This week, the “angry owl of Oregon” has allegedly attacked its fourth victim. Brad Hilliard was jogging at 5:45 a.m. on Monday when something scratched his head and his favorite running hat disappeared. He kept running, and after a while saw signs warning runners of aggressive owls. It was then that he realized exactly what happened.
"It didn't get deep into me," he told the Statesman Journal. "It was almost like you touched the tip of the knife but you pulled away before it does any real damage."
Hillard was fortunate that the owl only took his hat. The winged mugger, identified as the invasive barred owl, has allegedly attacked at least three other runners in the area. One runner, Ron Jaecks of Salem, felt a talon scrape his scalp as the owl stole his stocking cap. The force of the owl left Mr. Jaecks thinking he was experiencing a more serious health issue until the bird struck again, this time identifiable.
Jordan Radke felt a “searing, intense scrape” on top of his head during an early evening run in January. Thinking it may have been an overhanging branch, he looked up to see a large bird. The owl swooped again, and Radke blocked it with his hands.
“When it happened a second time, I took off as fast as I could out of the park,” Radke told the Statesman Journal after the attack.
Do owls have a thing for hats?
Oregon wildlife officials are warning park visitors that owls can be aggressive and territorial, especially during mating and nesting season. David Craig, a biology professor and animal behavior specialist at Willamette University, said it is not that unusual for owls to defend their territory.
"When owls are nesting, they're really territorial,” Craig told the newspaper. "Great horned owls as well as barred owls often swoop down on people, but a very small percentage get clawed and attacked like that."
Keith Keever, with the Parks Operations Division, said the barred owl is not native to the area. Originally found in the eastern United States, barred owls were first seen on the West Coast in the 1970s and have been blamed for pushing out the endangered northern spotted owl. Keever is not exactly sure where this owl came from or whether it is acting alone.
"One person thought that there was a bird at one of the owl life refuges that maybe someone released, but to be released in the middle of Salem is not likely," Keever told the Statesman Journal. "It is suspected that it's a mating pair establishing in a new area."
The park has decided to stay open, and posted signs warning visitors of potential hits from above during the remainder of mating season, which is expected to last a few more weeks. In the meantime, Hilliard said he’ll be keeping an eye out for his favorite running hat.
“I’ll keep buzzing by there until it turns up,” he told the Associated Press. “I can’t imagine a bird or a person wanting a sweat-stained hat I’ve had for five years.”