6.Hitchcock might have been on to something!

One of my fondest childhood memories is watching my younger cousin get attacked by a chicken. We were visiting his parent’s holiday house when we fell foul of the local rooster, a feathery behemoth with crazy eyes and spurs the size of a man’s thumb. The moment he saw us, he came steaming across the lawn, flapping and squawking like a banshee. We fled inside, breathless and laughing with terror. And that should have been the end of it.

But it wasn’t. Because we were boys. The door we fled into was the kitchen door. It had a large window set into it, and as we slammed it behind us, the rooster reared up against this, beating it with his wings and slashing it with his spurs. Excellent! We spent a happy afternoon seeing how close we could sneak up to the demented fowl, before rushing screaming back into the kitchen to watch him beat out his impotent rage against the window.



But then I got bored and wandered off. My cousin didn’t. Sadly (hehehe), while he was off stalking the now half-mad chicken yet again, an unknowing adult came in and locked the door. I walked into the kitchen just as my cousin reached it. I will always remember the dawning look of horror on his face, eye’s widening as a demented chicken rose up behind him like one of the four horsemen of the apocalypse, before burying the two of them in a cloud of feathers and dust.

That was it for large bird attacks until the family watched in a bizarre mix of horror and amusement as an angry goose drove my three-year-old niece into a lake. Then a marabou stork spoiled a perfect “I told you so” moment by being a marabou stork. We were visiting a nearby wildlife park that had a few tame marabous. We told my four year old son not to go too close or he would get pecked. He went too close. He got pecked. This should have been funny, except that a marabou stork is bigger than a four-year old, and has a beak like a medieval weapon.

South African children are taught, from a very young age, never to run while carrying a Marabou Stork.

South African children are taught, from a very young age, never to run while carrying a Marabou Stork.

That’s the thing with these big birds. There’s something inherently funny about being attacked by one. It feels like it belongs in a Monty Python sketch. It’s just a bird! But it isn’t. A swan can break a man’s arm. For a three year old, a goose is terrifyingly big. A marabou stork has cutlery attached to it which can carve up a dead buffalo. Parrots can bite off fingers and owls can claw out eyes. And that’s not so funny.

Why am I telling you this? The son of a friends friend (I know that sounds like an urban legend, but there are pictures) was attacked by a bird the other day, at a place called Zimbali. This wasn’t funny at all. The bird in question was a Crowned Eagle, a fearsome beast capable of killing a duiker weighing 30kg. And this was no baby. The boy is five years old. Luckily, while the eagle, given time, might have been able to kill him, there was no way that it could have flown off with him. This gave his parents time to drive it off. He’s going to be fine, barring a few interesting scars and a lifelong fear of the sky.

Those talons are not made for catching mice.

Those talons are not made for catching mice.

This shouldn’t happen. People don’t get carried off and eaten by giant birds in real life, do they? I’m afraid they do. About four hour’s drive from our home, a four year old was carried off by an eagle. There was no happy ending here. The child was killed and eaten. All that was found was his skull.

Luckily, for the peace of mind of concerned parents, this happened a while back. Two and a half million years, in fact. The child is called the Taung Child. He was found in 1924. He was an australopithecus africanus. It used to be thought he was an ancestor, but it turns out he is more likely a cousin. For years it was thought that the damage to his skull was caused by a leopard, but recently the palaeontology CSI guys had a go at him and established he was taken by eagles.


We have some fairly interesting neighbours!

We have some fairly interesting neighbours!


I know that two attacks in two and a half million years don’t exactly add up to a trend. But I’m concerned. The larger birds of the world seem to harbour a special hatred of my bloodline. I’m not going to do anything silly or extreme, like stop my kids from going outside. They can go outside any time they like. Just as long as they’re wearing helmets. And carrying umbrellas. There is nothing to be gained from being reckless.

25 thoughts on “6.Hitchcock might have been on to something!

  1. Carol says:

    Having been attacked as a child, on numerous occasions, by a blind, one legged goose at Gilly Andrew’s farm – I can confirm that your bloodline is definitely attractive to the winged species.

    • 23thorns says:

      I don’t wish to cast aspersions, but that sounds like the least threatening bird attack in the world. Please tell me you let him catch you once or twice, just to protect his dignity!

  2. Marcia says:

    Hey, this gives me an idea for a great scary story…maybe even a movie. We could collaborate, 23! Let’s have a whole bunch of birds decide to take over the world, one town at a time. They can start gathering on playgrounds to menace schoolchildren, and then move on to swarming people at gas stations. The unwary could be trapped in, oh, I don’t know…an attic, maybe?…while the birds peck and claw their way inside. The attic. And then the person. One citizen at a time could succumb to these feathered demons. Gore galore! People running around with their eyes pecked out, and screaming, “The birds, the birds!” Why, it would be BOFFO! We’d make millions. Huh? It’s been done???? *small voice, here* “Nevermiiiiiiiind.”

  3. Leslie Jo says:

    I can just imagine the look on your cousin’s face. “South African children are taught, from a very young age, never to run while carrying a Marabou Stork” almost killed me. This blog post is priceless.

  4. Honey says:

    As a cousin, I can tell you of my older sister – that would be a cousin too… who got chased all over Rhodes Memorial in Cape Town by a very large and angry turkey, until she finally made it back to the car – which was locked … while every one else continued their picnicking in the tea garden, or visiting of the memorial, undisturbed, except to laugh at or comment on the wild turkey-child chase. It’s definitely in the family.

  5. Wouldn’t it be great to write a “misadventures of the boy cousins” book? My son was clobbered by his cousin in the pool one day. They bumped heads. Guess who won? My son sprouted what appeared to be a third eye in the center of his forehead. The fifteen year old lifeguard had to calm me down I was saying so many ohmygods. I thought his eyeball had dislocated to his forehead. It turns out, his cousin simply has the harder head and the third eyeball was my son’s brain trying to protect itself. It took three weeks for the extra eyeball to go away. Meanwhile, I got to boast about giving birth to a live cyclops.

    • 23thorns says:

      That does seem to be how it goes. At least half of the stiches I got as a child came from my cousin. Thank god there were only two of us boys. the rest were all girls.

  6. You have a very demented strain of humor. I love it.

    The horsemen of the apocalypse reference…. Great stuff.

  7. mambolounge says:

    Mmm Marabou Stork – the other other white meat.

    • 23thorns says:

      It would never sell- have you seen what they look like? I’m sure that kind of ugly goes right through to the bone. That’s why it’s so hard to buy warthog bacon.

  8. warmginger says:

    Hee hee. Why is there so much pleasure in seeing cousins suffer?
    My friend has a bird phobia after tripping inside a chicken coop, skewering her knee on a random piece of wire and once trapped, being attacked by the chickens.
    Last year when she went to pick up her new car, the showroom guys were standing in the car park watching something…she wandered over to see two seagulls fighting – one of them had swallowed the other’s head.

    • 23thorns says:

      It’s always a bit of a shock for us city folk to realise how mean some if these things are. Goats are even worse than chickens- they freak you out with those funny shaped eyes before they attack. They were the original inventors of psychological warfare.

  9. ktfi says:

    In Australia, in the nesting season, the kids can’t go out to play unless they have got empty ice cream tubs on their heads because the magpies will dive bomb them!

    • 23thorns says:

      I read something the other day about a little girl who lost an eye to one. It all sounds too crazy to be true. How long does it go on for every year?

  10. And don’t forget the dive-bombing kiviets and the toe-pecking hornbills. We seriously might just be on some secret ornithological hit list. Do you think it wise to have put up the owl box in our garden in light of this?

    • 23thorns says:

      Now that I’m in my forties I’m too old to take it down again. Just to be on the safe side, we should send the boy out every morning with a fishbowl on his head and a piece of bacon in his hand, just to test the water. Safety first, I always say!

  11. I must agree that bird does look like something that would be in a Python sketch. As does the situation.

  12. narf77 says:

    If you ever decide to visit Australia and head for the tropics up in Queensland be sure to put on full body armour. We have a bird here called a cassowary.

    Note the man says “he will go for your throat, your stomach or your groin” be sure to protect those parts should you ever wish to use them at a later date… thought I should translate that seeing as the rest of the world seems to have trouble with Australese…I think you might be right about the 23 Thorns Avian curse. I reckon these birds are just waiting for you and your kin to set foot on Aussie soil. Be afraid…be VERY afraid!

    • 23thorns says:

      They keep telling us the same thing about Ostriches, but I’ve never heard of anyone actually getting attacked.
      Cassowaries seem to have more in common with guinea fowl. They have more than their fair share of testosterone, and if they were as big as these guys, the bush would be littered with battered and bleeding birdwatchers.

  13. TamrahJo says:

    I have to admit, I was LOLing just reading the first sentence – I grew up with nearly all boy cousins, on a ranch with chickens, roosters, dogs, goats and bulls – – – My cousins didn’t need to worry about birds from the sky – they got into plenty of scrapes just running around the ranch..

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