When owls attack

owilish injuries

Owlish injuries?/Netflix on Facebook

As if bad trail and temporarily getting lost weren’t enough to mark the start of Tim Hewitt’s latest Alaska adventure, now comes word of a wild-animal attack – an owl to be specific.


Loreen Hewitt reports husband Tim called her from Manley Hot Springs this morning to report being ambushed by a great-horned owl last night.

“The owl got his sled twice and his head once,” she reported. “Tim thinks his headlight saved him since it has a battery pack in the back.  Tim didn’t stop after that.  The talons got him a bit on his forehead but he is OK.

“He was scared because he once saw a documentary that said an owl will attack and then watch its prey until it dies and then eats it.  Tim was pretty sure that no one would be able to figure out what happened to him if that was the end of him.  Tim sounded OK and said that he has to take what the trail gives him.”

Great-horned owl attacks on humans are not common, but they are well documented. The birds begin nesting in the winter, and after attacks in Texas, the Midland Reporter-Telegraph once warned readers that “the adults are very protective of the nest and the area around it and have been known to attack human passing by.

“The attacks are dangerous and unexpected. The owl flies on silent wings, makes no warning calls and attempts to sink its talons into the head or back of the offender. A leather jacket and baseball helmet would be proper attire for anyone closely approaching a nest with young.”

And an owl – a barred owl, smaller and less aggressive cousin of the great-horned owl – has been implicated in at least one fatality –  the mysterious, 2001 death of Kathleen Peterson, who husband was sentenced to life in prison for murder two years after finding her body in the staircase of their North Carolina home.

Legitimate fears

That case might provide some foundation for Tim’s belief that if he died “no one would be able to figure out what happened to him if that was the end of him.”

The “Owl Theory,” first suggested by a neighbor of the Petersons, was so bizarre it wasn’t even presented to a jury during Michael Peterson’s trial, but later became the subject of a Dateline series and attracted even more attention after a Netflix documentary about the Peterson case.

“American Murder Mystery: The Staircase” is a riveting new Netflix mini-series which tells the true story of how celebrity writer Michael Peterson, now 73, was originally convicted for his wife’s murder,” the Sun reported in 2018. “Fans of the show now think he may not have had anything to do with the case at all.”

The latter belief is driven wholly by that Owl theory which first surfaced in a nine-part Dateline series on NBC in 2013. Peterson was eventually granted a new trial in 2017 after a re-examination of the evidence in the case revealed a microscopic feather and a sliver of tree wood in a clump of Kathleen’s hair.

“Netflix has (since) released a new video on Facebook which runs down the evidence for the owl theory, which suggests Kathleen may have been attacked by an owl outside of her home, with the bird digging its talons into her scalp, leaving traces of blood outside,” Clarisse Loughrey observed in the Independent.

“The theory crucially would explain two things: the microscopic owl feathers found amongst Kathleen’s own hair, nestled in her hand, suggesting she may have torn her own hair out in an attempt to free herself from the bird’s claws.

“Furthermore, the lacerations on her scalp had a trident pattern which roughly resembled the tracks of an owl.” (Click here for the link to Netflix’s Facebook post.)

Those who know Tim Hewitt best observed that he is so hardheaded that a whack on the skull by an owl is unlikely to slow him down, and indeed the satellite tracking device he is carrying showed him on the trail out of Manley this morning.

He is expecting slow going to the next small village on the Yukon River “since the store owner told him the way he was going to go to Tanana has 12-foot (deep snow) drifts,” Loreen messaged.

“The (quote-unquote) “trail” has been bad, and Tim has had to go over and under downed trees. (But) Tim sounded OK and said that he has to take what the trail gives him.”

In wild Alaska, there is little choice.


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9 replies »

  1. I’m scared of owls, whenever I meet them in the woods or in old abandoned buildings and places like that. They have great big eyes, stare straight at my eyes, spread their wings, ruffle their feathers, and make threatening gestures with their sharp talons and beaks. They have big eyes themselves, hunt by eyesight, and they will attack human eyes, and blind a human.

    For what it’s worth, I was attacked by a hawk one hot afternoon in Anchorage, Alaska and saved by a large goose that fought off the hawk, landed on my head and spread his wings over me.

    Protect your eyes if you are attacked by a bird.

  2. I was almost ambushed tonight by a very large owl at my residence. My wife had heard strange noises outside all evening and around 11:00 pm I opened a second story window and stuck my head outside to look around. Out of nowhere ( actual from a large maple tree in the yard I presume) came a huge owl swooping down upon me with its wings cupped and talons down…no doubt to pounce on my head….luckily I saw it and pulled my head back inside the window just before contact was made. The owl made zero noise. To add insult to injury the owl perched on the roof and appears to be waiting for me to stuck my head outside again. My wife suggested I google “ owl attacks”. Thus my post. This happened near Salem , Oregon. My last name is also Hewitt. Funny thing the Hewitt family crest is 3 owls…lol Now I know why. …so Tim Hewitt beware brother they apparently know who we are and where we live!

  3. Craig, remember when that cross country skier was repeatedly attacked by a GHO out on Kinkaid
    trails a number of years back and had quite a time beating it away?

    • Peter Dunlap-Shohl had a great cartoon on that! Owls adapt to cold winter weather by attacking skiers and stealing their clothing!

    • Bruce Talbot got attacked by a Great Horned owl back then. I, with the help of his late wife, pulled it off his back. Owl wouldn’t let go of his jacket and vest. He had to ski back to the chalet in just his shirt in sub-zero temps. When he left, I covered the owl with the jacket and sprinted away. Later that winter at Kincaid I got hit by a dead rabbit a great horned dropped. Rabbit blood smeared on my yellow Salomon ski boots. Probably the same owl that grabbed Bruce … it later flew, talons first, into the stomach area of a guy named Vic Winters as he was skiing up a hill. Spooked Vic and he fell on the owl. The owl fluttered away and no one else was bothered by it again that year.

      • Tim: That’s because the owl was captured and relocated to the Hillside. And then guess what…..

        I interviewed one of the guys who captured the owl, though I can no longer remember his name.

        Needless to say, there was a bit of go-round at the ADN over publishing a story, and a story never was written.

    • Indeed. What I did not know until I read the messages here is that my friend and neighbor Tim Kelley was one of the skiers who helped get the owl off him.

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