In the lighthearted NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC ANGRY BIRDS: 50 True Stories of the Fed up, Feathered, and Furious (National Geographic Books; ISBN 978-1-4262-0996-3; on-sale date: Sept. 25, 2012; $13.95 paperback), author and avian expert Mel White reveals fascinating facts about angry bird behavior and tips on how to stay clear of the furious fowl.
“Each amusing anecdote, which explains when and why the birds are at their meanest, also packs a scientific punch with interesting details about each featured bird and a ‘rap sheet’ with its common name and genus; physical description; known whereabouts; aliases; and angry behaviors,” National Geographic said in a news release about the book. “The Adélie penguin, for example, is known for lunging, pecking and stealing nest rocks; the European starling aggressively evicts other birds from their nesting cavities; the northern fulmar kills by vomiting stomach oil; and the northern shrike impales prey on thorns for later feasting.”
National Geographic interviews Mel White about some of the angry birds he has actually encountered.
The birds in the Angry Birds games really hate those pigs. Have you ever heard of a real-life instance of such intense bird-pig animosity?
Feral pigs (escaped domestic pigs running wild in nature) are a huge problem in many areas, destroying native wildlife and eating the eggs of ground-nesting birds such as quail, turkey, and grouse. Although I’ve never seen it, I’m sure there are countless instances of parent birds hopelessly swooping at pigs as they watch their nests being destroyed. Too bad that real-life birds don’t have catapults.
It’s clear you’re an avid birder, but how do you feel about pigs?
Pigs are fine in their place—which is behind a fence in a farmyard. Cornbread is better when you use bacon grease to oil the skillet, and I also very much enjoy the way my wife cooks pork tenderloin.
What is the angriest bird you have ever personally encountered?
Once I found a baby blue jay on the ground beneath a nest and decided I’d try to put it back. As I was placing the young bird in the nest I heard a noise and one of the parent blue jays whacked me on the forehead with its beak. I bled a lot, but I’m really lucky it didn’t hit my eye. I’ve never tried that again.
What are some things humans do to trigger aggressive behavior from birds?
The number one thing is getting close to an active nest. As we discuss in the book, many kinds of birds including mockingbirds, kites, and hawks will attack people who, knowingly or accidentally, approach a nest with eggs or young birds in it.
Other than green pigs, what animals do birds attack the most?
You might say insects, since birds eat literally billions of caterpillars, grasshoppers, mosquitoes, and similar creatures every day. But birds also attack potential predators such as cats and snakes, as well as other birds. Crows love to harass owls, and small birds will attack hawks, using their agility to stay clear of predators’ claws (look at the eastern kingbird photo in the Angry Birds book).
Do the birds in the game remind you of any birds you have encountered in your own life?
Terence is obviously modeled on the cardinal, Chuck looks a little like a goldfinch, and the Blues might be indigo buntings. I’m still trying to figure out Matilda.
What words of wisdom and comfort would you give those with the fear of birds?
Don’t watch the Alfred Hitchcock movie The Birds.
If you could give one piece of advice for people to avoid the wrath of real-life angry birds, what would it be?
Stay away from nesting birds—or, if you have to get close, wear a hat, safety goggles, and a heavy coat.
David Braun is director of outreach with the digital and social media team illuminating the National Geographic Society’s explorer, science, and education programs.
He edits National Geographic Voices, hosting a global discussion on issues resonating with the Society’s mission and major initiatives. Contributors include grantees and Society partners, as well as universities, foundations, interest groups, and individuals dedicated to a sustainable world. More than 50,000 readers have participated in 10,000 conversations.
Braun also directs the Society side of the Fulbright-National Geographic Digital Storytelling Fellowship.