I Have An Owl Problem


This is a photo of the owl that dive-bombed me five times last night.

I took this photo sometime last week. My son was with me, so I guess it would have been Tuesday or Wednesday. Probably Tuesday. Anyway, that’s a tree in my backyard, and I’m sorry for the poor quality of the photo. I didn’t invent the iPhone; I just stare at it all the time. As best as I can figure, this is an eastern screech owl. You probably know it better as Megascops asio. I don’t see a ton of owls, especially not during daylight, so I admit I was a bit fascinated to see one, in part because it reminded of this.

So: the dive-bombing. Around 11:30 or so last night, I went out to my back steps to have a cigarette. (Yeah, yeah — I know. I KNOW. Save it for another time.) After I was finished, I began to walk down the sidewalk to toss the butt in the garbage can in the alley, about — let’s see, I’m pretty bad with distances — 50 to 75 feet away. As soon as I left the back steps, this owl flew over my right shoulder, close enough that I had to duck and, while not mandatory, loudly curse. I didn’t realize it was an owl at the time. I still didn’t realize it was an owl when, about 10 feet later, it flew at me again, this time skimming the top of my head.

I made it to the garbage can without further incident. Then I looked up. The owl had landed on a nearby branch, then flew up to perch on one of the power lines, facing me. When I made a move to head back to the house, it moved. It was stalking me. I opened the back gate, and it flew right through, very close, landing above the gate on a branch, looking down on me again. After a few minutes spent contemplating if I could sleep outside, the owl flew away. I couldn’t see where — because I’m not an owl, though I am sometimes a nocturnal hunter — so I decided I had to try to make my move. I made it about 15 feet when this jackass owl comes back, buzzing the tower again, so I made a run for it. Just before I got to the back steps, I turned my head slightly, and there was the owl again, a few inches from the back of my head, close enough to feel the flapping of its wings. Then I went inside and watched The Grey and tried to figure out how Liam Neesons would handle it. I didn’t have any airplane bottles of liquor that I could break and tape to my fists, so I just went to bed.

OK, so my question for naturalists or people that know more about owls than I do. Actually, several questions: Is it normal for owls to do this? Is it trying to protect a nest in my backyard? If so, do I have to wait, like, two months, for the eggs to hatch and then for the baby owls to have enough strength to leave the nest? Is there any way I can come to some sort of detente with this owl? Do I just not go out after dark? Is it possible I was bitten by a radioactive mouse, fusing our DNA and making me a mouse/man hybrid superhero and this owl has identified my new mouse-ness? Is that sort of the lamest superhero you could be? Mouse-man?


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  • Greg Brown

    It was either 1) protecting it’s nest 2) strongly encouraging you to stop smoking or 3) strongly encouraging you to stop smoking near it’s nest.

  • Lesli

    Aside from a clown attack, any kind of bird flying at me is pretty much my worst nightmare. I made an idiot of myself last weekend when shopping in Preston Center. Two of Satan’s minions (aka the foul and putrid birds known as grackles) were flying full speed toward my face before pulling a Blue Angel-worthy move and parting at the last second. I was hoping my scream would scare away the people in line for Hopdoddy and I might actually get to eat there, but no such luck. Good luck to you Zac – that’d be enough for me to quit the habit if I smoked!

  • BenS.

    It was most likely protecting owlets(babies). Once the babies hatch and leave the nest, they exhibit branching behavior where they sit like bumps on a log for a week or two as they grow flight feathers. The adults will beat back other birds, squirrels, raccoons, bats and cats. Rarely hear of them buzzing people though.

    • Anonymous

      Thanks for clarifying owlets are babies. I would have said backup singers, for sure.

  • D. Shapiro

    Who has an owl problem?

  • BradfordPearson

    More like “Hoo has an owl problem.”

  • AmyS

    Find the nest, put a camera in it, have live streaming, retire rich. That’s just my 2 cents. Oh, and cigarettes still smell good even 28 years after quitting. It’s never easy.

  • Andi Harman

    *roaring applause*

  • Nancy Nichols

    I am so jealous. I told Zac to cut up some chicken and set it out as a peace offering. Obviously there is a nest nearby and the parent is guarding it. I called my buddies at Wild Birds Unlimited. They were surprised to hear about such a violent dive bomb. Perhaps a fledgling fell from the nest and was on the ground and Zac couldn’t see it through the cigarette smoke. Chances are the fledgling will get back to the nest today and Zac can sit on his stoop once more. It won’t be long before he’ll have a chorus line of small ones lined up. I am so jealous.

  • Avid Reader

    In a reverse of what would normally be the case; you should visit the scientifically altered intelligent rats living in/under the rose bush in your yard and ask them to help by putting in a good word for you with this great owl.

  • 911 Wildlife

    Yep, it’s normal. Yep, it has a nest in the tree. No, you don’t have to wait two months. Just carry an umbrella and be grateful that you have a family of screech owls devouring every “water bug” in the vicinity.

  • Former Texan

    How was your hair styled? Did it look like a small rodent?

  • AshPMulder

    I was attacked by a bird once. While no owl, the experience changes a person. Walks will never be the same. I’m sorry.

  • RAB

    Marlboro reds or lights?

  • jasonheid

    I’ve twice been attacked by birds, each one managing to briefly grasp a handful of hair. The first was trying to drive me out of Melbourne, Australia. I stood my ground. The second blindsided me in a public square in San Francisco. It unnerved me.

    I’d like to say it’s a mystery as to why I was targeted, but since when my hair grows long its curls come to form a nest-like structure atop my ahead, I don’t think it’s much of one.

  • that jeff
  • t_s

    I had the same type of owl plow into my sliding glass door late one night just a few feet from where I was sitting on a chair. I was clearly it’s intended target, but I don’t recall offending him in the past so I was perplexed by this attempted assault. After the initial shock of his collision with nothingness wore off, we eyeballed each other for a moment before going our separate ways.

  • Sittin by the doc of delay

    Had you ever, in the past several weeks reneged on any promises to this nocturnal animal? eg. had you used the phrase, “Owl leave the light on for you?”

  • gale

    Got bombed 4x tonight, May 31st, 2015, on a 9pm/ dusk walk in Lancaster, PA by the white cliffs of Conoy. Pretty sure it was midget owls (screech variety). The first run began with a low pass and a kind of owl song, maybe 6-10 notes and concluded with landing in a very nearby tree line/shrub area about 15 feet up, he clicked his beak a couple times for good measure upon landing, then shifted about and buzzed us twice more, uber close (2-3 feet max). So we continue walking another mile and a second little guy attacks 1x and disappears. They are fearless and fly close enough to touch and be memorable haha

  • David Wood

    This same behavior from an owl happened to me on two different nights, both occurrences as I was holding a cigarette. Only thing I can come up with it maybe the owl sees the lit end as Eyeshine.