My first wild encounter with a Barred Owl in Seattle culminated in the photo below. Based on this experience, my advice to children in raptor territory is: avoid wearing plush toy animals on your backpack as the dusk hunting hour approaches.
A boy was walking along a wooded path with his mother, a fuzzy toy animal tethered to his pack. From a nearby tree branch, this Barred Owl swooped down, aiming for the little boy’s stuffed toy. If you’ve been buzzed by an owl, you know how silent the approach, with their wings constructed to break the air into inaudible ripples.
I’m not sure why, but at the last minute, the owl decided on the boy’s hat as prey, instead of the toy. She nicked it with her talons, not even scratching the boy’s scalp, and hauled the hat up to this tree branch. For ten minutes, the owl toyed with the cap, turning it in her talons, chewing on it. Then, she dropped it back to the ground where the boy stood and watched, enthralled by his close encounter with this creature of the night.
A friend of mine described an encounter with a barred owl where the owl followed her down a path, and then back up the same path as she walked home. The owl stopped along the way to observe my friend from a succession of perches. They are obviously gorgeous birds, with their king’s cape of mottled plumage. And Barred Owls also have the reputation for being aggressive, especially as they relate to Spotted Owls. This Smithsonian piece from 2009, The Spotted Owl’s New Nemesis summarizes the situation between the two owl species and addresses some of the misunderstandings about their relationship.