As the sun began to set and the full moon started its rise, I jogged up a hill in a residential neighborhood flanked by a long stretch of forest. The darkness didn’t bother me. I live on an island where there is no danger of being attacked. That is when something hit me from behind.
I felt razor sharp knifepoints on my head, and my hat was ripped away. I heard the sound of feathers and looked up to see a brown owl with my hat in its talons flying toward the nearby trees.
I screamed and ran the other direction, checking my scalp for wounds. I was not physically hurt, but I was reminded of the vulnerability of humans when it comes to interacting with wild creatures.
In the islands, we live in relative safety from predators although foxes, raccoons and birds of prey can present turmoil. In 2017, a bear wandered around the forests of Orcas Island for several months until it was safely removed to the mainland.
I was not able to identify the type of bird that stole my hat, but it was likely a barred owl. These birds of prey are known for their aggressive behavior. On the mainland, barred owls have a habit of displacing and hybridizing with spotted owls, who are a threatened species. Sometimes the barred owls kill the smaller birds and take over their nests.
In 2015, Portland, Oregon, newspapers reported at least four barred owl attacks on humans. In several cases, hats were stolen and the owl cut the person’s skin. People were warned to avoid jogging at dawn or dusk in the park where the owls were present.
In 2018, Netflix released a true crime film called “The Staircase” about a woman who was possibly murdered not by the usual suspect — her husband — but by an owl.
According to the Audobon Society, an owl inflicting injury is rare and tends to occur when it is mating season or birds are raising their young. Barred owls or great horned owls are often the culprits.
As someone who has harbored a lifelong fear of birds, the incident was a reminder that when I feel that chill when a shadow passes overhead, predators in the sky are awe-inspiring creatures that can make humans 10 times their size feel very small.