All birds of prey are majestic. Whether it is a hawk, a falcon, an eagle or some other species there is just something about the image of a predator taking prey on the wing that stirs the spirit.
However, as capable as these birds are all of them play a distant second fiddle to the owl during hours of darkness.
Owls are supremely adapted to night-time hunting, with superb night vision. They even fly silently!
They also happen to have incredibly strong feet tipped by long talons and sharp beaks that are ideal for snipping meat off of their prey. Amazing birds, but pretty scary if we’re being honest! That begs the question: are owls dangerous?
No, owls aren’t usually dangerous to humans, although attacks do occur and injuries from larger species can be quite substantial. Most attacks on humans are provoked by people being in the owl’s territory or too close to its home tree or nest.
If you catch a glimpse of one of these amazing birds gliding silently through the nighttime sky, give thanks because it is quite a spectacle.
But, you should definitely be aware of what owls can do to you if you happen to inadvertently transgress on their territory or nesting site.
They could give you some nasty injuries! I will tell you everything you need to know about owls and their interactions with humans down below.
Owl Overview, Temperament and Habitat
There are many owl species in the world, and they can be found all over the globe in every kind of biome.
Owls are also highly variable in their size, with some being tiny and others, like the great horned owl, being absolutely massive.
As you probably already know, owls are predominantly nocturnal but it isn’t unheard of to see them moving around and even hunting during the day.
Generally speaking, most people are totally beneath the notice of owls unless they have reason to.
Owls generally want to hunt for food, sleep, find a mate, build a nest, and then raise their chicks and that’s pretty much it. If you don’t fit into that plan, they don’t care about you.
However, it is possible to antagonize owls into attacking, and attacks have rarely, though regularly, been recorded for at least the last century here in the United States.
This can be highly troubling and even cause for concern if you have an aggressive owl on your property.
All owls have razor-sharp talons on their powerful feet, and equally sharp beaks that are designed to dismantle meat from their prey, and they work just as well on defense…
Do Owls Protect Their Territory?
Yes. Owls are territorial concerning their nests. Generally speaking, an owl doesn’t really care if you are in their broader territory, because their nest is either tucked away in a safe place up in a tree or in a barn, or else securely secreted away underground.
If you can’t come close to the nest, an owl is unlikely to bother you though the longer you hang around the more likely it is that an owl will have a problem with you.
Do Owls Act Aggressively Toward Each Other?
Yes, they do. Owls don’t have a “live and let live” policy except as it concerns their mates and chicks.
Owls will readily threaten or attack strangers of their own or different species that come into their territory.
Do Owls Threaten People?
Yes, they do, at least sometimes. Owls will issue a threat display by hissing, making eye contact and dipping their head before fluffing up their wings and feathers to make them appear far larger than they already do.
In the case of the larger species of owl such as the great horned owl mentioned above this can make them appear truly immense! Anytime an owl is issuing such a display, watch out!
Have There Been Recorded Owl Attacks on People?
Yes, there have, including a few highly publicized ones. Since about 1900, there have been around 100 owl attacks recorded in the United States. This is a little less than one a year.
Out of all of these attacks, there was only one confirmed fatality, but many serious injuries.
Many victims suffered minor cuts and puncture wounds, but severe injuries in the form of lacerations, deep penetrating injuries, and even maiming to include the loss of eyes, ears and noses also occurred.
I’m not kidding folks: most owls are large and capable predators that can easily inflict substantial injuries on you if they attack you! Treat them with respect!
What Will Trigger an Owl Attack on a Person?
In all cases, except the most exceptional instances of rogue, hateful owls, attacks were provoked because people came too close to the owl or to its nest or area of habitation.
Unfortunately, much of the time this is inadvertent because owls tend to be quite stealthy and build their nests up on high perches in trees, on top of utility poles, in or on tall buildings, etc.
This typically leads to people being attacked with zero warning and zero indication by the aggressive owl. Considering how stealthy these birds are, most victims never see it coming!
Just How Strong is an Owl?
Very strong! Surprisingly strong, in fact. Owls are remarkably powerful, and pound for pound they tend to be even stronger than other birds of prey.
Many owls can exert tremendous pressure with their feet, and considering how long, strong and sharp their talons are this makes them devastating piercing weapons that can easily puncture you.
The same goes for the beak, which can neatly snip off pieces of your anatomy that they are able to lay hold of.
Sure, the owl itself is generally as light and delicate as most birds are, and if you’re able to actually come to grips with it you shouldn’t have much difficulty, but this is much easier said than done.
Can Owls Bite?
Absolutely, you had better believe it! Owls use their beaks to take apart prey and also when defending themselves.
What Does an Owl Attack Look Like?
Owl attacks look pretty much identical to the attacks of other birds of prey that are trying to fend off larger animals. They will flog, kick, scratch and bite.
As mentioned above, this will easily inflict substantial puncture wounds and lacerations, and even being flogged by the wings of a large owl might be enough to break smaller bones in your body, and will definitely inflict bruising.
This isn’t like a songbird pecking at you, or even an attack by a small parrot. An owl attack is very serious and can inflict dreadful injuries or even maim you!
How Do You Respond to an Owl Attack?
If you are attacked by an owl, your best option is escape. Protect your head, eyes, ears and neck as best you can and put as much distance between you and the owl as possible, preferably heading back the way you came as quickly as you can.
Once you get far enough away, the owl should break off.
However, if for whatever reason the owl is continuing the attack or is repeatedly attacking despite your attempts to withdraw, you should defend yourself.
A few good strikes from any sturdy object or, if required, even your fists and feet should be enough to severely injure and eventually kill the owl.
Will an Owl Eat a Person?!
Typically no. Owls eat meat, of course, but there are no recorded instances of an owl eating a person, even if they have found a person’s dead body.
It isn’t out of the question that an owl might scavenge some fresh meat from an equally fresh corpse, but it seems that human beings just aren’t on the menu for these magnificent predators.
Can People Catch Diseases from Owls?
Generally no. Owls are not known to carry any diseases that are routinely transmitted to people, but you should keep in mind that owls are meat eaters and will regularly be coming into contact with all sorts of dead animals.
This can naturally set the stage for secondary bacterial or parasitic infection if you should come into contact with the owl, and especially if it attacks you.
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1 thought on “Owls: Are they Dangerous?”
I was sitting in a deer stand a few years ago in Missouri when an owl flew by and attempted to catch a squirrel. He chased the squirrel around a big oak tree three times before quitting and settling into another tree about forty feet from me and about the same distance from the squirrel. The squirrel just hid behind his tree, and then the owl looked over at me. I had a burlap wrap around my stand hiding most of my body and I was wearing a rabbit skin hat for warmth. I decided the prudent thing to do was lift the hat and fully expose my face.