What are these spooky attacks all about?
It's that time again here in the Pacific Northwest. Joggers, bikers and hikers on wooded trails are being stalked and attacked from above and behind by silent creatures. It can be a frightening experience to have your head strafed by an unknown predator.
You felt something hit your head from behind, and perhaps you felt a severe scratch, but you didn't hear anything. Nothing. You're stunned and perhaps frightened, but keep going. WHAM! It happens again. Your mind races, conjuring up monsters of the haunted woods from all of those childhood stories you heard around campfires. All you can think of now is the quickest way to get out of there!
After you get home, you replay the bizarre scenario your head. You tell a few friends about your encounter, but they think you're either bonkers or have been watching too many horror flicks.
Well, my friend, there is a simple explanation. In Autumn, the Barred Owls are very territorial. The young have fledged and are setting up their own territories, and the older owls are claiming their existing territories. For a few weeks, it can be pretty crazy around here. Owls swooping down on unsuspecting folks, grabbing swishing ponytails, snatching headlamps, knocking off hats, and even severely scratching a few people in the process. They are smart, and usually attack from behind. And you will never hear them coming.
Owls have special feathers on the leading edges of their wings that allow them to fly silently. Tests have been done in laboratory settings with state of the art sound equipment to meter the sounds of owls' wings in flight, and the noise was too slight to register. There isn't anything spooky about them being able to sneak up on you - it's just one of those marvels of nature that allows owls to catch their elusive, nocturnal prey. And their attacks right now aren't personal - they are just staking out their territories and attempting to discourage competition or interlopers.
Knowing the WHO and WHY know, you're probably wondering, "What can I do to stop them from attacking me?"
The best answer is: If you have an encounter with an owl, find another place to run, bike or hike for the next few weeks. This territorial behavior will gradually fade and things will get back to normal. If you choose another wooded trail in the meantime, you can take a few precautions. Wear a substantial hat to protect your head and neck. If you have long hair, don't pull it up into a high ponytail that swishes when you run. If you do find yourself being targeted again, find a stick to wave over your head as you leave the trail. And, do not take a small pet with you on wooded trails for the next few weeks unless you are sure there are no owls present.
If you find yourself to be the recipient of an attack, contact your local Parks Department. As a good deed to your fellow neighbors, you can also post a note at the entrance way to the trail to let them know there is an aggressive owl in the area.
And remember: Owls are not vicious, malevolent creatures. The are only trying to protect their homes like everyone else. This is just one of those times when human colonization and nature overlap a bit, and it will be over in a few weeks. Be thankful that you live in close proximity to natural wonders such as this - nature is amazing, and we share a beautiful world. Happy Autumn, my friends!