Great horned owl attacks skier twice, leaves him with 16 puncture wounds

Great Horned Owl

An Alberta man might be reconsidering his favourite cross-country skiing trail after not one, but two violent encounters with an owl.

Red Deer resident Miloslav Bozdech was skiing a trail near the city’s Heritage Ranch last Wednesday, when he was attacked by a great horned owl.

“As I was going down a hill, I felt an impact on the back of my head and sharp pain in my skull,” Bozdech told CBC News.

He was skiing at night, lighting his way along with trail with a headlamp, and when he spun around, there was nothing behind him. He initially thought it might have been a moose, a falling tree branch, or even a human, but eventually he spotted an owl in a nearby tree. Bozdech kicked the tree, and the owl flew off, so he resumed skiing.

But the bird hadn’t gone far. It attacked him from behind a second time, digging its sharp talons—generally reserved for hunting mice, rabbits, and squirrels—into the back of Bozdech’s head. The owl left him with 16 puncture wounds on his scalp, a sore neck, and a few different theories as to why it targeted him.

“The white scarf around my neck…[is] the colour of a bunny in winter, I guess,” he told CBC.

He also thinks it’s possible that his bright headlamp annoyed the owl, or that the bird was trying to defend its nesting territory.

According to Chris Fisher, birding expert and author of Birds of Alberta, owls are known to attack people if they’ve been startled. And Bozdech’s right, because it’s mating season, it could have been protecting its nest.

“It’s not uncommon for a raptor to be quite vicious around their nesting sites,” Fisher told CBC, and “cross-country skiers and bikers are usually the victims of these things.”

Despite his wounds, Bozdech doesn’t plan on giving up his pastime any time soon—he’s just going to be wearing a helmet from now on.