Avian Expert Articles

Spooky Birds You Have to See to Believe

Halloween is just around the corner, so let’s scare up some fun with a look at birds people might find downright scary, and/or birds that naturally sport a spooky style.


The Shoebill Stork

A shoebill’s stare can certainly give you shivers.
Olaf Oliviero Riemer, CC BY-SA 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

There’s no doubt that the shoebill stork (Balaeniceps rex) can strike an intimidating stare. Throw in its massive size (between 3 1/2 and 4 1/2 feet in height!), and this long-legged bird that inhabits the large swamps between South Sudan to Zambia can certainly give one a fright. Add to this the fact that the shoebill has a tendency to stay perfectly still for long stretches at a time, making it seem almost statue-like. Imagine this bird staring you down in a swampy marsh at sundown!

Good thing you’re not on the shoebill’s menu. Shoebills prefer lungfish, tilapia, catfish, and other aquatic prey. This bird’s hunting style is to perch on floating vegetation, then it patiently and slowly wades in the water to stalk its prey before launching a quick and violent strike.

If the shoebill’s intimidating stare and creepy way of hunting its prey aren’t scary enough for you, its vocalization might send you ducking for cover.  The shoebill’s greeting sounds like machine-gun fire!

But is the shoebill a bird to fear? Thankfully, shoebills are docile with humans and show no threatening behavior.

The Bleeding Heart Dove

bleeding heart dove, bleeding heart pigeon
Photo by David Clode on Unsplash

When you see a bleeding heart dove, your first thought might be, “Poor thing!” Yes, this bird looks like it took a bullet to the chest, with a prominent red circle of feathers featured squarely in the middle of its front side. But before you make a move to render aid, know that this is simply part of the bleeding heart dove’s look—blood-splattered-looking feathers offset with white feathers on the chest area. It’s a dramatic look for sure, and one that makes for nature’s perfect Halloween costume.

This bird is native to the island of Luzon in the Philippines.  Officially called the Luzon bleeding heart dove (Gallicoluma luzonica), it is also known as paloma de punalada, which is “stabbed pigeon” in the Tagalog language. From the look of things, it’s no wonder this bird is described as shy and secretive; imagine running around looking like the walking wounded…scary!

Egyptian Goose

No, these are not zombie geese! They are Egyptian geese. Image by Bea from Pixabay

You might be used to the site of Canada geese foraging on the park grass near your home, but did they turn into zombies overnight? Rest assured, there’s no zombie apocalypse in your town and, in fact, those reddish-eyed creatures are not Canada geese. You are looking at Egyptian geese (Alopochen aegyptiacus). And to make their appearance all the more noteworthy, their yellowish to gray bellies sport dark patches of reddish-brown feathers that give them a wounded look, although not as dramatic as that of the Luzon bleeding heart dove. Best to let these birds be, especially during breeding season. Both sexes can be territorial, even with their own species. They aren’t afraid to resort to aerial dogfights either—there are even reports of them taking on drones.

The Dracula Parrot

black and red dracula parrot
Peter Tan, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Finally, we come to perhaps the scariest-sounding bird of them all—a goth-looking parrot nonetheless. The Dracula parrot, also known as Pesquet’s parrot (Psittrichas fulgidus), is found only in the cloud forests in the foothills and lower mountains of New Guinea. This parrot is unique in that it has a parrot body and a vulture-like head. Its featherless head is said to serve a similar function to that of a vulture. Like a vulture, this parrot also digs head-first into its food. But it’s not a carcass like a vulture’s meal of choice—it’s an adaption to avoid feather-matting from sticky fruits. These birds are frugivores, and their diet is composed almost entirely of a few species of figs. That should help you sleep at night—this parrot will not come to suck your blood, but maybe your figs if you’re local to its native region.




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