A buzzard seen nearby has been continuously attacking people for over a year now. As far as I know this isn't normal behaviour, especially not outside breeding season. Please correct me if I'm wrong. While not 100% sure this is the same animal it surely looks like it because it is always in the same place (let's say plus/minus 100m), the style of attacks is always the same (from behind, usually just flying over a person's head but sometimes effectively scratching them, sometimes severely), and simply because according to biologists I talked to such attacks are fairly rare and it would be exceptional if a whole bunch of them behaved like that.

Another story: years ago we had a male common blackbird in the garden which without any obvious reason started to produce it's alarm sound from sunrise to sunset, almost non-stop, without any evidence whatsoever of any danger (no predators to be seen, no humans, not a single of the many other birds of all kinds of species sounding alarmed). This lasted for about 2 weeks then it stopped for unknown reasons - one possibility being the bird died. In any case, this again isn't exactly standard behaviour. I've been around blackbirds my entire life but never have witnessed something like that.

So just like people can develop mental problems, both cases always led me to think those birds had mental problems. Would that be a feasible explanation? Or is that not regarded as a proper diagnostic for bird whereas it is for humans? Are there other known cases, possibly studies? Could the cause of such behaviour be genetic, a virus, bactaria, parasite perhaps? Or just some disfunction with hard to track cause (again, like for some humans)?

  • 1
    I'm inclined to call this more a philosophical question than one about wildlife, however interesting it is, but won't VTC.
    – Chris H
    May 1, 2018 at 16:26
  • Might be a better fit on biology.stackexchange.com
    – paparazzo
    May 1, 2018 at 16:30
  • Woodpeckers literally bang their heads into trees :) May 1, 2018 at 18:30
  • That gives a whole new perspective to the subject matter of what we call “bird brained”.
    – Ken Graham
    Apr 25, 2020 at 22:11

3 Answers 3


As a general rule, all evolved beings (the ones with a brain) can end up with mental health issues. There are multiple resources which document these. Pet birds are known to get depressed and pluck their feathers. Birds are known to show aggressive behaviors as well.

In case of the reasons for why they might develop these, there could be multiple reasons. Stress, loss of companions, not finding companionship during mating season, loneliness, trauma et al. Many of the pet birds can end up with issues due to neglect and abuse as well.

Here are some of the resources that talk about these:


Yes, of course birds can suffer mental illness. Sure, it isn't as studied as it is in humans; it's a lot more challenging to ask birds what they're thinking, but there isn't anything unique to humans or mammals that makes them susceptible to mental illness. The brain of any animal is organ like any other, i.e. a bag of meat, and it can suffer problems just like any other organ.

One example that comes to mind is in the case of antarctic penguins, some are observed wandering away from the group, and away from food, to their death. When the penguins are brought back to the group by researchers, they just head back out to their doom once again. We don't know why these suicidal penguins do what they do but people are trying to figure it out.

There are also many cases of caged birds getting stressed and ultimately engaging in self-harm behaviors.

However, whether your particular buzzard is mentally ill, or is attacking people for other reasons, can only be speculated.

  • Also noticed, birds which have been hit by a moving car, (or the other way around) often develop a character that does not fit with the species of bird.
    – Willeke
    May 1, 2018 at 20:08
  • Thanks for mentioning the penguins, didn't know that
    – stijn
    May 6, 2018 at 19:57

Yes, they most definitely can but there isn't much information on it. I've raised three Conures (small to medium sized parrots) from hatchlings and treated them all the same: Equal attention, no different from each other, and two of them are the tamest birds you could ever know; if it's jumping in your cereal bowl, sticking their heads in your mouth or even rolling around all over you and going limp if you try to put them on a perch so your're forced to hold them.

The third one, a Cinnamon Pineapple Conure has terrible separation anxiety from the other two. I get her out of the cage and she is panics and has trouble being put back into the cage. She is also dramatically terrified of new objects. All my birds are sceptical and get scared of things being moved, even if it's a brightly coloured cereal bar, but she is a lot more skittish towards it.

Sometimes she will use a warning screech and scare the others by saying "DANGER!!" and they will all fly and hit something. I've been cuddling them and she's done it randomly twice from something banging ever so slightly and completely pulled out her tail feathers twice from me holding her as she unexpectedly flew away.

I'm certain she has a mental disability of some sort because this is definitely unnatural behaviour.

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