The Weird World Of Bird Fighting

By Mike Devlin on Saturday, October 26, 2013
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“Birds are not aggressive creatures, Miss. They bring beauty into the world.” —Mrs. Bundy, The Birds (1963)

In A Nutshell

It may seem odd to think of birds fighting for human amusement, but when you consider that these creatures evolved from the dinosaurs, their aggression doesn’t seem so far-fetched. From falconry to cockfighting, birds have proven some of the most vicious and efficient predators on the planet. And yet, some of the birds are little more intimidating than the robins that bob around on your front lawn.

The Whole Bushel

When one thinks of bird fighting, the first thing to spring to mind are cockfights. These battles between warrior roosters have been waged for thousands of years, and are popular throughout the world, especially in Latin and Asian nations. The birds are selectively bred for strength and aggression. Before the fight, they are often outfitted with a sharp metal spur on their legs which helps make things interesting. These spurs are fearsome weapons and have occasionally injured and even killed handlers before.

Another bloody pursuit men have taken up is falconry. While this is largely an activity of the past, it is still performed in parts of Kazakhstan and Mongolia, where they use massive golden eagles. The eagles soar through the sky and then plummet on their quarry, which can include fox, antelope, and deer. This bird, which can have a wingspan of nearly 2.5 meters (8 ft) and weighs over 9 kilograms (20 lbs), can be ferocious enough to take on a full-grown gray wolf.

Not all birds that fight have a fearsome reputation. In Afghanistan and around the Middle East, quail and partridge fighting are hugely popular. Before a partridge fight, the bird’s owner will take steps to desensitize it to pain, which can include giving it a small amount of opium or feeding it a scorpion with the stinger cut off. The arachnid will still have a tiny bit of poison in its system, enough to numb the bird. The partridge’s beak is sharpened and its nails cut. The fights can get pretty intense, but unlike cockfights, are rarely bloody. The birds are extremely valuable, and owners will halt the action if things get too dangerous.

Even stranger, police in Connecticut arrested 19 people in a fighting ring in 2009. Their birds of choice were saffron finches and canaries, the kind of seemingly harmless songbirds found in every pet store.

Show Me The Proof

Golden Eagle Hunting in Kazakhstan
These Quail Fight for Their Masters
LA Times: The Bird Men of Afghanistan
Experts: Shelton songbird fighting bizarre