The territorial birds are known occasionally to attack runners, says expert
A UVic employee is unscathed after an owl attack while running on the Alumni Chip Trail three weeks ago.
Greg Goforth, a senior systems administrator at UVic, was running on the popular trail to train for a half marathon when he was attacked by an owl.
“I felt something hit the back of my head,” he told the Martlet, adding that he thought it had been a branch.
After a second hit, Goforth realized he was under attack. He turned around to see what had hit him.
“I could see [the owl] floating behind me, coming in for a third descent,” he said. “I yelled, clapped my hands and ran a little bit faster.”
After doing some research, Goforth read that most people get cut or bitten in situations like his. “I was happy to not get injured.”
Goforth posted his experience to the UVic subreddit, hoping to warn others who might frequent the trail. He chose not to contact UVic facilities, adding that the subreddit feels like a central place to share information to the university community.
Gary Bridgens is the director of maintenance and operations at UVic facilities. He told the Martlet that after owl attacks in previous years, UVic put up signage to warn people about the danger.
“If there’s a request for us to do that, we can most certainly do it again,” Bridgens said. He also encouraged runners to be aware of their surroundings. “Look up as well as around you,” he added. He asks that people report unusual sightings to facilities.
Ann Nightingale is a volunteer and member of the board of directors at the Rocky Point Bird Observatory (RPBO). She has over two decades of experience working with birds and is very familiar with owls and their behaviour.
Nightingale told the Martlet that the bird Goforth encountered was most likely a barred owl, which only arrived on Vancouver Island in the 1960s. She explained that these owls are excellent hunters who are always on the lookout for their next meal.
“A person’s ponytail or the pom-pom on their toque can present the movement and sound of a prey item,” she said. Nightingale also explained that these owls navigate largely by sound, and the swish of a person’s walk or run can sound just like a squirrel to them.
Her advice for runners is to steer clear of areas where they have encountered an owl before. Nightingale said that they are territorial animals.
“Once you have found a place where an owl is coming after you, that’s a good place to avoid,” she said.
Despite this, Nightingale explained that owls are not violent creatures by nature.
“They normally will not attack people for no reason at all.”
Nightingale added that, along with conservation work, the RPBO works to educate the public about birds in the region.
“Right now until the end of October, people can sign up to visit our Pedder Bay Marina station if they want to see the cutest owl on southern Vancouver Island up close and personal,” she said. “It’s called the northern saw-whet owl.”
For more information or to sign up to visit the station, visit www.rpbo.org.