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Bad Birds, Bad Birds

News for Adventurous Travelers, February 1997


Bad Birds, Bad Birds
By Paul Kvinta


Get on the wrong side of a Texan and he'll kick your ass-even if he's a bird. Famous for their orneriness, the following avian toughs are not birds you'd want to meet in a dimly lit marsh after midnight. In fact, rangers recommend staying as far as possible from these flocks, both for the birds' comfort and your own.

Suspect: GREAT BLUE HERON

Profile: Bluish wader with imposing, six-foot wingspan and large, sharp bill. Stands four feet tall.
Reputation: Disputatious when cornered. Among ornithologists it's rumored that great blues "go for the eyes."
Rap Sheet: Researcher Ed Martinez once accidentally snared one in a net. As he tried to cover his eyes and release the bird, it ran its knife-like beak completely through his hand-suggesting that eyes are not their only target.
Suspect: APLOMADO FALCON

Profile: 15-inch-long raptor with white bib, black collar, and cinnamon legs. Blinding speed compensates for small size.
Reputation: Ruthless perpetrator of bird-on-bird violence. Possible Napoleon complex.
Rap Sheet: Brian Mutch, a Peregrine Fund biologist, says adolescent Aplomados attack their fellow birds "just for fun." They regularly dive at ravens on the wing and pummel them with balled-up talons.
Suspect: LEAST TERN

Profile: Squat, gull-like bird with gray back, black cap, and white underside.
Reputation: Favorite attack method is saturation bombing of intruders. "They're incredibly accurate," says Roger Boyd, a biologist at Baker University.
Rap Sheet: Once, while Boyd banded newborn chicks, a mama tern bombed him and then dove. "She nailed me in the hole in the back of my baseball cap," says Boyd, who suffered a half-inch gash. "I bled all over my notes."
Suspect: PEREGRINE FALCON

Profile: Sleek, two-pound hunter built for speed. Dark back, banded white chest, ominous black hood.
Reputation: World's fastest bird. Called "hell on wings" by some ornithologists. Can dive from 3,000 feet, topping out at 250 miles per hour.
Rap Sheet: Peregrines have been known to dive-bomb and kill nest-marauding golden eagles-birds six times their weight. They'll try to do the same to humans with similar plans.

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