Owls are some of the most majestic birds of prey, and also one of the few types that have typically nocturnal hunting patterns. Owls rule the night, and may even prey upon other birds of prey when the sun goes down, although they usually subsist on rodents and other small mammals.
Owls are equipped with razor-sharp beaks, long, curved talons, and strong feet for carrying away processing prey.
Combined with their large eyes and steely expression, owls can be pretty intimidating! But are owls dangerous?
No. Owls are not typically dangerous to people, although they can inflict fairly serious wounds using their talons and beak if provoked or when defending their nest.
Generally speaking, the hoot or screech of a nearby owl is not cause for you to put on a helmet, although you should keep a close eye on small pets.
Unless you go out of your way to provoke an owl, it probably won’t have anything to do with you. Learn more about owl behavior in this article.
Understanding Owl Behavior
There are many species of owl, and they are found all around the world. In North America, the massive great horned owl, barred owl and barn owl are some of the most common.
Most species are nocturnal, though daytime flights and hunting are not entirely uncommon.
Owls exhibit an otherwise common pattern of behavior similar to most other birds of prey. If they are not hunting or provisioning their nest, they are building a nest in preparation for mating season or else tending to their eggs or chicks.
Interestingly, owl species adopt many variations in nesting behavior, with some nesting in the branches or hollows of trees, while others burrow into the ground or take up residence in the overhangs of cliff faces or even human structures.
Whatever their size, coloration, and habitat, all owls have a couple of things in common, namely their immense talons and razor-sharp beaks.
Are Owls Aggressive Toward Humans?
As a rule, no. However, owls might attack humans if they are directly threatened or if their nest is threatened.
Owls may also attack humans that try to disrupt their acquisition of prey, which means that owners of pets that have been targeted by an owl as food must be very careful when trying to save their furry friends.
Have Owls Ever Attacked Humans?
Yes. Owl attacks upon humans are very rare, but not completely unknown.
How Do Owls Attack?
Owls attacked by flogging, puncturing with their talons, biting with their beak, and pecking.
Depending upon the species, an owl may or may not give a threat display where it puffs itself up or raises its wings over its head as it dips forward in an effort to make itself look strange, large, and intimidating.
No worthy among even other birds of prey is the size and strength of an owl’s grip.
Although the smallest owls will have a hard time inflicting meaningful damage, larger owls have enough strength in their legs and feet that they can easily puncture human beings with their talons.
The short, sharply curved beak of an owl is also notable for its scissor-like action, meaning that a bite from an owl can easily cause a serious laceration.
What Causes Owl Aggression?
Owls will only very rarely attack a human without provocation. Attacks usually result when a human interrupts an owl that is trying to make a kill or approaches an owl that is incapable of flying away.
Also, directly threatening an owl’s nest, particularly if it has eggs or chicks in it, is a good way to get attacked.
Do Owls Eat People?
No. Owls do not eat people, even though they are carnivorous.
Are Owls Territorial?
Owls are not particularly territorial except as their own nests are concerned. Any human that draws too close to an owl nest, particularly if they’re trying to reach one that is situated up in a tree, may well be attacked.
How Strong is an Owl?
Owls are quite strong in proportion to their size and even compared to other birds of prey of similar size.
For instance, the largest owl in North America, the great horned owl, requires more than 90 foot pounds of pressure to release the grip of just one of its feet.
Considering how long and sharp its talons are, that means it will be piercing you just like a steak knife!
Although most birds are easy enough to control if you are able to manhandle them, that is a tall order if you are dealing with an aggressive owl, particularly during an attack in darkness.
What Should You Do if You See an Owl?
If you see an owl, any owl, the very best thing you can do is just to keep your distance from it.
Owls want nothing to do with people and are happy to leave you alone if you are not directly provoking them or drawing close to their nest.
What Should You Do if Attacked by an Owl?
If you are attacked by an owl, your best defense is probably going to escape. Cover your head, neck, and ears and withdrawal from the area. Once the owl is satisfied that you are retreating, it should leave you alone.
However, if you are dealing with a mindlessly aggressive owl that just will not leave you alone, you should fight back.
Most birds, even birds of prey, are easy enough to dispatch if you can strike them and you should try to use a tool like a branch or a club to fend off the owl without letting it come to grips with you.
Do Owls Carry Diseases People Can Catch?
No. owls are not thought to carry any serious diseases themselves that can be easily transmitted to people, though it should be pointed out that as carnivores they are routinely coming into contact with dead, raw flesh of various kinds.
Close contact with an owl could transmit a variety of bacteria, viruses, or parasites to you, especially if you are injured by its talons or beak.