Do you know how to survive an owl attack? In this Owl Survival Guide, you’ll learn how to prepare for a possible owl encounter.
Owls are amazing and mysterious creatures. Because most species of owl are nocturnal, they are typically out and about when people are not. Like many things in the night, they seem quite a bit scarier than they actually are.
The reality is that owls can be found on every continent except Antarctica, so it makes sense to be prepared for interactions with them. Being thoroughly informed about owls, understanding which ones are the most dangerous, and being prepared for a direct attack will make your time outside safer and more enjoyable.
All About Owls
There isn’t really a one-size-fits-all description when it comes to owls. They are extremely varied and come in a multitude of shapes and sizes, ranging from just four inches tall to over two feet tall, with many different patterns and colors of feathers.
There are two main types of owls: barn owls and typical owls. Barn owls usually have heart-shaped faces and typical owls have a more round face. Although there are many variations across the 250 different species, most owls have large heads, stocky bodies, and a toe that can point both forward and back as needed.
You may have seen fake owls placed on farms, in gardens, or on top of buildings. While some people add owls as decoration, most are added because they keep other types of birds away. One of the reasons owls are intimidating is that they are very dangerous hunters. In fact, when Encyclopedia Britannica lists the six most dangerous birds, two of the six are owls.
Owls are raptors and are known to be efficient hunters. Most attack their prey from above. Some species will perch in trees and wait for prey to come into view while others will actively glide silently through the night and swoop down on unsuspecting prey. One owl type, the Burrowing Owl, actually runs across the ground to catch prey.
While their diets vary, most owls are carnivorous. This typically includes small rodents, reptiles, amphibians, and even smaller birds. Some owls will eat larger prey, such as skunks, and others prefer to dine on insects. Sometimes these raptors will hide their prey and save it for later. If you come across possible owl food stored in the forks or cavities of trees, it is probably best to leave it be.
Many owls have rather amazing digestive systems. Some owls actually swallow their prey whole and later regurgitate pellets containing the remnants of their meal, such as bone and fur. These pellets can be seen on the ground and may indicate that you are near a roost in an owl’s territory and that you should proceed with caution.
Before owls hunt, they typically go through a very detailed preparation routine, much like someone preparing to go out to a fancy dinner party. They spend up to several hours stretching and preening, using their talons to clean their feathers. Then they clean their talons with their beaks. It is very rare that an owl will go out to hunt without first completing these meticulous rituals. Stay away from owls who are going through this routine. They do not wish to be disturbed.
Most Wanted List
While there are many types of owls, some owls are significantly more dangerous to humans than others. The Great Horned Owl and the Barred Owl are two types that can be rather aggressive towards humans.
Great Horned Owl
One of the most well-known types of owl is the Great Horned Owl, which is commonly found throughout the Americas and can be found in both urban and rural settings. Great Horned Owls have very distinct feather tufts on their head which makes them easily recognizable. These “horns” are actually called plumicorns.
The Great Horned Owl is one type of owl that has a particularly bad reputation for attacking humans. They have a wingspan that can reach nearly five feet long, and their talons have a force equivalent to the bite of a large dog. Great Horned Owls can carry off prey that weighs more than three times their own body weight, so they definitely are not the kind of bird you want to mess with. Fortunately, they don’t actually hunt humans. They are just very overprotective parents. These raptors will attack nearly anything that appears to be a threat to their young.
In Seattle, Washington, in 2012, there were several reports of Great Horned Owls attacking visitors in a park. Three years later a jogger in Salem, Oregon, reported being attacked repeatedly by this same type of owl. Fortunately, most of these attacks resulted in minimal or no injury.
Another common owl in North America is the Barred Owl, who also has a bad reputation. These owls are known for attacking hikers. Barred Owls weigh only a few pounds, but they, too, have a wingspan of nearly five feet. They also move very quickly and silently. Most Barred Owls attacks are consistent with nesting seasons, meaning that the owls were most likely just protecting their young.
In 2015, Bush Pasture Park in Oregon had a particularly difficult time with Barred Owls, who reportedly ‘dive-bombed’ joggers multiple times over one winter. One Barred Owl took a runner’s hat and scratched his head. The runner, Brad Hilliard, reported the talons feeling, “almost like you touched the tip of a knife but then you pulled away before it does any real damage.”
In 2011, a defense attorney for a man convicted of murder made a case that a Barred Owl was actually to blame for the death of the victim. It was suggested that the owl had gotten tangled in the victim’s hair and that it had inflicted a great deal of damage before it was chased away. There were wounds on the victim’s face, wrists, and scalp, consistent with that idea.
Survival Tips To Keep Yourself Safe
If an owl attacks you, the best thing you can do is cover your head and run to a shelter. While an owl isn’t likely to cause major injury, an unexpected attack from a large bird of prey would certainly be terrifying and leave you with some minor cuts. As you would with any cut, make sure you treat it appropriately to avoid infection.
Of course, the best way to stay safe is to be aware of the risks and know how to avoid an attack entirely.
Be a good listener
Most owls aren’t shy about letting you know that they don’t want you in their space. Before they get to the stage of attacking, they will likely try to scare you away with sounds. Some hiss, much like cats, and others click their bills together. If you hear this sort of noise, back away and give it space. Many owls are very territorial and you may seem like a big threat.
Another tip to stay safe is to be aware of what is on your head. Sound strange? Maybe, but owls can sometimes confuse things such as ponytails or headphones as prey. As predators, owls hunt a wide variety of food.
Foreign objects on your head might move in a way that’s consistent with one of their favorite meals. If you know you will be out at night in areas that owls may hunt, it is probably in your best interest to wear a plain cap.
Most owls attack from above and therefore aim at the highest object. If you may be in an area with an angry owl nearby, the best practice is to get back out of there. If that isn’t an option, hold something up above your head.
A stick with fabric on it (like a flag) or an umbrella held aloft will be a target for raptors, taking some of the risks away from your own head.
Unlike many birds, baby owls often leave their nests before they can actually fly. This results in an adorable little owlet sitting on the ground. If you are out and see this seemingly unusual sight, it is in your best interest to stay far away. It is unlikely that the owlet has been abandoned, and it is certainly not defenseless. In fact, many species of owls are actually quite good at climbing trees, even before they can fly.
Furthermore, there is a high probability that their parent owl is nearby watching. An attempt to interact with the owlet may be seen as predatory and could result in an attack from the parent owl.
The truth about owls is that they are really just silent pest control. Statistically speaking, they rarely interact with humans or pets. From time to time, however, there are particular circumstances that do result in owl attacks, and the whole species gets a bad reputation.
Being aware of the types of birds in your area, knowing what to look and listen for, and being prepared for an unlikely attack are the best ways to ensure your own safety as you venture into nature.
Preparing for an owl attack may seem like it’s too unlikely that you’ll actually get attacked by one. But after spending just a few minutes reading this guide, you’ll be prepared if you ever encounter one. If your a hunter like most preppers are, hunting at night will be the most likely time to encounter a threatened owl.
I hope this article helped you learn how to survive an owl attack. Even though it’s unlikely you’ll ever encounter one, it’s always smart to prepare for it. One idea we say a lot around here is that it doesn’t matter how unlikely it is to happen to you, it’s always good to prepare for it because alls it takes it one unlikely crisis to happen to you that can destroy your life.
Further Reading on Preparing For Owl Threats: