Monday, November 15th 2021 started just like any other Monday for me: my alarm went off at the unfortunate hour of 4:30, I dragged myself out of bed, and put on my running shoes for a 7 mile run. I sleepily made my way through a dynamic warm up, crossed the street, and started my watch. I honestly love these early runs once I get going: it’s quiet, calm, and feels like the world is mine for a little while.
I headed toward Piedmont Park and the Beltline; it is a predictable, well-lit, and flat route, perfect for my groggy Monday morning runs. I ran along the path adjacent to the Botanical Gardens, mind already drifting to the day and week ahead and legs on autopilot. Suddenly, I felt something sharp hit my neck, and then an aggressive whirring sound. My head whipped around, fists drawn before fear could even settle over my body. There was nothing there. I heard a slight rustle and turned my head again, this time to see a large, angry owl making a sharp turn toward me. There was a fierceness in its eyes as I ducked, this time it missed my head and flew into a tree. I stood there a moment, rather confused and in disbelief that I just got attacked by an owl. I turned my back to the owl to continue on my merry way, and it left it’s branch to dive-bomb me again. I covered my head and dodged the bird with spastic movements not unlike that of a squirrel trying trying to cross a busy street. This time I did not wait until it got back to it’s branch, and sprinted off as the owl was flying in the other direction.
According to my Garmin data, I fled at a pace of 5:00/mile and my heart rate increased from 144 to 162. As I continued to run, my neck stung with the wrath of the talon’s scratch, and I imagined a trio of scratches across my neck and shoulder. Weird things always happen in the month leading up to a marathon, but an owl attack? Really?
Then I thought, maybe this is a Spider-man type situation and I would gain some owl-like characteristics that could be of good use in the upcoming race. However, as I finished up my run, worried thoughts began to fill my mind-- everything from if owls carried rabies or if I would somehow contract some owl-dwelling flu that would worsen the pandemic. Needless to say, I had lots of things I needed to Google when I got home.
I checked my neck in the bathroom mirror before jumping in the shower, and there was a single inch-long scratch of medium depth behind my ear. I was expecting some sort of wolverine-like gash, so this was both relieving and anticlimactic.
At work I told all of my patients the story, feeling very obligated to spread awareness about owl attacks. We even considered a fun run “for the cure”, a-la The Office’s “Michael Scott’s Dunder Mifflin Scranton Meredith Palmer Memorial Celebrity Rabies Awareness Pro Am Fun Run Race For the Cure” (just kidding, but that would have been hilarious).
The scratch healed without complication, and all has been well in my world since. However, I’ve done some extensive research on owl behavior, and would like to share it with all of you, should you find yourself with an unfriendly bird sighting on the run.
I watched a YouTube video about owls as predators, and of course the first line of the narration was “It’s her stealth, not her speed, that makes her lethal.”. I didn’t have headphones in and didn’t know anything was happening until I felt something sharp on my neck. Apparently owls have soft feathers that break wind well and don’t rustle when they fly through the air. Sneaky.
A ponytail, bun, or beanie pom can look like prey to an owl, so “Long hair, don’t care” may not be the best and safest strategy for you. My bun probably looked like the most delicious rat in all of Piedmont Park, judging how persistent my attacker was. One article I read suggested that you make yourself look “big” by waving your arms and look “As human as possible”. I’m so grateful for this experience, because how would I ever know that I so closely resemble a rodent?
Owl talons cannot transmit rabies. Rabies is a disease that can only be carried and spread by mammals, thus owls and their avian cousins don’t carry it. Just as with any wound, keeping it clean and remaining vigilant for any excessive redness, warmth, or discoloration that may indicate infection.
I sincerely hope you don’t have an owl encounter of your own, as I can attest that it is a jarring experience. Stay safe out there, and be aware of your surroundings.
Keep going, you got this!
Dr. Kacy Seynders, PT, DPT
PS: I walked my dog near the crime scene of the atack, and spotted what I think is the exact owl, smugly sitting on her branch. I looked my attacker in the eyes, and even dared to snap a picture. I know it was thinking, as its large eyes met mine, “There’s that heavy rat from the other day. I’m still angry about missing that breakfast.” I'm told by my extensive literature review and Google Image research that this is a "Barred Owl".