Early morning joggers report slew of silent attacks from above by Great Horned Owls

Photo credit Jim Kennedy. Used under a Creative Commons license.

Prairie Village resident Joel Vogel was out for a jog near Cedar Drive and 86th Street in Prairie Village Monday morning around 6:30 a.m. when he felt a sharp pain.

The attack had come out of no where. But as he looked up, he saw the wings of an owl flapping away.

“I thought I was dying until I realized what had happened,” Vogel said. “You have no warning; they are completely silent.”

Vogel said he had another close call with what he believes to be the same owl in the same neighborhood a few months ago. And he is not the only one to have felt the sting of an owl’s talons in recent days. One woman who lives in the neighborhood on the border between Mission and Overland Park said she’s been hit on the back of the head by an owl three times in the last month during her early morning runs in the vicinity of 67th Street and Nall.

“Each time, the owl comes back and tries to hit again,” she said.

It’s not the first time joggers in the area have reported the phenomenon. In 2016, a number of residents reported being struck from above by owls during early morning runs in Mission Hills and Prairie Village.

Andrea Joslin, an outdoor education specialist at the Ernie Miller Park and Nature Center, said that such encounters are fairly common this time of year and are likely carried out by Great Horned Owls, the largest owl species in Johnson County.

“Right now is prime mating season for the owls in our area,” Joslin said. “Our best guess is that it has to do with them being territorial during mating season.”

She said some naturalists also theorize that joggers’ heads can look like prey to owls.

“It could also be that joggers, especially women with hair in pony tails, could look like prey animals from above, like a squirrel,” she said.

The owls are much more active during mating season than at other times of the year, so people will see and hear them in the early morning hours and the evening — not just at night. Moreover, because owls do not have many natural predators, they don’t have much fear of larger creatures.

“Because they don’t have a lot of predators themselves, we will see them attack larger animals,” Joslin said.