Washington-Area Runners See Uptick of Owl Attacks

A local man recalls the time an owl hit him not once, not twice, but five times while on a run.

In recent weeks, Washington-area residents have reported being attacked by owls while running through wooded areas. Photograph courtesy of Shutterstock.

Around this time last year, Terry Anderson laced up his running shoes and set out for his usual 13-mile run through Algonquin Regional Park. Everything was going smoothly until about eight miles in, when he suddenly felt what seemed like an electrical shock to the head.

“I spun around and thought maybe something like a stick fell on me,” he recalls. “But the second time it hit me, I could feel talons scraping my skull—it literally knocked me down.”

From the ground, Anderson looked up. His eyes fell on an owl perched above him on a branch. “I thought, ‘Well, shoot. I better get out of his territory,’” says Anderson. “So I yelled at it a bit and shook my fist.”

But that’s when Anderson’s story turned into something out of a Hitchcock movie. As he ran off, the owl followed, hitting him a third time on the back of the head. “That’s when I got really scared, because it hurt so much,” he says. He veered off the trail, hoping to lose the owl. But it continued to attack, flying toward Anderson at seemingly missile-like speed.

Anderson is just one of a few local runners who have experienced such odd and scary owl attacks while running along ostensibly safe areas. Silver Spring resident Stuart Kern told the Washington Post that an owl attacked him while running in Rock Creek Park as recently as August 30. “It feels like a kitten has been set on your head, claws out,” he told the paper. Another resident told WTOP in September that an owl dive-bombed her while she was running near Grubb Road in Silver Spring. 

As for Anderson, luckily some fishermen noticed him in distress and helped fight off the owl with their pole nets.

By that time, the sun had set, and Anderson was bleeding from his scrapes. He cut his 13-miler short and booked it home another three miles, too freaked out to finish.

Anderson never reported his attack to any park officials, and he still isn’t sure why the owl decided to prey on him. He had read that young owls who haven’t honed their hunting skills might mistake floppy hair for prey, but he says he had short hair at the time and was even running shirtless. In addition, the incident reports show that most of the runners have been attacked at dusk, when owl strikes are more common.

Anderson’s friends laughed it off when he recounted the attack, posting photos of owls on his Facebook wall and giving him owl trinkets as gag gifts. But as absurd as the owl dive-bombs sound, it’s no laughing matter for those who get attacked.

“Even to this day, if I’m running in the woods and a stick or leaf lands on my head, I want to hide in the bushes,” Anderson says.

He hasn’t been back to that trail since.