Found on RunnersWorld.com and written by Liam Boylan-Pett
The barred owl usually hunts small mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles and invertebrates. But lately, the owls in Salem, Oregon, have been targeting a different breed: runners. In the past month, there have been four reported owl attacks on runners in the city’s Bush’s Pasture Park.
Barred owls, on average, are about 21 inches tall with a wingspan of 43 inches and weigh anywhere from 1 to 2 pounds. During mating and nesting season—which lasts from January to April—they can be aggressive and territorial. Their attacks on Salem’s runners have all come from behind during dawn and dusk.
So far, no injury has been serious—small cuts and scrapes have been the worst of the attacks. Keith Keever of Salem’s Parks Operations Division says the owl isn’t likely to come after a runner once it has swooped in and pecked once. “It doesn’t go after you again,” he says. But the attacks keep occurring.
As a town’s runners are tormented by owl attacks, here’s a rundown of what we know so far:
January 13: Attack No. 1
Just as he does most Tuesday mornings, Ron Jaecks was out for run in Bush’s Pasture Park. All of a sudden, there was sharp pain in his head. He told the Statesman Journal, the pain “was like a huge electric shock ran through my body, but also like I got hit in the head with a two-by-four all at the same time.” He thought he was being attacked, so he ran around the park screaming, hoping someone would come to help. Then he felt a strike at his head again. This time he looked up to see the assailant: It had wings.
January 26: Attack No. 2
An unidentified victim was the second runner to be targeted by an owl. After the attack, the park was closed at the recommendation of some Audubon experts. But the closure was brief. Signs warning of owls during nesting season were placed around the park alerting citizens of possible attacks. “The signs are there to alert people that during the hazy hours (dusk and dawn) that they need to be really careful,” Keever told the Statesman Journal.
January 28: Attack No. 3
The warning signs didn’t work. Jason Radke thought an overhanging branch hit his head when he was out for an evening run. Turns out, the barred owl had struck again. Radke described his injuries as scrapes, but the owl did draw some blood.
February 5: Attack No. 4
Brian Hilliard was jogging through Bush’s Pasture Park when he felt a scrape and turned around to realize his hat was gone, too. When he saw the warning signs scattered throughout the park, he realized an owl had taken his hat.
Keever suggests staying clear of the park during dawn and dusk—right now around the hours of 5 to 6:30 a.m. and 4:30 to 6:30 p.m.The owls aren’t active during daylight, so runners should be safe then.
He says it’s hard to know an owl is near, especially in the dark. “Being aware of the bird doesn’t help because they’re silent,” he says. The Audubon Society of Salem has told Keever that the nesting or mating season should be over by the time April rolls around—and the area should be clear of rogue owls.
If an owl does claw at you, Keever asks that you report it. The more his team knows about the attacks, including the location, the more the parks department can help.
They are still in the discovery process. Keever says that it’s unclear whether this is one renegade owl or a nesting pair. “We’re pretty sure this is brand new,” he says. “It’s an owl that’s moved in fairly recently.”
If you must go running during these hours, he jokes that a hard hat might be the best bet to protect yourself from the diving owls.
Keever has one more suggestion for area runners: Jog in a different park. “There’s plenty of other places to run in Salem,” he says.