Owls on the prowl

It was interesting to read of the owl attack in your Urban Jungle column [“Serial assault on Glen Cove Parkway,” Sept. 18]. I, too, experienced an early-morning barred owl attack. The incident happened while I was running along the 1800 block of North Portal Drive in northwest at about 5:15 a.m.

I had been attacked by a bird previously, on a trail in Rock Creek Park just after dawn, so I was familiar with the feeling of bird claws raking my head. It feels like a kitten has been set on your head, claws out: There’s a light pressure and a mildly sharp prickle.

On Aug. 30, I was running alone when a bird came from behind and clawed my head. I turned and saw a barred owl sitting on a phone line right above me. I assumed that the bird thought I was prey. I got a really good look at it: It just sat there, which I thought was odd. I expected it to be shy.

I turned my back and started to run again. A second later, the animal hit me again. I was wearing a headlamp, and there’s a scratch on the battery case now that I’ll blame on the bird, although I can’t be sure. It flew into the lower branches of a tree by the sidewalk on the other side of the street. We stared at each other. I walked past the tree and found it looking at me from the other side.

I walked backward down the street. The owl flew straight at me, wings and talons outstretched. It looked just like a nature program when the owl is about to hit its prey, except it wasn’t in slow motion and it was coming at me. I waved my arms and hissed, and he turned and landed on the wires again. He watched me as I backed down the street.

Peter J. Grace, left, and suspect, right. A barred owl attacked early morning jogger, Grace, in Bethesda on two consecutive mornings. (Patterson Clark/The Washington Post/Montgomery County Road Runners Club)

I reported the attack to Ken Ferebee, natural resource management specialist at Rock Creek National Park. He contacted David Johnson, director of the Global Owl Project, an owl conservation group. Mr. Johnson suggested that the attacker was probably a juvenile barred owl that had been “rescued” before it could fly by someone who didn’t know what he or she was doing.

Mr. Johnson said that sometimes people, believing young owls have been abandoned, take them home. When these owls become too much to handle, they set them loose in the woods. However, these birds don’t have sufficient hunting skills and, because of the rescue attempt, think of humans as a source of food.

The owl that attacked me likely was starving and in a few weeks, Mr. Johnson said, would probably die.

My kids feel compelled to rescue critters, and were I to find a young owl that couldn’t fly, I would assume it was orphaned and should be rescued by someone licensed to do so. But now we’ve learned that any intervention may be the wrong thing to do.

Stuart Kern, Silver Spring