November 12, 2016


The Mysterious Case of the Pacific Northwest's Vengeful Owls : A number of recent bloody encounters with aggressive raptors in the Pacific Northwest has frightened residents enough that they've started arming themselves with sticks and flashlights and strapping on hard hats before going out at night (Katherine Malmo  Nov 7, 2016, Outside)

Just after midnight on a cool, clear night in late April, Lance Douglas left my house on the remote Blakely Island, in Washington's San Juan archipelago, and started walking home through a half-mile section of Douglas fir and cedar trees. We'd just finished dinner and a few beers, and Lance was hardly out of my gravel driveway when he felt a hard push, like a hand against his shoulder. He turned around but saw nothing.

A few seconds later, something landed on Lance's head and began digging its sharp talons into his scalp. Warm blood flowed through his hair. As he flailed his arms in agony, a pair of feathered wings descended over his face, covering his eyes.

Lance thrashed until the bird withdrew, flying 20 feet ahead to a low branch. The two stared at each other in the pale light of the quarter moon. With blood dribbling down his scalp, Douglas pulled his phone from his pocket and snapped a photo, then hurried for home. He dodged four more swoops from the bird during the walk home.

Lance, who works as an oil cleanup specialist in Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, sought a friend's help to clean his wounds the following morning. She found six half-inch lacerations on his scalp. "They hurt like hell," Lance says. They took weeks to heal.

"I'm not going to lie and say I don't think about it," he says. "Having spent most my life on this island, where nothing can hurt you, this changes the way you think. It took away some of the safety and joy of being on the island."

The picture on Lance's phone shows a two-foot-tall raptor, brown streaks running down its white feathered chest, its face pointed upward, away from the camera: a barred owl.

What happened to Lance, it turns out, wasn't an isolated incident. Karl Ostrom, a 77-year-old who co-directs a business development company, was clawed or hit on six separate occasions in the late fall of 2010 while running in the forested area of Bridle Trails Park near his home in Kirkland, Washington. Pat O'Rourke, a 56-year-old massage therapist from Seattle, was hit four times between 2008 and 2013 on the wooded trails in Seattle's Discovery Park. Justin Musada, a 47-year-old accountant and runner, was left bloodied by an owl in Lake Stevens, Washington. The local news covered the incident.

Further inland and south, in Salem, Oregon, a barred owl has attacked runners so frequently in a wooded park that locals named him Owl Capone. Park rangers there posted caution signs in the fall of 2015 depicting a stick figure shielding itself from an attack bird. The parks department in Anacortes, Washington, has received about 50 reports of owls hitting or striking people in the past decade, says Dave Oicles, a park ranger there. "We had one elderly gentleman who went to the hospital because he got scratched on his scalp and knocked down," he says.

Lance told me about his attack a few months after it happened. It sounded like something out of a Hitchcock horror film. I have two young children, and a skull-knocking raptor patrolling our front yard is concerning. I took to Facebook and wrote a post on the page of a local nature group: Hey, anyone been attacked by an owl? The response was surprising: six people replied, saying they'd been accosted in the way Lance had. A dozen more said they'd been hit by the wing of a swooping bird or had their hats snatched clean off their heads while walking around Seattle.

Posted by at November 12, 2016 5:07 AM


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