How can humans and animals avoid being attacked by an owl?
In recent years, owls have been particularly bad at public relations because of their potential to harm humans.
But experts say most attacks – while they can be dramatic, nose-down, fluttering events – will only leave you with minor scratches, if any.
This summer and through the fall, several neighbors exchanged stories on social media site NextDoor, reporting being attacked by owls while walking or running along Raleigh’s Greenway.
âI felt two hits on the back of the head, as if branches were falling or someone was throwing stones. At home I found over 6 stripes, âposted a Raleigh resident earlier this month, adding a photo taken of an owl looking at them from a tree.
Several people responded with similar stories of owl encounters, many in the same area of ââthe Greenway – around the Stannard Trail / Lead Mine Trail area.
“It’s happened to me twice now – definitely barred owls,” replied a neighbor. “I don’t run anymore until it’s daylight because I’m so scared of being attacked. It happened in 2 different places and the second time it didn’t stop until I fall into a bush – I pulled out part of my hair.
“It happened to me a few years ago when I was running early and wearing a knit hat that the bird took with them!” another neighbor answered.
Should we be worried about owl attacks?
The N&O spoke with Greg Batts, Wildlife Biologist at the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission, to learn more about why we see so many owls this time of year and how to stay safe around them.
What makes owls attack people?
âIt’s a couple of different things, depending on the time of year,â Batts said.
âª Nesting period: March to May. “Owls are always territorial, but they are more territorial some times a year.”
âThere are nesting seasons when they raise their young. March to May – you will usually see several attacks during this time. They sit in nests and raise young.
âª Growing pains: August to September. Batts said we might also encounter owls later in the year, around August and September, and these are young owls that have been kicked out by their parents.
âThe majority will not reach their first birthday,â Batts said.
âThey attack things that they think are prey because they are not good at hunting yet,â he said. “So if someone is running down a path and they have a ponytail floating in the air, to young owls it looks like a mouse or a rat that they would eat.” That’s when people jump on it.
The owls chasing humans now, in late October, are the hungry young owls learning to hunt, Batts said. While older, more experienced owls know they won’t eat jogging for dinner, baby owls still learn the difference between a wood rodent and a ponytail.
How serious can injuries be from an owl attack?
Most of the time, owls are swooping down on people and that’s especially scary, Batts said.
But if they sink their talons into you, you can get lacerations.
âTheir talons can be sharp and long, and they can have pretty serious lacerations if they really sink in,â Batts said.
âIn most cases, the wounds will just be lacerations that you can handle on your own. It won’t be hospitalization stuff. I imagine there have been instances in the past where people need stitches, but I don’t hear about it.
Has anyone ever been killed by an owl attack?
We hear of owls attacking people from time to time, but are they ever fatal?
Batts says no.
âAs far as I know, no one has ever died from an owl attack,â he said.
“I’ve never heard of anything like this, and I think you can browse the internet and find out that an owl hasn’t caused anyone’s death as a result of an attack.” It is far-fetched.
How to avoid an owl attack?
âª Be vigilant in spring: âOne thing I would say is you have to be aware in the spring,â Batts said. âIf there are owls around – and (social media apps) like NextDoor are really great at spreading the word – you can tell there’s an owl nest on the Crabtree Creek Trail, and people have to be careful when they go through it. There isn’t much that can be done to get rid of the owl, they are just trying to protect their young.
âª Hide your hair: âWhen it comes to joggers, the best thing to do is hide your hair. Wear a hat, tuck in the ponytail, but don’t let your hair fall in the breeze,â Batts said. âDon’t give up. feel like you’re a mouse or a rat. Ponytails can look like prey running through leaves, and they focus on them. You have to cut this look.
âCover your head. They go to the head because they see the hair swinging up and down. Cover your hair, put it in a hat, that kind of stuff.
âª Carry an umbrella. âIf you have to cross somewhere all the time, just have an umbrella and walk with it. It can also help with having problems, âsaid Batts.
Should you remove a problematic owl from your neighborhood?
Never, says Batts. The only people authorized to do so would be the North Carolina Wildlife Commission and the federal government.
âYou don’t want to play with just any type of wild animal in North Carolina,â Batts said. “Regardless of the species, it is illegal to attempt to move an animal to North Carolina without a permit from NC Wildlife or, in some cases, the United States. [Fish and] Wildlife Service.
Batts said if there is a problem call NC Wildlife and they can try to help.
âThe thing to do is give us a call, and we can try to help people alleviate some of these issues,â Batts said. “It might mean going out there to put up signage to tell people to stay away from an area or to shut down an area for a period of time.”
In addition, the birds are “almost impossible to catch”.
âWe have this problem all the time with geese,â Batts said. âPeople want us to move the geese, but we can’t get close to them because they are flying away. Anything that can fly is extremely difficult to catch and move.
What do owl nests look like?
Owls nest in cavities, which means their nests will be in a hole in a tree.
âYou can usually find a nest because it’s going to be a tree big enough to have a hollow hole,â Batts said.
When do owls nest?
Batts gave us a timeline of when owls nest and hatch.
âª March: The owls will lay their eggs in March. They lay their eggs, sit on them for about a month, and then they hatch.
âª March, April and May: For another month after hatching, the owls have the owls in the nest with them. In March, April and May, you may encounter the nesting problem.
“But once it’s over, they’ll go back to what they used to do: fly to different places and hunt, stuff like that.” You can bet that in this period – March, April and May – you will have your own owls in the same area all the time. “
Attacks can still occur during these months.
âYou will usually have a male and a female, a mated pair, and one of them will go hunting while the other will be with the eggs or with the owls. Usually it is the female in the nest and she is more protective, while the male has gone for things to eat.
Will owls prey on dogs and cats?
Yes, Batts said owls have been known to kill cats and swoop down on small dogs.
âThey see them as prey in some cases when they’re really small,â Batts said. âThis is usually what we see with these attacks – territorial around nesting season or young, inexperienced owls clinging to straws. In many cases, they literally starve to death and try to prey on them. “
Owls that pursue dogs in particular depend on the size of the dog and the time of year, so those who walk smaller dogs should be aware of the danger.
“If I know from NextDoor or Facebook that there is a nest, if I have a three-pound dog and I know there is a problem in the neighborhood with an owl, then I will take precautions,” Batts said.
âIf I have a 25-pound dog, I’m not going to worry about that. It depends on the time of year and the animal. You’re supposed to have your pet on a leash, so you should be able to grab it if that becomes a problem.
This story was originally published October 22, 2021 at 8:00 a.m.