BEMIDJI, Minn. - Lake Bemidji State Park staff temporarily closed one of their park trails after an owl attacked a 3-year-old girl over the weekend.
The girl's mother said the child had scratches on her head and several puncture wounds after being attacked while walking on the trail. Brianna Schmid, of Nowthen, Minnesota, tells KARE 11, "We heard no warning," adding they were walking around 7:30 p.m. when the bird swooped down.
She said the owl flew past the girl's grandmother.
"I was biking with my son, we were 30 feet in front of my daughter and my mom, and all of the sudden, we heard screaming, I turn around on the bike and see this owl flapping its wings all over her," said Schmid. "She was hitting it and freaking out with her arms."
Schmid said she had heard another person was reportedly attacked the next morning.
Staff closed the park's Rocky Point Trail. Minnesota Department of Natural Resources workers investigated but couldn't locate the bird. They suspect it is a barred owl.
"It's just crazy, who gets attacked by an owl!" said Schmid. "One in a million chance, it’s not going to happen again."
The University of Minnesota Raptor Center is home to an injured barred owl named Strix that offers insight into a species of owl native to Minnesota, known for its yellow beak and dark eyes.
Gail Buhl, Raptor Center Education program manager, said it's very unusual for a barred owl to attack a person; its instinct is to flee unless it's a nesting raptor that feels threatened.
"They have tremendous power in their talons, however, their first choice is going to be to run away, or to fly away, unless they are defending chicks," said Julia Ponder, Raptor Center Executive Director.
"If it does happen the raptor is trying to defend its young and is mistakenly thinking the human might be a threat, so often making yourself large, yelling, and getting out of the area fairly quickly," said Buhl. "Even things like carrying an umbrella or using an umbrella works great."
DNR official Christine Herwig says the owl might have attacked because it felt its young were threatened. There is also a less likely chance that the bird is infected with parasites, affecting its behavior.
There are some steps Minnesotans can take to minimize the risk of bird attacks, Herwig told the Pioneer Press: don’t leave small pets outside, keep children supervised; carry an umbrella or tall stick or flag (birds tend to attack the tallest animal or object in the area when they feel threatened), and leave nests alone. Birds also click their bills or use their calls to signal a possible attack.
“Usually their first thing is to give you a bit of a warning before they're gonna come near you,” Herwig said.