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Bird Myths: Eagles Can Carry Off Small Children

Fake eagle snatching babyBy now, you’ve probably seen the video. A man is recording a Golden Eagle flying around at the park when, all of a sudden, it swoops down and picks up a small child in its talons. The video is the perfect example of something going viral on the Internet and a perfect example of computer wizardry.

This amazing recording, which has garnered nearly 2 million views and is embedded below in case you haven’t seen it, is undeniably fake. The video was cleverly created by students at Montreal’s National Animation and Design Centre as a project. Needless to say, many people believed it was real and still believe it.

Even though this sensational video is a hoax, the real question is whether this could actually happen. While it’s hard to ever say something could never happen, stories of eagles carrying off small children are largely myths.

Slate did a great job looking at some of the past cases of birds apparently flying off with babies. Here’s an excerpt from the article:

It’s not common. Many attacks by eagles on children have been reported over the years, but it’s hard to tell how many are accurate. Headlines from the New York Times alone include “Eagle Seizes Little Girl,” “Eagle Tries to Carry Off Scottish Baby From Mother,” “Father Shoots a Bird With Infant in Its Talons,” and “Eagle Carries Off Child.”

The article rightly points out that most of these are from the late 19th and early 20th centuries, a time when people were less skeptical and quicker to believe tales. If you look at the birds found in North America, none of them are really large enough to carry more than a few pounds during flight nor are they known to attack humans. The largest bird in North America—the California Condor—is a scavenger, so it would never try to pick up a live baby, especially when there are adults around.

Similarly, the Golden Eagle does not usually try to carry live prey. Instead, it would try to knock its prey off branches or cliffs and carry off smaller pieces. As a matter of comparison, Bald Eagles, which are around the same size, often struggle just to carry fish. Eagles in other continents might be another story, however. Harpy Eagles in South America prey on primates, though I could not find any modern examples of even those birds preying on children.

While it’s definitely possible for an eagle or owl to attack small dogs, it’s nearly impossible for a bird in North America to target and carry off a small child.

Timothy Martinez Jr. is a writer and freelance journalist. His work has been published in The Times-Picayune in New Orleans, Remapping Debate in New York City and other publications. He’s been a bird lover since he was young and currently lives in New Orleans, L.A.