Runners' New Worst Nightmare: Owls

A series of attacks make runners wonder—could I be next?

As if athletes don't already have enough to worry about -- otters attacking triathletes, raccoons charging runners -- now owls are getting into the act.  Earlier this month, two runners on opposite sides of North America came face-to-face with the not-so-adorable side of these big angry birds.

The first victim, a female jogger in Vancouver, BC, sensed that a winged beast was inches from her hair too late.  Mindy Dick of the Ladner-based Orphaned Wild-life Rehabilitation Society said these sorts of attacks are actually fairly common, and guesses that the owl may have mistook the victim's swishing ponytail for a (very tall) squirrel. Female joggers in the area are being encouraged to wear hats for protection, though the effectiveness of this tactic is TBD.

The next incident occurred in Bethesda, MD, when Peter J. Grace left his house for his daily morning run. A firm blow to the head prompted Grace to send a warning email to fellow local runners when he got home. Still, he wrote it off as a freak mistake...until the next morning. This time, the owl swooped down—talons out—not once, not twice, but three times. That's when yet another, independent expert, Rob Bierregaard of the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, reiterated that these attacks "are not uncommon" in an interview with The Washington Post. But instead of the squirrel theory, Bierregaard points to owls' territorial behavior as a likely reason for the seemingly unprompted attack.

Hat tip to Runner's World, which first pointed out this trend and did a hilarious job writing it up.