'Aggressive' owls attacking visitors on popular San Juan Island trail

UNITED STATES - 1989/01/01: USA, Washington, San Juan Island, British Camp, National Historic Site. (Photo by Wolfgang Kaehler/LightRocket via Getty Images)

San Juan Island National Historical Park is warning visitors about "aggressive" owls that have attacked at least four visitors in recent weeks. 

The attacks happened on English Camp’s Bell Point Loop Trail.

Wildlife experts say fall owl attacks are rare, which is why the park is working closely with the state Department of Fish and Wildlife to figure out why they've been so frequent. Attacks have also been reported on Camano Island. 

They've identified a few possible causes: 

  • Fall attacks may be from young birds who are either just playing and testing their aerial attack skills or are stressed because they are no longer being fed by parents and simply taking out their frustration on people. It can take juveniles (i.e. less than a year old) a great deal of time to develop independence.
  • Attacks could relate to adult owls defending their territory or defending fledglings learning to fly from perceived threats, though this behavior typically happens in late spring.
  • Attacks are known to happen around December and January and could be related to Barred and Great Horned Owls that are setting up nests.

Spotted owlets (Photo by PRAKASH MATHEMA / AFP) (Photo by PRAKASH MATHEMA/AFP via Getty Images)

The park will not be closing the Bell Point Loop Trail at English Camp, but visitors are asked to consider other trails instead.  

Here are some tips to stay safe: 

  • Be vigilant and if you see an owl perched nearby, avoid that trail for now.
  • Keep small children and animals away from area if there’s an aggressive owl nearby.
  • If you must walk past an area with an aggressive owl, wave your arms slowly overhead to keep it away.
  • Wear a hat or helmet.

Runners are encouraged to wear two headlamps: one lighting the way forward, the other shining up from the back of the head to blind any dive-bombing owl. Runners and hikers can also mark big eyes on the back of a baseball cap to stare back at the owl.