Do Owls Attack Humans: [Why & What To Do]

Like many wild bird species, owls will do whatever is necessary to protect their young. There are 228 members of the Strigidae ‘typical owl’ family, according to the International Ornithological Congress (IOC). Another 20 members belong to the Tytonidae ‘barn owl’ family.

While all species of owls have characteristics that set them apart, they all share very similar behaviors. One such behavior is aggression, whether connected to territorial or fear of safety is questionable. This is especially true for adult owls. Do owls attack humans?

Owls do attack humans. Juvenile owls have reportedly attacked humans when building their “aerial attack” skills and playing. Young owls can also exhibit aggression when their parents stop feeding them. Adult owls force their young to develop independence at a specific age.

What To Do If An Owl Attacks You

Do Owls Attack Humans

It is crucial to have your owl attack recorded by the wildlife association. If the incident occurs inside on state or federal land, it should be reported accordingly. If it occurs in a specific park, such as the San Juan Island National Historical Park, make a report with the park service.

While it may not always be an option, it is in your best interest to record the attack. If you are successful in recording the attack, you can take your story to the media.

How To Avoid Owl Attacks

Most owl attacks occur out of nowhere. Victims are generally unaware and caught off guard. The attack could be contributed to adult territorial behavior or what juvenile owls believe is harmless behavior.

Experts recommend owl deterrence, such as umbrellas, headlamps, helmets, and hats with fictional black eyes. It is also recommended to predominant owl habitats and areas where owl attacks have occurred in the past.

If you are approached by an aggressive owl, it is crucial to deter an attack. The best deterrence is to show the owl you will do what is necessary to protect yourself, family members, and pets.

When the aggressive owl approaches, immediately begin waving your arms in front of your face and above your head. This will oftentimes deter the aggressive owl from attacking.

[Related Article: Do Owls Hunt And Eat Snakes?]

Do Not Show Fear

If you happen upon an owl nest, it is crucial to not overreact. Instead, you should try to monitor your situation without showing extreme fear. Do not try to run away because this will most likely get your nowhere.

Even if you are shaking in your pants or boots, it is crucial to hide your fear. As soon as the owl is detected, you can start preparing an escape plan. Wave your hands up and down in front of you and be brave.

Do Owls Always Attack When Threatened

Owls do not always attack when they are threatened. In these cases, the owl may fly away or stick around to monitor the situation.

[Related Article: An Owl That Sounds Like A Monkey?]

Which Owl Species Are Aggressive?

As mentioned previously, all owl species have unique behaviors and characteristics. It is not always necessary for humans to be aware of these qualities, but if you plan on spending any time in nature, this knowledge could be helpful.

You never know when you could be approaching an aggressive owl’s nest when outdoors. This knowledge will ensure you are prepared in the event you are approached by a specific owl species with an aggressive nature.

In the United States, owl attacks are more common between December and January. During this period, owls are preparing to nest.

Greater Sooty Owl

The greater sooty owl ‘Tyto tenebricosa’ is medium- to large in size, weighing between 750 and 1200 grams (1.65 to 2.65 pounds). This owl species is known for its adult territorial behavior.

The owl exhibits aggression toward other owl species when it believes its space is being invaded. There is no evidence that shows the greater sooty owls attacking humans.

Lesser Sooty Owl

The lesser sooty owl “Tyto multipunctata) originates from Australia, its natural habitat. The body measures 13 and 15 inches (33 and 37 centimeters), depending on the sex. Like other owl species, the lesser sooty owl will exhibit aggression when its safety is threatened.

Australian Masked Owl

The Australian masked owl (Tyto novaehollandiae) is a common barn owl. Its natural habitats are in Australia. The weight varies between 420 and 800 grams (0.9 and 1.76 pounds), depending on the sex.

The Australian masked are known for their territorial behaviors, especially during the breeding season. While the evidence is scant, there is enough to safely say the masked owl species have attacked humans on several occasions.

It is unclear if these attacks were related to the owl’s territorial behavior.

Horned Owls

Horned owls have reportedly attacked humans on several occasions. The reports have been connected to both adult and juvenile horned owls. This owl species is known for its camouflage coloring, large wingspan, strength, and large size.

From beak tip to tail tip, the adult horned owl measures between 18.1 and 24.8 inches (46 and 63 centimeters) in length.

The natural habitat for the horned owl is North and South America and the Arctic.

Multiple horned owl attacks have been reported throughout the state of Washington. Four particular attacks took place in the San Juan Island Historical Park.

All the victims reported the attacks to the park service, claiming they had been attacked near English Camp. The park service believed the attacks were contributed to juvenile horned owls. It is unclear whether the attacks were related to playing or skill-building exercises.

Juvenile horned owl attacks have also been linked to defensive fledging. Owls utilize their wings to remove themselves from harm. It is not unusual for an owl to fly from what it perceives as a threat.


Contrary to belief, owls do not attack humans to kill. In fact, there is not one bit of evidence to back up such a theory. However, it is no unusual for victims to perceive their attacks as such.

When owls attack a human or animal, they swiftly swoop down “dive-bombing” with their talons pointing toward the victim, head down, and wings spread wide. Some owls will utilize their wings as a defensive mechanism.

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