A seagull swiping the sandwich from your hand at the beach is freaky enough; the thought of a bird of prey with a seven-foot wingspan swooping by and grabbing a child is the stuff of nightmares. Like nature-goes-mad horror movies or dinosaurs-come-to-life novels that keep the faint of heart awake at night.
The fear of large, predatory animals is clearly deeply ingrained — as well it should be. Which is why the Golden Eagle Snatches Kid video (see below) has had more than 5 million views in its first 24 hours. And although the video turned Facebook into the Goldeneaglebook for the day, the video turned out to be little more than a student project (hoax) gone viral.
But the question remains: could and would a large bird of prey snatch an unsuspecting toddler from a park or the plains? Here is a look at some of the more formidable birds taking to the sky and their child-plucking potential.
1. Golden eagle
First up, the newly famous scariest bird in the world, the golden eagle. Found in North America, Eurasia and northern Africa, the golden eagle is North America's largest bird of prey and holds the honor of being the national bird of Mexico. Measuring from 27-33 inches in length, the golden eagle has a wingspan of 78 inches and weighs 7-14 pounds. It feeds on rabbits, marmots, squirrels and hares, but has also been known to snatch foxes, livestock, and even adult deer and caribou. Although golden eagles are powerful enough to kill a man, they have never been known to attack adult humans as prey. Or attempt to whisk babies from parks in Montreal.
2. Martial eagle
Africa’s largest eagle, the martial eagle weighs in at almost 14 pounds and has a wingspan of nearly six and a half feet. It is 32 inches long. An aggressive predator, the martial eagle feeds on poultry as well as hyrax, small antelopes, Impala calves, monkeys, young domestic goats, and lambs, serval cats and jackals. Although it is said that the talons of the martial eagle could break a man’s arm in a simple snap, there are no reports of this impressive bird having a taste for human children.
3. Steller’s sea eagle
One of the largest raptors overall, this bird is found in Russia and Japan. Females weigh in at up to 20 pounds, with a length of more than 40 inches and a wingspan of up to seven feet. It has the largest and most powerful beak of any eagle. Although it feeds mostly on fish, it will sometimes attack other large and has been known to pick up the occasional juvenile seal. But it has never been known to pick on juvenile (or mature) humans.
4. Harpy eagle
Considered by some to be the most powerful eagle in the world. Females tip the scales at 20 pounds, can reach three and a half feet in length, and have a wingspan of more than seven feet. Their talons are longer than a grizzly bear’s claws (over five inches), and its grasp could puncture a human skull with some degree of ease. They feed mostly on monkeys and sloths, carting off animals of 20 pounds and more.
5. African crowned eagle
Found in parts of tropical Africa, this eagle has a staple diet consisting of monkeys and other mid-sized mammals like the Cape hyrax and small antelopes, as well as dogs, lambs, and goats. It’s kind of unnerving to learn that this bird often preys on animals weighing in the 65-pound range, which may explain why Africans call it “the leopard of the air.”
Evidence exists that the African crowned eagle caused the death of an early human child whose remains were discovered in a cave at Taung, South Africa, in 1924. A study reported in National Geographic notes that these eagles have been known to occasionally attack or eat human children. "There's one report from South Africa of a small child's skull being found in a nest," said evolutionary biologist Susanne Schultz of the University of Liverpool in England. So, of all the big birds this one may be the one to fear ... but still, chances are your baby sitting in a park is safe from random birds of prey.
Sadly, most of these birds are endangered and need our respect and protection, not fear. That said, note to video hoaxers: Next time use a "leopard of the air" if you really want to shake us.