Owls Are Attacking People And Dogs In Wake of Cold Weather

An owl flies during a performance at the Zooparc de Beauval in Saint-Aignan, central France, on April 14, 2017. Guillaume Souvant/AFP/Getty Images

In the past few weeks, owls have attacked humans or pets in Atlanta on at least three separate occasions. The large birds have reportedly swooped down, leaving their victims with varying degrees of wounds, WSB-TV reports.

Although instances like these have been previously documented in other states, it's quite rare that an owl attacks something other than its prey. But the recent frigid temperatures in most parts of the country might be impacting the young birds, Susan Haig, a senior scientist at the U.S. Geological Survey, told Newsweek.

"I'm sure many of the rats and mice have died from the cold temperature," Haig said. "So the owls are desperate for food and nothing is running around for them to eat."

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Some of the attacks have been on small dogs, which the birds may be especially tempted to eat. "Young owls just learning how to hunt are having a terrible time trying to find a food source so they're just grabbing what looks like small rodents," she said.

The first attack in the recent streak in Atlanta happened just days before Christmas. On December 23, the Holt family was left devastated after an owl killed "Freedom," their 5-year-old Yorkie. He was taken to the vet and underwent surgery, but died shortly after. Less than two weeks later, another woman and her two dogs were attacked by an owl. As Deborah Johnson stepped outside, she witnessed the bird swoop down and assault her 20-pound dachshund.

"As soon as I touched the owl he got on me," Johnson told WSB-TV. "He knocked me down, flat on the ground."

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The latest incident to strike the Southern city happened on Wednesday, when an owl flew down and reportedly cut a man's head as he was leaving his home.

Adam Betuel, Director of Conservation at the Atlanta Audubon Society, agreed with Haig that the cold temperatures might be the cause.

"The majority of owls don't make it through their first year as they learn to hunt and survive in their surroundings," Betuel told Newsweek via email. "With the cold weather we have had in metro-Atlanta in recent weeks, it is possible that the weather added another stressor on birds already struggling to find food."

Owls are also currently preparing for mating season, which means their hormone levels are up and they're more inclined to keep a close eye on their territory. If people unknowingly get too close to their nests, "owls may approach and even strike humans," Betuel explained.