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    A Brief History of Birds Stealing Babies

    Written by

    Adam Clark Estes

    By now, we've probably all seen the instant viral sensation from Montréal "Golden Eagle Snatches Kid." We've also probably all come to the sobering realization that it is, in fact, a fake. The evidence supporting that notion is really starting to stack up. From some inconsistencies in the video itself that could be attributed to sloppy CGI work to the unusual way the bird swoops down towards the toddler, there are all kinds of things wrong with the video. It certainly doesn't help that a 3D animation school in Montréal conducts an annual "hoax the Internet" exam.

    There is something undeniably right about the video, though. Giant birds of prey do try to steal toddlers from time to time. As many have pointed out, they're certainly strong enough, with a talon grip that's up to 25 times more powerful than that of a human hand. They're also hungry enough, as evidenced in the many very real videos on YouTube showing eagles and hawks snatching up mountain goats and baby deer. And yes, babies are vulnerable enough, especially if their parents are dumb enough to leave them sitting unattended on a lawn while hungry birds circle above.

    Don't believe me? Let's take a historical tour.

    From Folklore

    A number of cultures have bird-steals-baby legends, and while this doesn't necessarily count as factual proof that it happens, it's worth a mention. One comes from West Africa where a bird steals a woman's baby and throws back gold and jewels. When its convinced she's not greedy, the bird returns the baby. The next woman who demanded gold and jewels and the baby was not as lucky.

    On a different continent, the story of the stork delivering babies actually started out as an ancient Greek myth about storks stealing babies. The goddess Hera turned Gerana, queen of the Pygmies, into a stork after she made her angry. Gerana then spent her days trying to carry off her own baby, but her family, not knowing it was her, chased her away. Moral of the story: Don't piss off the gods.

    From the Days of Black and White

    For whatever reason, baby-snatching birds seem to have been somewhat of a fixture in American and Canadian newspapers in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Some are happier than others. One things for sure, though. Eagles steal babies. Here's your New York Times dispatch to prove it. The year is unclear, but the fact that an eagle carried away a farmer's baby is not. Still skeptical? Try this "Child Captured by Eagle" tale from Tennessee in 1868. In it a young boy just old enough to walk falls out of his crib and gets snatched up by an eagle who carries the kid two miles before a nearby hunter frightened the bird enough to get it to touch ground and lose its grasp.

    If you're still not buying it, there's a whole series in a 1836 edition of Family Magazine that tells gorier tales of children being carried away and killed, sometimes after their eyes were torn out. You might also take to heart this excerpt 1904 story from an Australian newspaper: "While a little girl about eighteen months old, the only daughter of a young Sutherlandshire crofter living about a mile from Invershin Station, on the Highland Railway [in Scotland], was playing at her father’s cottage door on Saturday evening, an eagle swooped down, gripped her in its claws, and carried her off to the mountains, where some hours later her dead and mutilated body was found by a gamekeeper."

    Modern Times

    Things haven't been much different in the last century. A well documented case happened in Norway in the summer of 1932. A crowd had gathered at the beach for a christening, and while nobody was paying attention, a three-year-old girl went missing. Nobody could have believed that one of the eagles that had been circling the party would've taken the girl until a search party found her on a ledge just below an eagle's nest. She was bloodied, missing a shoe and otherwise exhausted. Later in her life, the girl says she remembered what happened. "I was quiet as a mouse in my Sunday dress, playing with some stones, when suddenly I saw the eagle coming towards me," she said. "The next thing I remember is that I'm lying on a ledge, and then I see the eagle dive toward me. I remember how she came at me with those big claws. It was horrible!"

    The phenomenon endures in America as well. Just ten years ago, a massive bald eagle with a six-foot wingspan raised hell on New Hampshire's beaches. The eagle would swoop in on unsuspecting beach goers, stealing their balls and their breath. It did not steal any children, but it tried. Police caught the eagle and compared its reign of terror to shark attacks on other beaches.

    Collectively, these incidents should provide a little bit of padding to the case of Montréal's baby-stealing eagle. Then again, the entertainment industry has been pulling the baby-snatching eagle trick for at least a hundred years, too. So who knows what to believe anymore.

    Top image via YouTube