By Paige Duane
On a nature walk through woods near her home, Washington resident Kirsten Mathisen was attacked. The assailant moved without warning, striking swiftly and quietly. Her scalp was left bloody from repeated scratching. The attacker: a barred owl.
According to Mathisen, “it felt like getting punched in the back of the head by someone wearing rings”. The attack was unprompted and came as a complete surprise to Mathisen. Fortunately for her, the wounds were mostly superficial. After medical treatment and a tetanus shot, Mathisen was ready to return to routine. Resolving to avoid owl territory, from then on, Mathisen steered clear of the area surrounding her attack. Despite her best efforts, she was attacked once more exactly a week later. This time, the wounds were more severe, leaving behind much deeper and more numerous cuts,
The second attack prompted Mathisen to ask herself the question: “What is going on?”
Taking to the internet for answers, Mathisen shared her story on online forums. Most responders jokingly placed the blame on a curse or an overdue Hogwarts letter. Others shared similar stories of owl assailants. One Seattle resident reported that she too was attacked by owls on her runs and resolved the problem by wearing an owl mask on the back of her head. Another Washington local reported that one city had to put up warning signs about the owls after they repeatedly targeted visitors of a park.
Barred owls are aggressive owls that make their homes within tree hollows. However, with the increase of urbanization, habitat loss is becoming a greater problem for barred owls .
“The more you reduce the places where an owl can nest, the more likely it’s going to be nesting somewhere in close proximity to humans,” said wildlife biologist Johnathan C. Slaght. “If they’re kind of amped up and…a human walks by, whatever, they’ll pop down and try to chase it off.”
The behavior exhibited by these owls suggest nesting or prebreeding. Fortunately, these events are typically seasonal, meaning that the owl aggression will pass. In the meantime, Washington locals are advised to wear hats and carry umbrellas to ward off future attacks.