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.
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.
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.
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.