world titles this month at Manilla in northern New South Wales state.
One of the giant wedge-tailed eagles became wrapped in the canopy lines and slid down toward Moss, lashing at her face with its talons as her paraglider plummeted towards the ground.
“It swooped in and hit me on the back of the head, then got tangled in the glider which collapsed it. So I had a very, very large bird wrapped up screeching beside me as I screamed back,” Moss said.
Moss said the attack ended after the second bird freed itself and the glider reached a height of only 100 meters from the ground, taking her outside the territory of the pair, who probably mistook her as a bird intruder.
Wedge-tailed eagles are Australia’s largest predatory birds.
Kazakhstan, 2009: Golden Eagle really doesn’t like the paparazzi
I verified this because the photo looked so incredible. The attack happened at a traditional eagle hunt on the steppe in Kazakhstan, where hunters are armed with Golden Eagles who search out small prey for them. One Golden Eagle did not appreciate his hunt being documented apparently and went after photographer Shamil Zhumatov.
Chicago, 2010: Billboard contractor slashed by red-tailed hawk (Reported by the Chicago Sun-Times)
Working on a billboard 60 feet in the air can be a hairy job — especially when a hawk dive-bombs into your head. Craig Busse, a 49-year-old Bartlett resident, would know.
Earlier this month, Busse was up on a catwalk preparing to change an advertisement on a billboard at Interstate 55 and Weber Road in Bolingbrook when he noticed a nest holding two baby hawks, as well as dead mice and rabbits without heads.
Busse moved to the other side of the board — away from the nest — and told co-workers: “Keep your eye out for the bird and move fast.”
Within minutes, a red-tailed hawk — apparently the mom — swooped down and flew full speed into Busse’s head as he knelt on the catwalk. The raptor’s talons sliced open the back of his head and left scratches around his ear.
“I felt like somebody punched me in the head,” said Busse, who went to the hospital for four stitches, a tetanus shot and antibiotics.
“You don’t realize how fast these birds are,” he said. “It shocks you. You’re 100 feet in the air and then next thing you know, you fall forward a little bit, and you’re like, what the hell?”
Luckily he was attached to a safety harness.
Philadelphia, 2000: Tourist attacked by hawk guarding Ben Franklin’s grave (Reported by the Philadelphia Inquirer)
On Friday, a red-tailed hawk, apparently guarding a nest high above the historic graveyard where five signers of the Declaration of Independence are buried, attacked an Ohio tourist.
On Thursday, an unidentified man reported that he was buzzed but not hurt by a similar hawk.
Police said both attacks occurred as each man stood in the upper levels of a six-story parking garage, just south of the Holiday Inn at Fourth and Arch Streets. “I’ve been attacked by one of your Philadelphia eagles,” Ray Thomes, 64, said on Friday night from Pennsylvania Hospital, where he received stitches on his left ear.
A stockbroker from Dayton visiting Philadelphia for the first time, Thomes said he had just parked his car and was on the top level of the garage shortly after 4 p.m., trying to pick out his hotel room window, when the bird attacked.
“It felt like somebody just slapped me on the side of the head,” he said.”I look over, and there’s this big bird sitting on the branch beside me.”
Thomes’ ear required six stitches, and he received a tetanus shot. He said he also had two talon marks on his head.
Boston, 2008: Hawk hates on young fan of America’s pastime (Reported in the Chicago Tribune)
A 13-year-old girl visiting Boston’s Fenway Park on a school trip Thursday was attacked by a resident red-tailed hawk that drew blood from her scalp. Alexa Rodriguez wasn’t seriously hurt.
California, 1992: It’s these golf shirts! She hates these golf shirts! (Reported by the Orange County Register)
Grohall said most golfers who have been attacked were wearing white shirts or white hats, and about three golfers per week have been attacked for the past several weeks.
“She comes down with her talons and kind of just takes a bite and swoops away,” Grohall said. “I had a playing lesson one day, and I was wearing white and the hawk started swooping, so we got out of there. ”
Grohall’s advice to those teeing off from No. 1: “I tell people to hook it off the tee. “
Scotland, 2012: Sheep farmers enraged by theft of lambs by sea eagles (Reported by the Glasgow Herald)
FARMERS and crofters up and down the west coast are increasingly complaining that sea eagles are taking their lambs.
Complaints were previously limited to isolated incidents, but the numbers have grown in recent months.
However, officials at Scottish Natural Heritage and the RSPB still insist sea eagle attacks on sheep and lambs are rare and not a recurring problem.
One crofter on Skye says he now keeps an almost sacrificial stock of sheep out on the hill to prevent the sea eagles coming lower down. Another says the huge birds of prey even try to take hoggs (young sheep) and leave them wounded.
Sea eagles are a close relative of bald eagles.
China, 2012: Revenge is a dish best served on a human’s head Take this one with a grain of salt bigger than a Thunderbird, reported by China Daily:
Two villagers in Muling county, Heilongjiang province, were attacked by a golden eagle several times within two years after they ate a young golden eagle, Heilongjiang Morning Post reported on Tuesday.
A golden eagle attacked a man named Yang for more than 20 minutes when he was harvesting wheat on Saturday morning. After Yang was helped into a police car, the golden eagle continued the attack, diving at the windshield and chasing the car for 700 meters, the report said.
Yang was badly injured in his face, neck and arms, but it was not the worst time he was injured by golden eagles, according to the report. In April 2011, when he was planting in the mountain, a golden eagle attacked him, cutting his head, and he got 21 stitches.
A fellow villager named Wu has also been attacked by the golden eagle several times since August 2010. In April 2011, he received gashes in his head and hands in an attack and piece of flesh was ripped from his forehead. Wu received more than 40 stitches to close his wounds from that attack, the report said. He moved out the village to avoid further attacks.
According to the report, Yang said they had stolen a young golden eagle from its nest and ate it in August 2010, because they heard that eating golden eagles could cure hemorrhoids. Villagers say the golden eagle is seeking revenge.
And, one for darkly comic effect.
Florida, 2002: Hawks traumatize Happiest Place on Earth with indiscriminate feasting on homing pigeons (Reported by the Sun-Sentinel)
Call it the circle of life — hungry hawks swooping in and devouring the pigeons released in a flourish at shows and weddings throughout Disney World.
The pigeons, used in shows such as Cinderella’s Surprise Celebration at the Magic Kingdom and Beauty and the Beast at Disney-MGM Studios, became sitting ducks when red-tailed hawks figured out they could count on an easy meal at the same time every day.
Disturbed by the thought of sending the birds to almost certain death, Disney this week stopped releasing the homing pigeons — ending a tradition that began about 30 years ago.
During the shows, the birds soared over the parks before returning to nearby roosts. It was during these flights that the defenseless birds were grabbed by the hawks’ sharp talons, Disney spokeswoman Diane Ledder said.
It was only recently that the savvy hawks began snatching the birds, Ledder said. No visitors complained about seeing the midair attacks, she added.
Red-tailed hawks, with their wingspread of about 50 inches, thrive in the undisturbed wilderness around the Disney parks, said Geri Hylander, education and volunteer program coordinator at the Audubon Center for Birds of Prey in Maitland.
Hylander said the hawks aren’t especially aggressive, but “they’re opportunistic.”
“When you release a group of birds like that,” she said of Disney’s pigeons, “it’s an invitation to a meal.”
The vast majority of birds of prey are law-abiding and won’t bother you if you don’t bother them, so I don’t think there’s any compelling reason to ban them despite these attacks. The Queensland newspaper in Australia, where apparently bird attacks are a big enough problem to write a piece on how to avoid them, suggests:
“You can also consider carrying an umbrella which can be raised to fend off a sustained attack, and if you’re riding a bike, getting off and walking can help reduce the chance of an attack.
“Don’t try to scare off the bird. Wildlife is protected and this type of action could lead to a more serious and sustained attack.”
Be careful out there, people.