Friday, January 17, 2014

Owl Attack

The hot news story around our neighborhood last week was the Attack of the Great Horned Owl!  This avian predator began landing on neighbors' heads rather randomly, although never causing damage.  This is a significant fact because an owl on an attack mission could easily create the need for stitches.  The great horned owl pictured above was on light poles in the neighborhood, doing its best Batman imitation.

The first thought was that it might have a nest in the area and was protecting it, but the area of the "attacks" was over the entire neighborhood, a span of at least 5 full blocks.  So far there was no harm, more of a blocking foul rather than a flagrant foul.  Still there was the possibility of hurting someone or their pet cat or chihuahua.  Because of this, James Dixon of MDC and the US Fish and Wildlife agency became involved.

It is likely that the owl was just looking for a little human companionship and food.  Dixon suggests that it had been raised by humans and was used to getting fed.  Once released, the owl did what you might expect of a fed bear or other wildlife, head for the nearest convenient and customary food  There was a rumor that a neighbor actually had raised a pet owl.  According to James Dixon:
“When we got those feet secure this guy was pretty tame,” he said. “We suspect it was hand-raised and let go. We obtained some anecdotal information that someone in the neighborhood had found a baby owl and fed it by hand. It had become accustomed to humans and associated people with food. That’s a big no-no.”
Once this occurs regularly, the only answers are "live with it" or relocate the animal.  The choices are a zoo or wildlife center or releasing it into a wild area.  After trapping it, the Fish and Wildlife Service elected to release it in a remote area around Stockton Lake.  I am betting that lake houses and marinas are in for an interesting time.  Once habituated to human feeding, it is unlikely to learn the hunting skills it needs.

"Schub" with an innocent great horned owl on the right - Wes Johnson/ News-Leader
The capture of the owl is described in this News-Leader article.  Coincidentally, this occurred around the time for the Owl Prowl at the Springfield Conservation Nature Center.  Our own "Schub" (Sue Schuble) led the session with face time of some of our favorite feathered predators. 

While this was more serious for some of our neighbors, it was a source of amusement in Los Angeles where Jimmy Kimmel incorporated it in a prank seen here on Youtube.

MDC has a lot of information on owls in general at this site.

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