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Why more people are reporting confrontations between humans and owls

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Turns out, more people are reporting confrontations between humans and owls in Washington and Oregon. Yes, you heard that right - confrontations between humans and owls. NPR's Jaclyn Diaz looked into this.

(SOUNDBITE OF OWL HOOTING)

JACLYN DIAZ, BYLINE: Kirsten Mathisen was walking alone in the woods by her home in Hansville, Wash., when she was attacked.

KIRSTEN MATHISEN: I was walking on my driveway. And something, know, swiped my head. And I ducked and looked up - and this owl that I had seen before over the last couple of years.

DIAZ: This particular owl is white with gray feathers, a sharp beak and sharper talons. She waited a few minutes and walked back to head home. The owl wasn't having it.

MATHISEN: It flew back around, and it got me in the back of the head.

DIAZ: Oh, jeez.

MATHISEN: There was a lot of screaming.

DIAZ: She said it was like being punched by someone with rings on. To avoid the owl's wrath, Mathisen ceded one part of her property to the owl for a week before walking even close to the bird's territory. But then a week later, the owl attacked again.

MATHISEN: And that time, it got me behind the ear. That one was worse. There was more deeper cuts.

DIAZ: She had seen this owl before and never had any issues like this. What was going on? It turns out that barred owls have been blamed for several similar attacks in the Pacific Northwest. At least one park in SeaTac, Wash., warned visitors of the area's aggressive owl that attacked several people.

MATHISEN: I've been told that I must - it's a bad omen, that I should be on the lookout for something else to happen.

DIAZ: The reality is slightly less interesting, according to wildlife biologist Jonathan Slaght. He works with the Wildlife Conservation Society.

JONATHAN SLAGHT: They're aggressive owls, and they're highly territorial.

DIAZ: Barred owls like to nest in the cavities of trees.

SLAGHT: Like, any reduction in available habitat for breeding would put them in closer proximity to humans.

DIAZ: So what does that mean for Mathisen in the short term?

SLAGHT: It's not like forever, for her life, she's doomed. With humans, it's certainly not predatory behavior, but it's certainly a territorial aggression.

DIAZ: Jaclyn Diaz, on the owl beat, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.