Are Owls Dangerous?

Owls may seem like gentle nighttime creatures, but they do have the potential to be dangerous animals. Owls can get defensive of their home territory or their young, which can and have resulted in owls attacking humans and other animals, including pets. Owls have large talons that can inflict harm on any unsuspecting prey or potential threat to them.

Do owls attack humans?

As we previously mentioned, owls have been known to occasionally attack humans. Many times, this is because the owl feels threatened. This can be the result of a human encroaching on the owl’s territory. The likelihood also increases when the owl may have a nest with young owlets and feels the need to defend them. Most attacks have occurred at night when owls are most active. Owls are nocturnal, so they can see very well at night, which makes them excellent nighttime hunters.

Although it is rare, there have been accounts of owls mistaking a human’s hair for a smaller animal such as a rabbit or mouse, resulting in an attack. This has happened to coyote hunters hunting at night in specific. Coyote hunters often go out on a moonlit winter night to try to call coyotes in using a distressed rabbit call. This call can also attract the attention of a hungry owl looking for an easy meal. If the hunter is not wearing a hat, then an owl may only see the hair and not the rest of the person. Couple that with the distressed call and it is understandable how an owl could make the mistake.  

A newsworthy instance of a barred owl attacking people walking in the Buckhead neighborhood in Atlanta, Georgia occurred in March 2022. There were over 80 reported attacks related to this owl. One woman reported that the unexpected attack felt like a baseball bat hitting her in the back of the head. The owl had reportedly been attacking groups of people as well, including kids waiting for the school bus. People in the neighborhood started carrying umbrellas and wearing bike helmets for protection against the barred owl.

Do owls attack pets?

Owls will on occasion attack small pets such as cats and dogs. While this is not normal prey for an owl, they will take an opportunity at trying to attack and kill a small pet if they are hungry. Typically, it is the larger owl species that can cause worry, like the great horned owl, which can easily grow large enough to carry off a small pet.

Cats and small dogs shouldn’t be let out at night alone without being supervised. This can be true for other potential predators as well, such as coyotes and foxes. While it is rare for an owl to kill a dog or cat during an attack, they can still inflict significant harm, especially on pets under 5 pounds.

What makes owls dangerous?

So, what are the factors that make an owl dangerous to humans and pets? There are several factors that play into the dangers of an owl. First, an owl typically will attack during low light conditions, like at night or dusk and dawn. If you add that with the fact that owls are also predatory birds that have mastered the art of hunting quietly, it can be a recipe for an unsuspecting attack.

Most times, you won’t see an owl coming in for an attack. They are very quiet animals and will often attack from behind, leaving its target defenseless. You can often be injured by the blunt force of the owl hitting you in the head, or from a scratch or cut from its talons.

The talons on an owl are its main tool for hunting. These talons can be very large and razor-sharp. For instance, a great horned owl’s talons can grow to be 2 to 4 inches long. Picture your fingers or even longer but razor-sharp!

The size and sharpness are not the only dangerous aspect of an owl’s talons. Owls have an incredible grip strength in their feet. Large species of owl can have a grip strength up to 500 pounds per square inch. This is an incredible strength when you consider a human’s grip strength ranges from 40 to 70 pounds per square inch. That’s up to 10 times stronger than your own grip!

How to prevent being attacked by an owl

Preventing an owl attack isn’t always possible, but there are a few things you can do to limit the chances of it happening. The biggest warning sign that you should look out for is the hoot of the owl. When someone or something is encroaching on its territory, an owl will typically give a warning hoot that is meant to tell you that you are making it uncomfortable.

 If you are out walking and you hear an owl giving you a warning hoot, it is best to leave the area from the direction that you came immediately. This keeps you from encroaching on the owl’s territory and is the best way to prevent an attack from happening.

It may sound odd to some, but if you live in an area where owl attacks have occurred and you are fearful, you can always carry an umbrella as protection. Because of the rarity of an owl attack, this is usually only necessary in an area where attacks have occurred.

Final thoughts

Most people won’t experience or even need to worry about an owl attack. Although it is rare for an owl to attack a human or pet, it does occur sometimes. It’s best to keep your small pets close especially if you know owls are in the area. If you often go on walks in wooded areas in low light hours, then you should be aware of the possibility and listen for any warning hoots that an owl may be giving you. Avoid getting too close to owls and its territory and always cover your head with your arms if you see one swooping down towards you.

Mindy Russel
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