Do Owls Attack Humans?

Like other birds, owls are extremely protective of their mates, young ones as well as their territories.

But, unlike most animals, owls lack the general ability to feel fear.

That means, they rarely get intimidated by the enormous size of their rivals.

So the answer to the question – Will Owls Attack Humans?

An owl will certainly attack any human it perceives dangerous to its hatchlings, mate, or even their hunting territory. 

That said, people often find it hard to imagine that owls can be dangerous. 

Now, psychologists describe this human bias in terms of owl facial features as:

Since owls have broad faces with human-sized eyes. Therefore, owl facial features resemble a human child so, humans naturally find owls as harmless and affectionate creatures.

Personally, I blame Youtube because they have so many videos of cuddly owls and cute owlets.

But globally, owls are now desirable pets because all Potterheads want their own Snowy Hedwig. 

Anyways, this bias still raises a valid query:

Are Owls Friendly To Humans?

Generally, they are not.

But, they can be raised as friendly birds.

You see, owls are born hunters with exceptionally sharp talons and piercing beaks.

In fact, owl talons can grow to 3-4 inches in size that can easily cause deep lacerations. 

Furthermore, their prominent human-sized eyes have the ability to see even in the dark. 

Their ears are located on either side of the eyes but at different heights.

This allows owls to precisely determine the location of a moving object. 

Owls have the ability to locate their prey anywhere and at any time with precision.

Though owls lack primate-like massive and developed brains, their neurons are wired to maximize their sensory and hunting skills.

Even their feathers are serrated to allow them mute flight. 

Owls are often described as the avian version of silent killers.

So, it is hardly surprising that most adult owls in captivity won’t allow any human to caress them. 

In fact, attempting such a feat will require that human to have a legal permit and specialized training.

That said, owlets that are raised in human captivity often form a special bond with their human keeper.

Some of these even play and display minute signs of affection to human keepers.

Figure 1 describes how owls are as human friends:

Will Owls Attack Humans?

Figure 1: Owls being the Avian assassins and Human Friends at the same time.

However, these owls may not be friendly to anyone other than one human partner.

Even the most affectionate owls rarely cuddle with their keepers. 

Still, owlets raised in captivity don’t reject affection from their human breeders.

But then, owls are not like cockatoos that will ever crave human attention.

So, if they even allow you to touch them, that should be enough of a fair deal as a pet owner.

Even so, pet owls do not fully represent the behavior of wild owls.

So, a wild owl will still attack you if it deems you dangerous.

Related article – Are owls raptors?

Since owls are nocturnal creatures, you may be curious:

Do Owls Attack Humans At Night?

They do so, but their attacks are not limited to only nighttime.

You see, owls are nocturnal predators because they can see in the dark, or more precisely in limited light. 

How so?

Well, owl eyes are designed to maximize vision with even the slightest of lights.

Now, owl eyes are tube-shaped to enhance the corneal curvature for the highest possible intake of light photons. 

They have a reflective retina to amplify the impact of any given light.

Also, owl eyes contain more rod cells than cone cells. 

Owls are color blind yet they can absorb and focus more light than most animals.

Which means owls have a clear vision at night.

However, the ability to see at night does not mean that owls cannot see during the day.

Or say,

Owls can see and stay active at any time of the day or night.

Still, days are too bright for owl eyes to endure.

Owls typically sleep during the day or squint their eyes to avoid absorbing too much sunlight. 

Most owls start hunting from the late evening and continue till dawn.

This way owls are able to capture all those prey animals coming back to their nests or leaving their nests in the morning.

Now, like most animals, owls only attack humans when they perceive them as a threat to their survival or dominance.

Normally, such misconceptions arise only when human hikers or joggers accidentally pass through owl territory. 

Statistically, more owls attack humans during the day, instead of the night.

In contrast, most human-owl encounters that occur at night are linked to highways, typically when owls try to scavenge fresh road-kills.

Unfortunately, such owls are often blinded by the car headlights, resulting in road accidents.

Which results in owl death.

Since most owls attack humans during the day, you may be wondering:

How Do You Know If An Owl Will Attack You?

Odds are you wouldn’t know until you are hit by an owl.

You see, humans are relatively large mammals.

Most animals will try to look bigger, growl or hiss to deter human presence.

This way, they will avoid conflict by bluffing their way out of it.

However, owls are silent birds that don’t feel much fear. 

Owls may not even try to scare away a human before jumping and hitting a human with its talons.

That said, sometimes owls do let humans know their intentions before they act.

Here are the classic signs an owl may represent before attacking you:

  1. Constantly observing you as if maintaining eye contact.
  2. Hissing or beak clicking.
  3. Expanding feathers to appear large, or readying itself for the flight.

Again, most owls don’t give such prior notices before attacking them. 

Besides, if an owl is spreading itself to attack you, then you have already crossed the boundaries.

So, to avoid such situations one must know when an owl can attack:

  1. Breeding and broody owls are extremely aggressive. They may even attack anyone walking in their direction.
  2. Owls that have recently matured have a high testosterone level. Such owls may even attack a human without any reason.

Again, these scenarios seem unavoidable.

Now if an owl does attack you, how do you stop it?

Carry on reading to find out

How Do You Stop An Owl Attack?

I suggest the following measures:

  1. If you know that there is an owl near your place then don’t deliberately go near the nests. For instance,

If you are climbing a tree to see owlets in their nests, you are definitely inviting yourself to get attacked.  

  1. Take an umbrella with you when you go outside.
  2. Wear some head covering like a scarf or a cap.
  1. If the owl is hissing or clicking at you then:
  1. Stay still in your spot for a few minutes while holding eye contact.
  2. Walk back slowly without turning.
  3. Once you reach a distance of say 20 feet, then walk back to your place at a regular pace. 
  4. Don’t try to run as it may provoke the bird.
  1. If the owl flies at you:
  1. Then, duck while shielding your face to avoid damage.
  2. Try to reach into your car, house, or find some shade.
  3. In extreme conditions, you may use your bag or other materials to deter owl, if it persists.

All that said, most owls are not large enough to tear through human clothes.

Therefore, most owls result in minor injuries. 

Can An Owl Kill a Human?

An owl will attack a human if you go near their territory or their nests

But an owl killing a human is beyond rare and I don’t think it has ever happened (thankfully)

I don’t think an owl would kill a human

In order for this to happen, a human would literally need to wrestle with an owl and their talon somehow pierces an artery

Which Owls Are The Most Likely To Attack Humans?

Currently, the Great Horned Owls and Barred Owls are the most reported owls that have attacked humans.

The great horned owls are considered the most vicious owls.

They can grow as tall as 2 feet in height and weigh about 2 kgs. Their wings are about 2m wide. 

Ornithologists estimate that their feet pack a gripping strength of approximately 500psi.

Or say, the great horned owl’s grasp is as strong as a large hound’s bite.

Here are a few cases reported of great horned owls attacking humans: 

  1. In 2000, a great horned owl attacked a woman named Rebecca in her backyard in North Texas, while she was adding food to her bird feeders.
  2. In 2012, a great horned owl swooped down and attacked several passersby in Seattle Park residence. The attacks resulted in a cyclist getting deep head injuries.
  3. In 2015, a great horned owl repeatedly attacked the scalp of a jogger causing injuries to his head in Salem, Oregon.

In contrast to great horned owls that live throughout the Americas, the barred owls are limited to the Northern regions of Carolina, Texas, and British Columbia.

The barred owls typically grow to about 1-1.5 feet in height and weigh about 0.6-1kg.

These birds boast a wingspan of 1.5m in width.

  1. In 2016, Barred Owls were reported to attack several hikers in Bush Pasture Park at State Capitol.
  2. In 2017, the barred owls were suspected to be attacking backyard birds in Alberta. 

However, the barred owls are most famous for their involvement in the Kathleen Peterson Case.

Here is how the case went on:

In 2003, Michael Peterson – An American Novel Writer in North Carolina was convicted for murdering her wife while using fireplace blow poke.

In 2011, the evidence for murder weapon was declared invalid. 

The lawyer presented a theory that Kathleen was under the influence of alcohol and valium when she got her hair entangled in a barred owl.

The owl caused injuries to her head.

When she went upstairs, she slipped and broke her neck, thereby, dying by sheer accident.

In 2017, Micheal pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter and finally got out of prison.

That said, other owls can also attack humans and such attacks are increasing. 

However, the increase in these attacks may be attributed to human activity that is destroying natural habitats.

Before I finish off, here’s some interesting articles about owls which I’m sure you’d love to read

Are owls intelligent?

Do eagles eat owls?

Do hawks eat owls?

Are crows afraid of owls?

Has An Owl Ever Killed a Human?

There are no confirmed reports

Here’s the thing though

There have been reports of an owl killing a human but it’s not been verified or anything

There was an actual report of an owl killing a woman

But this never made it to court so we are not 100% sure if this was true

We do however know, an owl can kill a human if it wanted to

Wrapping Up 

Generally, owls are not friendly to humans though, they can be raised as somewhat affectionate pets.

Regardless, if an owl feels threatened it will attack humans, both day and at night.

There is no telling when an owl will attack.

But you can lower your risk of getting attacked by following a few precautions.

But even the most deadly owls may be unable to cause human death. 

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