Beware the owls of August

Photo of one of the suspected trouble makers by Rich Meagher

Photo of one of the suspected trouble makers by Rich Meagher

Over the past weeks we’ve spotted several owls around the 5200 block of King William. Turns out that they are barred owls. These barred owls however have a bad attitude towards folks jogging near them (who doesn’t really?) on Devonshire and have been buzzing the runners and a few others for good measure. I thought it was just an isolated incident but here are just a few of the reports I’ve gathered from the Westover Hills & Forest Hill Facebook Groups.

  • He buzzed my head 2x last week, and got my ponytail this morning. Apologies to anyone on Devonshire who was disturbed around 5:45a to the sound of shrieking girls. - Amanda
  •  I was running at 6:30 am about 2 weeks ago in the 5200 block of Devonshire and one attacked my ponytail and almost knocked me over! Scared the heck out of me! No broken skin but freaked me out. Wearing a hat when I run now.  - Rebecca
  • Anyone had a run-in with by one of these guys recently? P.j. has been attacked twice in the past week on her early morning run! Peterborough area. – David
  • Now know of 7 individual hits on runners! – David
  • I recently posted about an owl attacking me Tuesday evening while jogging the trails in Forest Hill.  Below is a pic from my post showing the light scrape from the talons. – Tommy
Screen Shot 2013-08-29 at 9.45.19 AM

Mitchell on the Westover Hills group pointed us in the direction of When barred owls attack from last year in the Washington Post of a similar incident.  Rob Bierregaard of the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, makes a living study barred owls sharing space in the suburbs says that usually attacks are from adults protecting a young owl that has fallen from a tree. The problem with this theory is that by the fall young owls are already on their own. He does have another theory but I think it actually might be scarier than mom and dad being protective. It’s jr. just playing.

“Barred owls are so used to humans that they’ve pretty much lost all fear of them. But I can’t stretch that to explain why an owl would pop a jogger on the back of the head,” he says. “Using Sherlock’s strategy that after you’ve eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be true, the only thing I can come up with is these are playful young.” (Ever see the YouTube video of the young barn owl playing with a cat?)

I want to help keep my neighbors safe so I propose the following solution. It worked for the Yanks in 1914 it should work for H&H in 2013.




  1. #1 • Billy •

    It got me Sunday night near the corner of New Kent and Peterborough and Tuesday night near the corner of Cedar Lane and Devonshire. On Tuesday, it clawed the top of my head and quickly swooped up in the tree canopy.

  2. #2 • Chelsy •

    We had one living in our back yard late fall/winter last year and it would stay on our deck most of the time. It freaked us out because it didn’t move when we walked by. I learned to not be afrai of it but after hearing this, I’ll definitely wear a hat in the yard!

  3. #3 • Travis Shaw •

    I had one of these clip me while riding the MTB trails in FHP last year. He hit my helmet with his talons and scared the $#@% outta me.

  4. #4 • Kelly Avellino •

    Hey all! Kelly Avellino from NBC12 here. I’d love to do a story on these fiesty owls. Is anyone willing to chat with me? I’ve very mobile…i can meet you anywhere for five minutes!


    Kelly Avellino

  5. #5 • Tracy •

    There’s a pair of them that came after me on King William yesterday morning (530 AM). They came after y wife 2 weeks ago.

  6. #6 • Lisa •

    They’ve lived in my yard off and on (King William) ever since I’ve lived in WH. There were two adults and four babies. The babies are often larger than the adults, and fluffier. They also tend to get closer to humans than the adults. They make a high pitched “zzzzzzzzzZZZZZZ” right at me sometimes. They sit on my deck chairs, which I find hilarious.

  7. #7 • Tracy •

    I just spoke with a guy at the USDA who said they can remove the owls for a fee. He requested that someone from the neighborhood association call him. 804-739-7739

  8. #8 • Lesley •

    I don’t want them removed. I love them and missed them when they were non present for a few years.

  9. #9 • anne •

    All I can think of is Futurama….”We’re owl exterminators!”

  10. #10 • Erik •

    Please leave the owls be and do not call someone to remove them. If that area is problematic, then avoid it on your morning run.

  11. #11 • Ana Lindsey •

    Wow. I thought I was the only one to be bombed by an owl. It’s both comforting and disturbing to realize it’s a trend. This happened about a month ago, while I was running through FHP in the evening around 9pm. I had just reflected that it probably wasn’t a wise idea for a petite female to be running alone so late at night when something grabbed my ponytail from behind. I screamed bloody murder and jumped around only to see an owl flying away.

  12. #12 • Tracy •

    They need to go if they can’t behave. They could easily cause major damage to someone’s eyes.

  13. #13 • Jen •

    As it was mentioned they are likely protecting their nest or young. Please keep in mind that they are protected by Federal Law (Migratory Bird Act) and that the bird/nest cannot be removed, harassed or destroyed. If the attacks continue the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries recommended calling the USDA which is the local federal agency that could help.

  14. #14 • Jennifer C. •

    I miss our owls – for years, we had a nesting pair, who used to make the most godawful noises. When they stopped hanging around, I stopped getting tomatoes out of my garden. Stupid squirrels.

  15. #15 • Jennifer C. •

    Also, +1 for the logo helmet :)

  16. #16 • Jeff Thomas •

    I had an owl approach me in Forest Hill park this week. At first he asked what time it was, and I was happy to tell him. He nodded, said thanks, and kept on walking. He made no threatening moves, but he kept looking back at me every time I looked at him. It made me feel very uncomfortable, and I feel there was some deliberate intimidation involved.

  17. #17 • paul hammond •

    love the helmet

  18. #18 • schlep •

    Jog somewhere else! ‘Remove the owls’ – they’ve as much a right to the earth as you, precious.

  19. #19 • Lisa •

    Sorry guys – what you’ve actually experienced is alien adbuction.

  20. #20 • Lisa •

    Also – while I was being silly about the aliens, I had to come back and be serious here. Please don’t have the owls removed. Could you try wearing hats or being a little more alert when you go outside? The woods around the neighborhood were their home before people moved in, you know.

  21. #21 • AreaMan •

    Perhaps “they need to go if they can’t behave” is precisely what the owls are thinking about you, Tracy.

  22. #22 • Angela •

    Yep, if they can’t behave get ‘em out of there. I mean, who wants wildlife in our parks anyway? Ain’t got time for misbehaving owls, trying to protect their young.

  23. #23 • Angela •

    In all seriousness, maybe we just need warning signs for the areas they frequent and more timid runners or those who are hatless (or helmetless?) or in the company of small dogs/children could avoid the area. Sounds like interesting behavior to me. Great project for a VCU grad student perhaps…

  24. #24 • Jeff Thomas •

    I think if these malcontent owls refuse to comply with our behavior and safety standards, we should level the area, pave it over, and encourage our developers to build a walkable shopping center with a Panera Bread a Trader Joe’s, and an Old Navy.

  25. #25 • AP •

    I suggest those of us who DON’T want the owls removed call the number above and state as much…but people in the neighborhood association (read, with money) will call and probably be successful in having the owls removed. However, can they do so in a public park, based on the request of neighbors or would someone from the park have to do it? I certainly hope they can’t just go into a public park and remove wildlife. I hope a better solution can be found.

  26. #26 • Foust •

    The good news is that now we can find out how many licks it takes to get to the Tootsie Roll center of a Tootsie Pop.

  27. #27 • Stuffa •

    Leave them be, run or walk a different route, and spread the word to others
    Owls eliminate vermin from our environment, and so are doing us all a favor by keeping mouse and rat populations in check, which in turn can be useful in slowing the spread of diseases such as Lyme disease.

  28. #28 • Stuffa •

    For future reference, please contact the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (DGIF), for information and advice about wildlife: the agency has wildlife biologists on staff who are great sources of information and advice.
    They also have a fantastic website, the Virginia Fish and Wildlife Information System, which contains a wealth of information about VA wildlife:

  29. #29 • Lisa •

    @AP, I would venture a guess that MOST of the people in the Westover Hills Neighborhood Association would NOT support removal of the owls. One of the distinguishing features of our gorgeous neighborhood is the wildlife. There will be other solutions to this besides eradication.

  30. #30 • Melanie •

    Y’all…owls are an important part of the Eco-system. Barred Owls, in particular, hunt in the daytime as well as at night. You think the squirrels and voles are bad NOW…

    I’m loving the helmet!

  31. #31 • Laura •

    I’ve run through these various and assorted areas many times. I always bring Chuck Norris. Seriously though, leave the owls alone. If you’re getting attacked, you’re not running fast enough, slacker.

  32. #32 • M. •

    You’ve got to be kidding me!? Remove the owls!!?? In order to sleep better tonight (and not have nightmares about the decay of the entire human race) I’m going to pretend that this person has a very dry, sarcastic sense of humor that doesn’t come across well in text…

  33. #33 • Mary •

    For those of you open to this idea- just maybe-

    When we connect with the owl in its own environment, and according to its way of life, it helps in deciphering the messages the owl has for us. Why? Because owls and all creatures ofthe animal realm are pure energy, and they come from a place of wholeness. As such, they communicate in a unified voice. They speak in the language of the trees, the wind, the moon, the sky, etc. Learning the owl’s habitat is a great way to learn her language, and more clearly understand her voice when she chortles in our spiritual ears.

    It should be clear that the owl was honored as the keeper of spirits who had passed from one plane to another. Often myth indicates the owl accompanying a spirit to the underworld – winging it’s newly freed soul from the physical world into the realm of spirit.

    Being aware of the owl’s symbolic meanings is a good way to connect with this fascinating creatures, and also become more in-tune with the owl’s wisdom.

  34. #34 • Terri •

    Love the helmet/hat and will enjoy seeing all the hills and heights folk wearing them as they go about their daily business. I think we should all find some and wear to the next music in the park. Show those owls we will not be daunted by their bullying ;-) And please do not try to remove them from our lovely foresty ‘hood.

  35. #35 • Scott •

    I’ll chime in a concur with all those who say leave the owls be…this was their home before we moved into the neighborhood.

  36. #36 • Jennifer C. •

    People need to start running in ghillie suits.

  37. #37 • Tracy •

    Areaman, I’m not behaving simply by jogging on the street? The bottom line is, they’re not protecting a nest over a 4 block area. And someone is going to get hurt badly if one of those owls gets a talon in someone’s face instead is the back of their head. Do I think every one of them should be removed, no. But those that feel the need to claw at my head, yes. Maybe those of you that say not to remove them would change your minds if you get a gash in your skull

  38. #38 • Suzanne Hall •

    By comparison, we go off easy yesterday at VMFA. A bat got in somehow and was fluttering around the Batman banner (really!) and up in the Atrium ceiling. Security immediately closed all doors to the galleries. Fortunately, they were able to capture the bat, wrap it in a soft towel and take it outside.

  39. #39 • Stuffa •

    Tracy, have you considered the simple expedient of just jogging elsewhere? Based on the information available regarding thses reported ‘attacks’, it seems apparent that the owls are targeting joggers/runners, but not walkers.
    It is a no-cost solution to a temporary problem, rather than the high-cost, likely death sentence for the owls that you are suggesting. Yes, death sentence, given the fact that most animal ‘removals’ result in the euthanization of the animal (per VA law.)

    The family of owls will disperse soon enough, as the youngsters fly off to establish their own territories.

  40. #40 • Lisa •

    Tracy, there are lots of lofts and condos downtown, now. Maybe the city environment is more your style? Probably less owls, at least. I’m worried about you; you shouldn’t be living near a park, near trees, or by the river due to the presence of nature.

  41. #41 • Stuffa •

    I prefer to be intellectually curious about, and observant of, the fascinating behavior of a highly evolved opportunistic predator that has its own place in the complex ecosystem that we call ‘the neighborhood.’

  42. #42 • MarkH •

    Can’t we just build a giant net to keep those pesky birds away from the street? Or maybe put some little gloves on the owls so their talons aren’t so destructive?

  43. #43 • Tracy •

    Kinda hard to jog elsewhere when it’s outside your front door. Has anyone advocating for the owls actually had one come after them? If it is a simple matter of running elsewhere while they finished with whatever they’re doing, then fine. The guy I talked to yesterday at the USDA didn’t think that was the case.

  44. #44 • Tracy •

    And it’s obvious I’m on an island about this, so I’ll let the matter drop. Hopefully they’ll finish having fun with me and other joggers , or the young won’t need protecting or whatever they’re doing, and no one gets more than a scratch from them.

  45. #45 • Stuffa •

    Tracy, can you not walk two or three blocks away from your house before starting your jog? And then end your run a couple of blocks from home and walk back to your door?

  46. #46 • Tom •

    Having the Owls “removed” is highly unadvisable. Barred owls eat a variety of large insects that reak havoc on our gardens and they also hunt rats and other small rodents that you don’t want in your neighborhood. We had a nest in our backyard a couple of years ago and we had no problems. They would perch on the porch roof but didn’t bother us. Now that you know the owls are present, you should keep alert, especially in the early morning and at dusk.

  47. #47 • Robin •

    Removing the owls is not needed. This was just an anomaly of the mother owl getting fearful and trying to protect her owl babies most likely. We had Barred owls nesting in our yard and there were no problems at all. Once we knew they were there we just tried to give them space so they wouldn’t get scared. Tom is right, they are great to have around and wildlife is one of the main things that attracted me to the Hills and Heights area, as I’m sure many others would agree.

  48. #48 • Rich •

  49. #49 • Rich •

  50. #50 • Jennifer C. •

    I really feel this one needs recognition…

  51. #51 • MH •

    Jennifer c, hilarious!

  52. #52 • Mary •

    @Stuffa That is fantastic, continue your intellectual curiosity.

  53. #53 • Stuffa •

    I certainly will: I find it to be much a more effective than belief in fairytales or engaging in willful ignorance. :o)

  54. #54 • ST •

    I was walking my dog on Sunday night near the corner of Cedar and Devonshire. An owl swooped down into a yard right where we were standing. My dog went crazy barking! The owl flew past us and landed on a branch above our heads. I could see from the street lamp that he was watching us! Scared me! Needless to say, we high tailed it out of there. I had not seen anything posted about the owl attacks. Found out last night at a neighborhood cookout after I mentioned what had happened. Thank goodness it left us alone!

  55. Pingback: Wanted for Fowl Crimes ‹ Hills and Heights

  56. #55 • Kelly •

    I got hit on Belle Isle in novemeber at 8:30 AM, swooped 3x at me. Broke a little skin… but scared me to death

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