04 Apr 2018

“If You Go Out to the Woods Tonight…”

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Boston Globe:

Something attacked my son while he was sledding in the woods. But what?

My child went sledding alone and emerged from the trees bloody and dazed. He still can’t remember what happened. …

The doctors’ conclusion, shared with us the next day, is that Beckett was attacked by a large bird of prey, probably a great horned owl. He likely encroached, unknowingly, on the bird’s nest and was blindsided with such force that he was knocked unconscious. The image of our son alone, face down in the snow, is haunting. We wonder what might have happened if he hadn’t managed to stagger to his feet and find his way home.

DO A LITTLE GOOGLING and you’ll discover that violent attacks of this sort aren’t common, but they do happen, usually in places where raptors and humans are forced to coexist, such as ski areas, golf courses, and suburban parks. Some victims compare the blitzkrieg to being hit in the head with a baseball bat.

The Fells includes hiking trails, meadows, and reservoirs, and over the years, we’ve encountered a lot of wildlife, including deer, foxes, coyotes, turkeys, hawks, and, once or twice, an owl with tufted ears and a storybook scowl, perched in a tree.

Andrew Vitz, the state ornithologist, tells me the Fells is home to raptors, including several types of hawks. But because hawks nest in the late spring and summer, they typically don’t behave aggressively in winter. If they do strike, Vitz says, hawks don’t inflict the sort of damage that was done to Beckett.

But great horned owls, which also reside in the Fells, are another matter. They nest in the winter and they’re bigger, more powerful birds, weighing about 4 pounds and capable of flying 40 miles per hour. Great horned owls are notorious for their stealth and strength. They strike without warning — their feathers are adapted to minimize noise during flight — and their long, needle-sharp talons can apply sufficient pressure to snap the spine of their prey.

“The great horned owl is a large, very strong bird, and when it strikes, it’s almost always at the head,” Vitz tells me. “What happened to your son is consistent with an owl attack.”

HT: Althouse via Bird Dog.

4 Feedbacks on "“If You Go Out to the Woods Tonight…”"


I have a picture of a great horned owl attacking a deer – it’s a trail cam pic. That’s one deer who is going to be afraid of owls for the rest of his life! Here we are: https://retrieverman.files.wordpress.com/2015/12/owl-attacks-deer.jpg?w=500 .

Dick the Butcher

We live in a Nassau County village on the Queens, NYC border abutting the Belmont Race Track property.

We had (I haven’t seen them yet this year) a family of Great Horned Owls in residence. The first time I saw one was walking the dog on a snowbound Sunday night.

I heard the hoots and thought someone has a recording. As we walked by a large pine tree, the big bird ghosted on powerful wings to a leafless tree in the school yard; and sat there looking at us. It was a very impressive animal.

The thought the owl was scoping out the dog had not occurred to me.


Nailed one with my car once. It was going in after something in the road — a raccoon, I think. Raccoon was lucky — I didn’t hit him, and I saved him from the owl. Did some damage to my car, but it flew off. I didn’t get out of my car until I got to a well let parking lot.

JK Brown

This was just the old “You kids stay out of my yard”.


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