The first blow always comes out of the sky behind you. ”It was like a huge electric shock ran through my body,” described one victim, “but also like I got hit in the head with a two-by-four all at the same time.” More fortunate victims have likened it to a ”searing, intense scrape,” or say it’s like “a kitten has been set on your head, claws out.”
There’s only one creature that strikes such terror into the heart of nighttime runners: a serial diverbomber owl.
Just a week or so ago, a runner crumbled to the ground under a blow from behind, and discovered his scalp scored with talon marks, reports the Washington Post. He is one of four victims attacked in the Washington, DC, area, on a Montgomery County nature trail. While some identified their assailant as a “large bird,” the trail’s natural resources specialist speculates that the culprit is a juvenile owl.
It already has its very own parody Twitter account:
Owl attacks are not that unusual. In 2012, a 20-inch tall barred owl pecked heads in a different area of the same DC suburb. Past reports of similar attacks come from Virginia, Tennessee, Seattle, elsewhere in Washington State, and even the UK.
Head-clipping swoops in and of themselves aren’t unusual—which is why Rob Bierregaard, a Drexel University ornithologist and barred owl expert, does his work in a lacrosse helmet:
During mating and nesting season, they can get extra-territorial, according to David Craig, a biology professor at Willamette University. However, that doesn’t explain the east coast attacks, which happened outside of nesting season. They might be mistaking runners for prey—but why, then, do many victims report repeated attacks?
It’s possible that while we’re having our fun tweeting owl puns and making t-shirts, the owls are doing the same.
“The young birds are out of their nests and wandering around looking for new territories,” Drexel University’s Bierregaard told Virginia Living, “and I figured these attacks are just young birds playing, just goofing around.”