I've never been a big fan of stealth games, or even optional stealthy approaches in action games, but I've always enjoyed the incredulous NPC reactions you get when you sneak up on a guard or henchman. Sadly you only get the best ones when you don't insta-kill them, and that's often the goal of the stealthy approach. There's just something comical about thumping some guard on the head only for them to stagger forward and exaggeratedly whirl around as they call for help or shout some threat or other. It's like the other side of an NPC losing track of you and deducing aloud that the arrow embedded in their throat must've come from nowhere – less absurd but equally extreme and decidedly NPC-like. But this reaction is less funny when you are the hapless character who's been thumped on the head, or indeed – to finally get on with the point of this article – stabbed in the back by a godforsaken bird in Elden Ring.
I was able to play one of the earliest network tests for Elden Ring, and my first hours in the pre-release Lands Between resulted in what is still my clearest memory from the entire game. It wasn't exiting the tutorial area and basking in that first open vista. It wasn't meeting the maiden and unlocking the magic horse. It wasn't even beating Margit for the first time. No, it was getting absolutely wrecked by the abominable knife birds in Stormveil Castle. I didn't know it at the time, but this would be the first step in a long tradition of avian assholes tilting me off a cliff. Behold, rare footage of my first encounter with these little bastards.
(It is not lost on me that the randomly generated embed code for this GIF is "likable genuine att waters prairie chicken." I assure you, the prairie chicken is not likable.)
By my math, there are four birds in Elden Ring. I'm not going to count random flying things like the various gargoyles, so we're mainly looking at the aforementioned knife-wielding Warhawks, the aptly named Monstrous Crows that infest Caelid, and the Deathbirds that haunt a few different areas at night. Eagles, you're cool; this article ain't about you. Every other bird? I've got 11 herbs and spices with your name on it.
I don't think any of these birds are the single most annoying enemy in Elden Ring – I still award that honor to the 1,000-armed Revenants – but to me birds are the most infuriating species in the game. It feels like every Souls game has one – I'm looking at you, crabs and mosquitoes – and Elden Ring's resident day-ruiners just happen to fly. All three of them pissed me off in incredibly specific ways in my first playthrough, and I've still got an axe to grind so here we are.
The Warhawks, then. What more needs to be said about trained attack birds with daggers for feet? Oh, and some of them breathe fire, because fuck you. These things are in more than just Stormveil Castle, too, and they never fail to piss in my Cheerios. It's just Annoying Enemy 101: fast, ranged attacks, high damage, and often hard to spot unless you're really looking up and around. This is arguably good enemy design that leverages the verticality of environments in thematic ways, but the Warhawks still feel like the most obvious middle finger that director Hidetaka Miyazaki was allowed to make.
The Monstrous Crows are a different kind of awful. They're found exclusively in areas that nobody should visit, like Caelid, and they provide a squelching, squawking answer to the question that all of these areas provoke: how could this place get any worse? I'll tell you how: with a 10-foot zombified bird that's inexplicably built like a T-Rex and whose favorite food is your liver. The real kicker with these things – and again, I'm forced to admit that is actually pretty clever design – is their fake stagger. Apparently the Monstrous Crows played Sekiro and have one heck of a sound organ behind that beak, because they'll sometimes do a false critical animation, complete with the riposte sound, to bait you in. Did I fall for this fake-out more times than I'd like to admit? I'm not at liberty to speak without a lawyer present. Besides, the real reason they're on this list, apart from everything that they've done, is because one of them killed me with a dive-bomb in the middle of nowhere one time and I still want to know where it was perched.
Even bosses, or at least minibosses, aren't immune to the curse of terrible birds. There are quite a few Deathbirds and Death Rite Birds around the Lands Between, and on top of looking eerily like the shaved spider doll's head from Toy Story, they all manage to show up right when I don't want to be fighting a boss. I don't know how this happens. You know how it always rains right after you wash your car? Well if I'm tip-toeing through the Lands Between already struggling to keep my organs inside my body with, at most, a single healing flask to my name, night is sure to drop and a Deathbird is sure to spawn out of the ether.
Their spells have giant lingering hitboxes, that cane of theirs has more reach than any demigod, and they are masters of bad timing. At least you can riposte their horrible little skulls for some payback. I do like how the Deathbirds demonstrate that exploring at different hours of the day can result in different encounters, but I still hate them. I'm just a bird hater, I guess, and doubly so after Elden Ring. If there's a poison swamp and another horrible bird in the inevitable DLC, I'm gonna lose it.
As Elden Ring approaches its first anniversary, let's all remember that it's still crying out for a photo mode.