You would be wise to keep an eye on the sky going outdoors or getting out of a car in southeast Springfield. You really should give a hoot because you might be the next target.
Timmery Clark sent us a photo of an owl landed on her head the week before Christmas. "This was the second time the owl landed on me in the space of 5 minutes outside Hebrews Coffee on Republic Road. It was very gentle--I thought it might hurt me, but both times it very calmly and gently settled on my head (even though I was laughing and screaming). It was pretty surreal, but a funny moment to have caught on film!" says Clark.
Most of the attacks, probably about a dozen in all, have been reported in the neighborhoods south of Republic Road, Ravenwood, Spring Creek and Ravenwood South. The owl or owls seem to like landing on human heads.
Folks on Raven Place are doing more bird watching than usual, at least Rance Cooper is, after his experience early Tuesday morning as he was leaning in the car window, talking to his wife. "I just turned just in time to see the claws right here, coming at my face. That's when I ducked, and he hit the head and started grabbing, and I started swatting, not looking too masculine at that point," Rance says.
After swatting the owl's wings, Rance got in a solid blow, and the owl finally flew off. Rance now knows how his son felt a few weeks before when he was attacked at a friend's house.
Ten year old Ty Cooper says, "He just flew down, acted like he was going to curve off that way, but then he just like darted straight at my head, and he got my hair," Ty says. His family joked the owl thought Ty's hair was a nest, as he is growing out his hair to donate it for cancer patient wigs.
Now the Cooper family has a reason besides the cold to stay inside. Rance says he's sure to take a quick look up before dashing to the car. They're also taking precautions with the family cat. "We definitely make sure that he's not outdoors at dusk or in the morning, early before the sun comes up," Rance says.
The Ravenwood Homeowners Association is working to spread awareness in the area. "I put out a group e-mail yesterday, asking if anybody had seen an owl, heard an owl, had an incident, and I've received several reports back of attacks," says RHA board member Carole Lambert.
Attacks have also been reported at Houlihan's, Target, and the YMCA. Dean Curtis of the Springfield News-Leader got a photo of a great horned owl in the YMCA parking lot last month, the species suspected in the attacks.
If you are heading outdoors and want to protect yourself, conservation specialists say you could use an umbrella to cover your head, and you could carry a stick or a bat, because you are allowed to defend yourself.
"It's bizarre, and some people might think, well, that's funny! But we are taking it seriously," says Lambert.
No one know who could be the owl's next target. "I have a lot of respect for them, even a little bit more now," says Rance Cooper.
Cooper believes the attacks may be by more than one owl. Conservation officials can't say.
The Missouri Department of Conservation says it is breeding season for great horned owls, and they often protect their territory, but the attacks cover an area usually too large for a single owl's territory.
Because they're a federally protected species, a USDA representative is assisting the Missouri Department of Conservation. If they can figure out the area where the owl is nesting, they hope to use a live trap and relocate the owl.
Learn more about great horned owls at the Missouri Department of Conservation website here.