I’ve heard stories about attacks on people by owls, but they are few and far between. They happen usually because someone got too close to an owl nest or a domesticated owl got angry with its owner. And “attack” is often too strong a word to describe the bird’s actions. There’s a video labeled “owl attack” which shows how the videographer got way too close to the owl before the owl lashed out in fright and then flew off. And then there is the video “owl attacks best man after delivering wedding ring.” Watch the video and you’ll see a frightened captive owl just fly around and land on someone. Another video shows a Burrowing Owl (a small owl) chase after a large dog, but never touches it. The video is labeled “owl attacks dog.”
If you watched Netfix’s The Staircase, about Michael Peterson, accused of killing his wife, one of the sidelights of the story is a neighbor who posited that an owl killed the woman. It was a ridiculous assertion, but a number of people apparently think it is plausible.
I get regular inquiries from readers who ask if their Chihuahua or yorkie or kitten is safe in the backyard with owls or hawks in the area. The simple answer is most likely yes. Now I know there are situations where small pets have been taken by raptors, but it’s rare. A hawk or owl is not prone to snatch a small dog or cat from someone’s property; raptors don’t generally hunt backyards. Now, it has happened, but consider the circumstances. One episode was at night and the dogs were small and alone. Another owl swooped down over small dogs in Georgia when they came near the owl’s nest. (The dog owner said “the owl was several feet tall”. The largest owl in Georgia is the Great Horned Owl that stands two feet tall and might weigh three pounds.) In actuality owl attacks are rare.
And then there is the “hawk attacking dog” video that shows jesses (leather straps) on the legs of the hawk, demonstrating that it was a trained and domesticated hawk. And one of the funniest is the “hawks attack dog” video that shows crows or ravens swooping down on a dog (as they would a predator), the dog chasing after the birds after each swoop.
Why are people so overly concerned about owl or hawk attacks? About 200 people per year die of animal attacks in the U.S., almost all due to farm animals (horses and cows), insects (bees and wasps), and dogs. Even the biggest birds are a miniscule threat. I am not aware of any fatal attacks by a bird in the U.S.
I surfed a number of videos and it appears that many incidents labeled as owl or hawk attack are simply the result of a bird swooping down to scare away the dog which it perceives as a predator. They are not trying to eat the dog or cat. As wild creatures allowed to exist without our interference, hawks, owls, and eagles are of very little threat. But watch out for your neighbor’s pit bull.