Do Owls Attack Humans? If So Why? 🦉 (Answered)

Generally – owls don’t attack humans. However, where there’s overlap in habitat or extra pressures (such as when nesting) owls have been known to attack humans.

Generally – owls don’t attack humans. However, where there’s overlap in habitat or extra pressures (such as when nesting) owls have been known to attack humans.

Why Do Owls Attack Humans?

In an ideal world – owls would never attack humans. They are awake at different times to us and their ideal habitat isn’t an urban one. They hunt in total silence too – so any place humans are moving around, driving, or camping isn’t where an owl wants to be.

However, sometimes one or more of these things isn’t as it should be and signals can be misread and limits of normal behavior breached. For example, a hungry owl finds itself in a town and gets confused by all the loud noises and bright lights. Easily done with any wild animal. And as we know – wild animals in the wrong place at the wrong time either run away or panic!

But the most common reason for an owl to attack a human is when the human accidently – or on purpose – approaches an active nest.

Owls will actively attack anything or anyone who approaches their nest and who they believe to be a threat. Who can blame them? However, as owls tend to attack the head and face of a would-be attacker – these humans can really come off severely injured.

Larger owls have the same ‘bite’ with their giant talons as a large dog has with its real bite. Up to 500psi (humans can grab with their hands at only 100psi) with razor-sharp inch-long claws can cause serious skin damage. And in more than one reported case – owls have taken out a human eye.

Do Owls Feet Get Tangled In Hair?

Northern hawk owl in its natural habutat

It is possible that if an owl attacked someone around the head – and they had long hair that was perhaps part-tied back – they could temporarily get their feet caught in the hair. It would have to be a really unfortunate series of events to come to that in the first place – but not impossible.

Generally, an owl would fly at a human so fast and snatch those feet at the head – before flying straight back off. Like a precision fly-by. They don’t fly at you to grab you and flail around still attached. It is a quick in-out action to ward you off – not carry you off. And as owl attacks happen so infrequently, this really is just a scare story.

Another (again – very rare) reason for these stories to come up would be if the owl wasn’t attacking you – but thinking you were a friend. A lot of owls are hand-reared by humans and then released – as a result, they don’t always then see humans as a threat. Sometimes they see them as ‘safe’ – or a place to get a great meal.

So, if a once-tame owl was flying at you – it might want to land on your shoulder or arm – in which case it may well seem as though it is ‘caught in your hair’. However, it has actually just sat down on you and has no intention of leaving – even if you start flailing your hair around.

Can Owls Carry Rabies?

No Owls can’t have rabies.

Rabies is a terrible viral disease that kills around 60,000 people each year – but is only passed to humans from mammals.

Birds, ergo owls, don’t carry it and so can’t pass it on to humans. Therefore, unless you accidentally disturbed a Great Horned Owl eating a rabid dog and got close to the dead dog itself – you are not going to catch rabies from an owl.

Even if an owl scratches or bites you – there should be almost 0% chance of you catching rabies from them. You could however get other dirt or disease into an open wound – so always rinse and clean the wound well in all instances.

Would An Owl Carry Off A Child?

Biologically, it is believed that most owls can’t lift anything that weighs more than themselves. Some animals can lift weights many, many, many times greater than themselves (like Rhinoceros beetles and leafcutter ants) – but not so for owls.

The largest owls in the world only weigh around 6.5lbs – lighter than the average newborn – so the smaller owls in the U.S most likely wouldn’t even get off the ground with a child.

However, the Great Horned Owl is a different matter. They are believed to be able to carry off heavier items if they are hungry – and these owls really do eat anything. Although they only weigh around 3.5lbs themselves – they have been known to carry off cats and dogs up to 20lbs in weight! They often feed on prey ranging from voles to jackrabbits and from snakes to skunks – so cats and small dogs aren’t viewed any differently. Unfortunately.