Attacked By an Owl!

I Was on a Walk Through a Park at Dusk When I Got Punched in the Back of the Head with Flying Scissors—At Least, That's What It Felt Like

Attacked By an Owl!

Hyunyoung Kim

Barred owls are huge and brown and scary-looking, and, according to the experts, aggressively territorial.

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The location was Frink Park, one of those beautiful, foliage- jammed areas down the steep slope from the Central District to Lake Washington. To get there, follow Yesler Way east until it ends. Once you crest the Leschi ridge, you'll go past the illuminati hub (?) that should TOTALLY be a restaurant/cafe, past the elementary school, past cyclists puffing up the severe grade. At the very very very tail end of Yesler, you will happen upon a big dream-catcher sculpture and a rocky path that descends into a serious wood.

But wait—before you enter: The Rick Steves in me would like to tell you that if you are standing at this trailhead and not looking out across Lake Washington to the Eastside's suburbs, you are missing out. Raise your eyes and look, because there it is. The glittering Bellevue skyline.

Beautiful, isn't it?

Another thing: If it's dark, and you don't have a light with you, don't continue on. I repeat: Do not continue on. I don't want to sound condescending, but some parts of the city are safe during the day and dangerous at night. This is one of those parts. Frink Park, aka Owl Town.

One night recently, I foolishly entered the darkened ravine and continued on through Frink Park to the adjacent Leschi Park and all the way down to the lake, to my destination of Leschi Market, to buy bacon. Have you been to Leschi Market? It's a mom-and-pop yuppie corner store. They have amazing bacon, and if you tell them to cut it thick, it comes in steaks, basically. I eat the magenta parts raw. Is that safe? Probably safer than walking through Frink Park in the dark.

It looked a little scary, but I soldiered on into the dark anyway. After twenty paces—BANG! It felt like the back of my head had been punched with scissors.

I looked for a branch that could have thwacked me. Or a teenager with a pellet gun? Or a ghost?

"Hey, is anyone in here?" I said weakly.

No response.

So I started walking again. Twenty more paces and then BANG!—straight to the back of my head, the same punch/snip. I took off running. It was something in the air, something overhead, something flying. I instinctively knew I would not be able to outrun it, so I needed to protect my head somehow while getting the hell out of the park. I had a reusable shopping bag with me, so I waved it over my head as I ran. Are you picturing this? Me, terrified out of my skull, running through the dark, waving a bag over my head.

I got to Leschi Market, where in the fluorescent light I could see on my fingers that there was blood in my hair. I bought my bacon in a daze and walked home on lighted streets. That was no ghost. That was a living, breathing, thinking animal. Was I just dive-bombed by an animal?

I called a doctor (my dad) who told me to go to the emergency room right away, because it could have been a bat, and a bat could have rabies, and everyone with untreated rabies dies. But a bat didn't sound right to me. A little googling revealed that owls swooping people in the Seattle area is pretty common. KING 5 News reported in November that "aggressive owls are making people their prey in local state parks, prompting rangers to close off areas to the public for safety." A woman who was attacked by a barred owl while walking in Bridle Trails State Park near Kirkland said, "He grabbed both sides of my ponytail with his claw." A jogger who was attacked in 2009 in Discovery Park, also by a barred owl, told Queen Anne News, "I felt something hit me on the back of my head and knock my hat off." West Seattle Blog ran the story of a guy out on Alki who started wearing a construction hard hat to work because an owl kept swooping him every morning. Barred owls are huge and brown and scary-looking, and, according to the experts, aggressively territorial. They do their hunting at dawn and dusk. And in addition to habitually mistaking the tops of people's heads for small animals, they are also, for whatever reason, drawn to headphone wires and ponytails.

I had headphones on.

I called my actual doctor at his house (evening house calls: Doctors love this) and told him the story. He said it didn't sound like a bat. It was probably an owl, no big deal. But by then I was paranoid and didn't know what to believe, so I called for a third opinion from the head epidemiologist at King County Public Health. She said she'd go to the emergency room. But it could wait until tomorrow.

The next day at the ER, I got a tetanus shot, two gamma globulin shots, and rabies shots. Arms, thighs, butt. Rabies shots used to be administered in the stomach. Then the rule became: only in the location of the bite. Now, anywhere is cool. The doctor said I needed three more installments over the next two weeks, and that I should arrange to get them someplace other than the ER, which proved to be difficult. They were around $250 for a pharmacy to buy and had to be ordered from a place called "Auburn." Pharmacies don't stock rabies shots because nobody uses them. My doctor didn't want to place the order at the clinic. It's a hassle. He reminded me that his advice was not to get the shots in the first place.

So I went and got a fourth opinion from the UW Travel Clinic. They said yes, I needed rabies shots, so I called my doctor back and convinced him to order them, since his office is closest to my house. Once the rabies shots arrived, I found myself shirtless in the examining room, watching the nurses reading the folded paper in the box the vials came in, puzzling over the sequence of injections. The schedule I heard at the emergency room conflicted with the schedule on the paper.

"I've been a nurse for 13 years and never given a rabies shot," one of them said.

Coordinating the other two shots with my clinic required some more research of my own, gathering information from King County Public Health and UW Travel Clinic—such as, you can get shots late in the sequence and that's okay, but not early; and four shots is acceptable to complete the cycle, not six, like the packaging says. I explained these things to the nurses at my clinic when I went back. They took my word for it.

Long story short, I got the shots and I'm fine and don't have rabies. Thank God for health insurance: According to an Explanation of Benefits I just got in the mail, the ER quoted my insurance company $22,000 for some shots and a few minutes with doctors/nurses. (I'm going to let the insurance company fight over that one—imagine the hell I'd be in without them.) Friends say I'm part owl now. They call me "Owl B. Sure." They ask if I'm honorarily in Oldominion (the longstanding local rap crew with an owl logo). They don't understand how scared I was. But how could they know? Who gets attacked by owls? recommended


Comments (38) RSS

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Around this time of year, crows are nesting and being very protective of their babies. I've been dive-bombed and sometimes hit by crazy crows at least once every spring for several years. A mailman witnessed it once, and told me that's why he wore a pith helmet.
I've talked to a couple of people who've been struck by owls down at Green Lake.
Posted by betsio on April 10, 2013 at 9:14 AM · Report this
Tracy 2
Oh dear. I think this Yelp review reading (about customer attacked by a black bird) was actually posted on Slog last week, but it was all I could think about while reading this. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zkyVDwDng…
Posted by Tracy on April 10, 2013 at 9:45 AM · Report this
God help you when they bill you for the coinsurance. Most insurance plans I've had only pay 100% for ER visits if you're admitted to the hospital, to try to encourage you to only go if you're deathly ill. You'd probably have been better off going to an Urgent Care center.
Posted by Orv on April 10, 2013 at 11:59 AM · Report this
There was a better likelihood of that owl giving you a winning lottery ticket than of it giving you rabies. Transmission via birds is extremely rare. Although owls can acquire rabies antibodies after consuming infected carcases their high body temps effectively contain the virus. It's really just a mammal disease.

I suppose it could have just dug its talons into an infected skunk and then dug them into your skull but 22K sounds like a steep price for anyone to pay just to be extra "safe than sorry".
Posted by Incompossible on April 10, 2013 at 12:36 PM · Report this
There was a better likelihood of that owl giving you a winning lottery ticket than of it giving you rabies. Transmission via birds is extremely rare. Although owls can acquire rabies antibodies after consuming infected carcasses their high body temps effectively contain the virus. It's really just a mammal disease.

I suppose it could have just dug its talons into an infected skunk and then dug them into your skull but 22K sounds like a steep price for anyone to pay just to be extra "safe than sorry".
Posted by Incompossible on April 10, 2013 at 12:37 PM · Report this
It was BOB!
Posted by Log Lady on April 10, 2013 at 1:30 PM · Report this
Andrew, I was also o-bombed in Frink park. Jogging at dusk last fall, no headphones, no ponytail. Head barely bloodied. Scared the holy pellets out of me. Needless to say my head is on a swivel whenever I go back through there.
Posted by Jables on April 10, 2013 at 7:21 PM · Report this
Apart from the usefulness of the info, I just stopped by here to say that the piece was well written and fun to read. I also enjoyed the artwork.
Posted by floater on April 10, 2013 at 10:59 PM · Report this
Bauhaus I 9
You eat raw pork? No...that is not safe. Did you miss high school biology or what?
Posted by Bauhaus I on April 11, 2013 at 7:31 AM · Report this
misssmartypants 10
Oh man. We have Barred and Barn owls. The Barn owls conversations are quite hair raising. Blood curdling screams. And the Barred owl? All night with that haunting hoo-hoooo. I watched that guy try to catch, I swear to god, the last douglas squirrel in MLT.( Those little guys are bad ass, and look like chipmunks on steroids). The Barred owl tried to swoop for my puppy long ago. But then, so did that Douglas squirrel. Sorry about your noggin. Glad you didn't shit your britches. But I don't believe that would've stopped you in your quest for bacon.
Posted by misssmartypants on April 11, 2013 at 4:25 PM · Report this
Delightful tale of urban hazards. Yes... there are Barred Owls in Frink Park and a hardhat might be the right choice. One of the local neighbors was also swooped upon recently at night..... and lost his baseball cap to the Owl. I think a malt liquor he was drinking helped to steady his nerves and protect him from bird flu.
Posted by Darrell on April 11, 2013 at 4:49 PM · Report this
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MacCrocodile 13
Sounds like some owls could use a healthy fear of humans. Bring me my owl bat.
Posted by MacCrocodile http://maccrocodile.com/ on April 12, 2013 at 12:53 PM · Report this
Gern Blanston 14
Re eating raw pork: Trichinosis.

Posted by Gern Blanston on April 12, 2013 at 1:11 PM · Report this
You_Gotta_Be_Kidding_Me 15
I’m betting eating raw pork is much more dangerous than being hit by an owl. I’d be much more worried about Trichinosis than Rabies.
Posted by You_Gotta_Be_Kidding_Me on April 12, 2013 at 1:11 PM · Report this
the owls are not what they seem.
Posted by how's annie? on April 12, 2013 at 1:27 PM · Report this
Dougsf 17
$22,000 isn't too bad, considering you may now be eligible for some sort of honorary degree.

"Dude, let me borrow the armor. I'm going on a bacon run."
Posted by Dougsf on April 12, 2013 at 1:27 PM · Report this
OMG. Over here in good old europe, I gave birth and stayed in the hospital for 4 days (2 beds per room, great, freshly cooked food, visitsnfrom the doc and nurses a couple times a day) and it only cost me about 7500 dollars. WTH? Anyway, love the writing.
Posted by ylene on April 12, 2013 at 1:34 PM · Report this
ArtBasketSara 19
If only you'd watched the documentary "Owls of Ga'Hoole"! I mean, it is a documentary right?
Posted by ArtBasketSara on April 12, 2013 at 1:42 PM · Report this
@4/5 It doesn't sound like Andrew was worried about rabies transmission from an owl but worried that there was a slim chance he may have been struck/bitten by a bat. With 100% fatality rate for untreated rabies bites, I'd say 20K is worth it.
Posted by TBne on April 12, 2013 at 1:56 PM · Report this
I've been dive-bombed by crows on Queen Anne. It's terrifying. And light doesn't seem to bother them. Thanks for sharing!
Posted by PamAmI on April 12, 2013 at 2:02 PM · Report this
Who did the artwork? I want.
Posted by jen on April 12, 2013 at 2:23 PM · Report this
Cascadian 23
I was divebombed by a crow a couple of years ago on Elliott Ave as it passes under the Sculpture Park, as I walked to work in the morning. It didn't draw blood, luckily.

I think the birds are just biding their time until the avian revolution, when finally they can depose their simian overlords.
Posted by Cascadian on April 12, 2013 at 2:47 PM · Report this
On 12th Ave last year I was walking with three other people on our way to breakfast one morning and the other three people got relentlessly dive-bombed by a pair of huge crows. Block after block. Every few steps one of my friends would leap for cover, hands waving about comically, screaming.

But the crows completely ignored me. I just stood there laughing.

So I started yelling after my panicked friends: "KILL THEM, MY BEAUTIES! KILL THEM! PECK OUT THIER EYES! HAHAHA!!!"

And then one of the crows took a heaping shit on my shoulder.
Posted by tkc on April 12, 2013 at 3:44 PM · Report this
Owls, schmowls. It's the crows you need to watch out for, because they're in every neighborhood. I used to love the crows, but I'm tired of being strafed. The first time, I thought the crow was worried about a nest, but the last two times, I've been walking while munching on baked goods (Fresh Flours --- can't wait to bite into their delectables). Each time, the crow pursued me until I managed to hide/devour the goods. I don't know what the plan was...a talon to the scalp to make me drop my muffin?
Posted by Sabura on April 12, 2013 at 5:23 PM · Report this
This is why I always say a polite "hey, crow" whenever I pass near one. And I haven't been attacked… yet.
Posted by philaros http://philaros.livejournal.com on April 12, 2013 at 5:47 PM · Report this
Not only is Australian health care cheap, our pigs don't have trichinosis.
Posted by Repeat on April 12, 2013 at 11:45 PM · Report this
inquiastador 28
Barely even slightly better than his awful music reviews for the Times.
Posted by inquiastador on April 13, 2013 at 8:31 PM · Report this
Great. All the hipsters will flood Frink Park now.

Or not. Because you said Central District. And there's a lot of black people here.

(Read: War on Taxis)
Posted by sonovab on April 13, 2013 at 9:11 PM · Report this
Owl attacks...just in time for the 50-year anniversary of Alfred Hitchcock's "The Birds". Yikes--scary is right! Sorry that happened to you, Andrew, but I'm glad to hear you're okay.

This is going just slightly off topic, but could the increasing number of urban owl attacks have anything to do with something they ate? A true case (NOT Daphne DuMaurier's short story that took place in the English Moors), that took place in Monterey Bay, California in 1961, which inspired Hitchcock's avian studded 1963 horror flick with Tippi Hedren, Rod Taylor, Jessica Tandy and the ill-fated Suzanne Pleshette, reported flocks of seagulls and other shorebirds that had smashed into windows of homes and businesses after the birds became poisoned from eating toxic shellfish in polluted nearby waters.
Hedren really was attacked by real LIVE birds in that attic, and at age 83, wishes she could have sued the eerily obsessive Hitchcock for every dime he had.

This sounds like a good argument for re-examining the water quality in King County, and cleaning up Lake Washington, Lake Union, and Puget Sound!
Posted by auntie grizelda on April 14, 2013 at 5:31 PM · Report this
Bacon isn't raw meat. You can eat it without cooking it.
Posted by jack chandelier on April 15, 2013 at 5:41 AM · Report this
As a long time barred owl observer, I suspect it mistook your pigtails and the sound of the headsets as prey. Owls use sound more than sight to find prey. I suspect most (if not all) attacks by barred owls involve headphones. If this owl was attacking the person, it would have clawed the person, not her pigtails.
Posted by OwlGuy on April 15, 2013 at 3:52 PM · Report this
Aaron Huffman 33
If you're interested in the lovely owl art by Hyunyoung Kim, go to callmekim.com and look for the link to the "About Hyunyoung" page. There's contact info at the bottom of the page.
Posted by Aaron Huffman on April 15, 2013 at 6:38 PM · Report this
Twenty two grand?! Jesus, America. Get universal healthcare already. I know in your case you said your benefits covered it, but it's still ridiculous.
Posted by whaaaaaaaaaaat on April 16, 2013 at 4:15 PM · Report this
Just wait until you get bitten by a rattlesnake, hipsters. 22 grand is cheap compared to what the antivenin will cost you.
Posted by Unbrainwashed on April 16, 2013 at 10:28 PM · Report this
Seattlebcc 36
22,000 for shots? It wont be long before the medical establishmwnt collapses under its own overbloated financial weight. Not good when over 25% of this country's GDP is wrapped up in healthcare.
Posted by Seattlebcc on April 17, 2013 at 6:42 AM · Report this
uhh...This was perhaps the stupidiest story I have ever read in the Stranger. Andrew is a complete idiot and self-obsessed twat. Your doctor said not to worry about getting rabies from an owl, but noooo you insisted, calling to get anyone to agree with you, even though you found out that owl attacks are common but NO ONE gets rabies shots after. You racked up completely retarded and unnecessary charges to your health insurance- thus making it more expensive for the rest of us. Congratulations on being a complete douchbag.
Posted by adrmag on April 19, 2013 at 9:14 AM · Report this
@20 a typical bat weighs less than half an ounce and a barred owl weighs about 2 lbs. The owl weighs 100 times the bat!

While I completely agree that being bitten by a bat is a serious rabies risk based on the description of the attack there was zero possibility of it being a bat.

Additionally bat bites are often painless, which is why if you wake up in a room with a bat it's best to test it for rabies as it might have bitten you while you were sleeping, and it does not ever feel like being stabbed with scissors.
Posted by Incompossible on April 19, 2013 at 10:29 AM · Report this

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