Submitted by the San Juan Island National Historical Park
San Juan Island National Historical Park is cautioning people recreating in the park about recent and aggressive behavior from owls that has resulted in at least four known attacks on visitors in the park. These encounters have been reported on English Camp’s Bell Point Loop Trail in recent weeks.
Park staff have been working with Wolf Hollow Wildlife Rehabilitation Center, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and regional National Park Service experts to identify behavior patterns and develop safety recommendations. At this time, the possible causes for this behavior include:
• Fall attacks are rare but have been reported elsewhere in Washington this year, including Camano Island.
• Fall attacks may be from young birds who are either just playing and testing their aerial attack skills or are stressed because they are no longer being fed by parents and simply taking out their frustration on people. It can take juveniles (i.e. less than a year old) a great deal of time to develop independence.
• Attacks could relate to adult owls defending their territory or defending fledglings learning to fly from perceived threats, though this behavior typically happens in late spring.
• Attacks are known to happen around December/January and could be related to Barred and Great Horned Owls that are setting up nests.
At this time, the park will not be closing the Bell Point Loop Trail at English Camp and is asking for park visitors to consider hiking other trails. If visitors continue to choose this trail, they are asked to abide by the following recommendations:
• Proceed at risk for the next few weeks.
• Be vigilant and if they see an owl perched nearby, avoid that trail for now.
• Keep small children and animals away from area if there’s an aggressive owl nearby.
• If you must walk past an area with an aggressive owl, wave your arms slowly overhead to keep it away.
• Wear a hat or helmet.
• Runners are suggested to wear two headlamps: one lighting the way forward, the other shining up from the back of the head to blind any dive-bombing owl. Runners and hikers can also mark big eyes on the back of a baseball cap to stare back at the owl.
The situation will continue to be monitored by park staff and we will consult with partners in how to keep both wildlife and visitors safe. If anyone continues to experience this behavior, please contact us at www.nps.gov/SanJuanIsland.