Throughout our years of volunteering with U.S. Fish & Wildlife, we have been in many areas frequented by a number of potentially dangerous animals such as moose, bears, mountain lions, and venomous snakes. However, the only animal that has ever tried to attack me was a dog in a residential neighborhood. That is, until now.

Great Horned Owl

Our last full day of the season as volunteers at Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge 60 miles southwest of Tucson found us busily preparing our RV to leave and head north. We found time, however, to admire a great horned owl perched on a tree branch near the visitor center. As we came and went during the day, he remained in the area, screeching occasionally as if calling for dinner or a mate.

Young Great Horned Owl
Young Great Horned Owl

“He’s a young owl,” assistant manager Stan Culling told us. “His mother probably just evicted him out of the nest.” I pictured him calling for a parent to present him with dinner. Perhaps his mother was even watching from a secluded area.


During the day, visitors and staff took pictures of the bird and found him remarkably tame and compliant. He even allowed some to approach for impressive close-ups with their phones and cameras. Nothing seemed to perturb him except for the fact that Mom hadn’t returned with a meal.

Toward the end of the day, I had one more chore to complete at the visitor center. The owl perched on nearby equipment, continually screeching his unanswered calls. As I returned to the parking lot, I glanced back at the youngster who was at least 30 yards away. Maybe I should get a better look at him, I thought. After all, he’s been accommodating to others who approached.

Three Steps

Carefully, I took three steps in his direction.  But on the third step, he took flight. Darn! I thought. I missed my opportunity for a closer look. But then instead of flying away, he swooped straight toward me. I backed up a bit, but he maintained his flight directly at me, and at no more than 10 feet away from me he extended his talons as he closed in.

The closer he came, the faster I backed up until I finally tripped and fell backward, banging my elbow and bruising my hip. The owl then dropped to the ground several feet in front of me. I scrambled to my feet and hurried to my car as the owl merely glared at me.

As more of a mammal and reptile person, I know too little about birds. So I Googled Great Horned Owl and discovered that this bird has a reputation of being the only owl that has killed man.  Although this was posted under the heading “Mythology & Folklore,” I respect the fact that this particular owl had, at least, every intention of inflicting harm.


Snakes, on the other hand, attack in defense; and although some snakes are capable of serious injury or death to a human, it generally happens as a result of human cruelty or inattentiveness. Why is it, then, that so many people recoil at the sight or even the thought of a snake, but these same folks will approach a bison with deadly horns or a large bird with razor sharp talons without regard for their safety?

Photo and video courtesy of Stan Culling



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