Don’t Fear Owls

It’s funny how, every few years, a different animal will become the target of panic and fear, and people will become convinced that the species is a hazard that needs to be killed or relocated. For the last few years, owls have been a surprising focus of hate and fear.

As with most other panics about wildlife, fear of owls is a result of a series of misunderstandings, urban myths, and exaggerations. Like all other birds and mammals, owls are dedicated parents who defend their young and their nests from predators. When a human— which, to an owl, is a large predator— comes too close, the owl will naturally protect its family. This isn’t malicious on the owl’s part. It’s simply parental instinct.

These “attacks” on humans are rare. Because they’re so rare, they tend to make headlines and to become the subject of viral videos and social media posts. The rapid spread of information in today’s world can make it seem like a rare incident is commonplace, and that can feed into irrational fears.

When an owl does make contact with a person, it’s unlikely to result in serious injuries. Most owls will only swoop toward a human— not making contact at all, or barely grazing them— as a bluff attack to chase them away. Only if the bluff is disregarded will the owl generally use its talons.

Scrapes from an owl’s talons might be uncomfortable and could even require medical attention as a precaution, but they’re not deadly. In all of recorder history, no human has ever been killed by an owl. (Yes, we’ve seen The Staircase, and no, there was no evidence whatsoever that an owl was involved.) The absolute worst thing that might happen would be a trip to urgent care to get the injuries cleaned up.

You may be thinking that this worst-case scenario still sounds terrifying, but please keep this risk in perspective. Every year, millions of people are injured— often far more seriously— by broken glass bottles, airbags, and hot ovens, but no one lives in fear of these things or tries to rid the world of them. Tame house pets are much more likely to scratch than an owl, possibly resulting in a need for medical care, yet many people choose to live with them anyway.

Owls of all species are important to our ecosystem, reliably exterminating rats and mice, keeping our neighborhoods free of parasites and disease. It would be a shame to harass, remove, or kill them because of irrational fear. Please learn to coexist!

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