April 2, 2018

"The doctors’ conclusion... is that Beckett was attacked by a large bird of prey, probably a great horned owl."

"He likely encroached, unknowingly, on the bird’s nest and was blindsided with such force that he was knocked unconscious. The image of our son alone, face down in the snow, is haunting. We wonder what might have happened if he hadn’t managed to stagger to his feet and find his way home...  Andrew Vitz, the state ornithologist, tells me the Fells is home to raptors, including several types of hawks. But because hawks nest in the late spring and summer, they typically don’t behave aggressively in winter. If they do strike, Vitz says, hawks don’t inflict the sort of damage that was done to Beckett. But great horned owls, which also reside in the Fells, are another matter. They nest in the winter and they’re bigger, more powerful birds, weighing about 4 pounds and capable of flying 40 miles per hour. Great horned owls are notorious for their stealth and strength. They strike without warning — their feathers are adapted to minimize noise during flight — and their long, needle-sharp talons can apply sufficient pressure to snap the spine of their prey. 'The great horned owl is a large, very strong bird, and when it strikes, it’s almost always at the head'..."

From "Something attacked my son while he was sledding in the woods. But what?/My child went sledding alone and emerged from the trees bloody and dazed. He still can’t remember what happened" (Boston Globe).

54 comments:

Michael said...

http://www.audubon.org/news/was-owl-real-culprit-peterson-murder-mystery

Wilbur said...

I went running early one summer morning at the track around a local high school. I saw a sign next to what appeared a raised wooden box near the field itself. The sign said there a rare owl nesting there and warning not to approach it. I ran by it, at what I considered a safe distance, and was soon set upon by this owl, whose swoops and shrieks scared the living crap out of me. I sprinted out of there, setting what was surely a new land speed record.

You don't mess with an owl.

Yancey Ward said...

I still doubt it was a bird- the only real reason they even thought it was bird is what the boy said after the accident about a bird carrying two people away. It was interesting to me that the father didn't really describe the actual location of the accident- he tried to pass it off as a walk between two hills, but then later claimed his son would have bailed out on a sled heading to a tree, which is inconsistent to me. However, I spent many Winters sledding down steep hills- bailing off a sled carries its own risks of hitting the ground and jutting rocks.

Rob said...

Horned owl, my ass. Beckett was attacked by Godot.

Big Mike said...

The wildlife documentaries that they like to show on PBS like to show hawk and owl strikes in slow motion. I've seen a hawk strike a pigeon in the back yard of my old house -- those birds are fast.

gspencer said...

An owl story, from homeschooling days,

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e6aYYiyQUmY

robother said...

God. A boy named Beckett? And no doubt his dog named Sartre, chasing their cat named Camus.

Fernandistien said...

I could never understand how eagles (~15 pounds max) could bring down a wolf (around 50-100 pounds, depending) - turns out the wolf is running from people on horseback and doesn't notice the eagles coming up (down?) behind him until they latch onto his neck.

Ron Winkleheimer said...

I've got a friend who volunteers at a raptor rehab center. I've seen some of the raptors close up and its obvious they could inflict serious damage to a human if they wanted to.

rehajm said...

The Fells is an interesting place that feels like the backwoods of Maine yet it's a 10 minute drive from Boston Common.

Ron Winkleheimer said...

The friend who volunteers at the raptor rehab center has told me that anytime you see a bunch of feathers on the ground, but no bird, a hawk most likely got it. Hawks, he told me, are bird killing machines.

rehajm said...

All animals are hungry opportunists limited only by their weapons and some laws of physics. That way the cat looks at you? Yeah, don't kid yourself...

The Bergall said...

A bird once pooped on my head.............

~ Gordon Pasha said...

"Nature doesn't care if you're having fun." ~ Larry Niven

rehajm said...

If he tries to focus on Harry Potter — the book or the movie — he gets nauseated and his head begins to ache

Someone was trying to send him a message.

Nonapod said...

In pre-European New Zealand there was a massive eagle called the Haast Eagle. It went extinct around 1400AD, about 280 years before the first Eurpeans arrived. It's estimated that the females could reach weights of 30-35lbs (the males were probably smaller, 20-25lbs). It's suspected they preyed on the (now also extinct) large flightless birds called Moa, many of which were as big or much bigger than humans, by dive bombing them at 50mph. They briefly coexisted with humans, the Māori people. It's pretty likely that these giant eagles may have attempted to prey on the humans. It's believed the Māori drove them to extinction, possibly as a way of self defense.

Curious George said...

I had a red-winged blackbird go after me on the golf course. Knocked my hat off. Very protective of their nest, I was about 20' away from the tree when he came out.

Birkel said...

There was a Dateline television show in which a wife suffered injuries to her head and died, consistent with an owl attack. I think the husband was convicted of murder. If memory serves, the woman died in Durham, NC.

Owls are more dangerous than most folks think.

Sydney said...

We had a hawk nesting in our neighborhood years ago when the kids were small. It attacked a neighbor boy because he walked by the nest.

tcrosse said...

God. A boy named Beckett?

Whoooo will rid me of this troublesome teenager ?

Pinandpuller said...

I don't climb on my roof when I'm home alone. Or clean my guns.

teej said...


It was probably some eldritch beast that wandered down from Arkham!

Birkel said...

**shakes fist at Michael**

Well, darn. Michael got there with the first comment.

pacwest said...

My bird story: On the 10th tee (Anchorage AK) we saw a bald eagle sitting on a large limb (3-4" dia) of a cottonwood. As we were watching it started to take off without letting go of the limb. After about four huge flaps (wingspan 8' or more) the limb broke off and it carried it for a couple of more flaps before letting go. We checked the limb and it was fairly rotten at the break, and weighed 30-40 lbs! No idea what caused the behavior, but it was pretty amazing to watch and hear. Powerful bird!

exhelodrvr1 said...

Probably a white walker. He needs to be beheaded for abandoning his post

Rick Turley said...

We've got a big horned owl out in the woods. Not ever seen a nest. On the other hand, we had a pair of hawks nesting two years ago about 200 feet from the garage door. The parents would shriek holy murder when we walked out. Made us a little nervous.

Unknown said...

I had a grouse approach me loudly and aggressively once while on a walk in the woods near my house north of Boston MA. I found it humorous at the time, and never felt seriously threatened, but I was surprised and impressed that such a small animal would act that way toward a much larger one.

-sw

Gabriel said...

Doctors don't always see through lies. They base a lot of what they tell you on what you have told them.

My sister, in high school, was taken to see a doctor because she was behaving very erratically. She was diagnosed with water intoxication, based on her behavior and what she told the doctor, but in reality it was ethanol intoxication, as she told me privately that year.

Now maybe the doctor saw through it and chose to tell our mother something different? My sister says she doesn't think so but I'll allow for the possibility.

So I'm not sure I put a lot of stock in the "owl theory", not without a lot more facts than are recited in the article--seems a lot more consistent with a sledding accident. Since the kid had to get rabies shots in his face, if he WAS lying he has been punished already...

In fact the story seems a bit like a kid getting kicked in a horse pasture and the father insisting it must have been a zebra.

Mary Beth said...

The Bergall said...

A bird once pooped on my head.............

4/2/18, 1:22 PM


You have a special connection with nature. It's like you're Snow White or something.

James Smith said...

Years ago I attended a lecture by an ornithologist who's area of expertise was owls. He said the Great Horned Owl was the most dangerous bird in North America. He said that when they attack they prefer to come in from behind the target and aim for the upper spinal column or neck. He claimed that there were 2 confirmed killings of humans. Both men were attacked from behind. One had his carotid artery ripped open, the other had a broken neck.

John Scott said...

My wife and I once were outside on our sidewalk talking to a neighbor. It was dusk and my wife had our daughter in our arms. She was about 5 months old at the time. As we were talking something caught my eye from above. I look up in time to see an large owl fly by within 20 feet us. There's no doubt in my mine that if my daughter had been sitting on the ground alone she would have been attacked.

As a hang glider pilot I often have the occasion to fly with various raptors. Here in Southern California it is mostly red tail hawks. However sometimes we run into the big ones. One year I was flying the Sierras when I felt the presence of something behind me. At the time I was working a light thermal at about 12,000 ft. I turned around to see a massive Golden Eagle just of my keel. I was hoping at the time it would get bored a fly away. But after 4 or 5 360s and a gain of about 100 ft in altitude it was in the exact same spot. I opted to leave the thermal and go on glide. Not too many people can say that they have actually soared with eagles, but that damn bird cost me that flight. After leaving the area I never found any other lift and was on the ground shortly after.

John Scott said...

Sorry for the typos

in her arms

just off my keel

And, in case you are wondering, the eagle, for whatever reason, didn't follow me when I went on my glide.

Nonapod said...

And, in case you are wondering, the eagle, for whatever reason, didn't follow me when I went on my glide.

Were you concerned that you might collide with the eagle if you stayed in the thermal?

Fritz said...

Nice to know that the hawks nesting in my back woods now are doing it at the wrong time, just like they did last year.

I saw my first osprey of the year today. The eagles are screaming with delight, no longer having to hunt for themselves or eat carrion.

Kristian Holvoet said...

The friend who volunteers at the raptor rehab center has told me that anytime you see a bunch of feathers on the ground, but no bird, a hawk most likely got it. Hawks, he told me, are bird killing machines.

We have feeders for song birds and wood peckers (we live in SE PA, NW of Philly). One afternoon several birds slammed into windows, and the feeder looked like a keystone cops skit. After a minute it calmed down, and we saw two sharp shinned hawks on our step railing. Apparently our bird feeders became a different sort of bird feeder.

Paul From Minneapolis said...

John Scott, as God is my witness I would would love to try hang gliding but I can't somehow believe I could understand the winds enough to keep from plummeting to earth almost instantly.

Is it not as complicated as I suspect?

Paul From Minneapolis said...

Or are you a special brand of human I can only dream of being?

Wilbur said...

Mary Beth said...
The Bergall said...

A bird once pooped on my head.............

4/2/18, 1:22 PM

You have a special connection with nature. It's like you're Snow White or something.
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------

You got the white part right.

EDH said...

Check out this fascinating analysis of Norman Bates' stuffed owls, etc...

Bird Symbolism in Psycho: Women as Prey

Ron Winkleheimer said...
Hawks, he told me, are bird killing machines.

I know there's a Red Tail hawk in the trees around my house when all the song birds suddenly go deathly quite. They got the memo.

And what's the deal with Winchester Hospital?

Bill said...

Glad the strigine encounter wasn't an Endgame for Beckett.

James Graham said...

Something killed a bird on my back deck during the night. The remains consisting only of feathers (no blood) suggest that the victim was a Mourning Dove.

Hawk? Coyote? Cat?

Ralph L said...

An eagle flew about 15 feet over my head once. Its wings made a whop-whop noise like a helicopter. Scary cuz I wasn't wearing my glasses and heard more than saw a blur go by.

John Scott said...

Nanopod

I was afraid that the eagle might attack my glider tearing up the sail.


Paul from Minneapolis

You learn about weather conditions as you go through your training. All soaring pilots become amateur micrometeorologists. BTW, there are a couple of tow parks in Minnesota to take lessons. At least there used to be. If you click my name it will take you to links for two of my blogs. One is personal, but it has mostly about hang gliding. The other one is a list of site free flight records for each state. Minnesota has a couple of records over 100 miles. If anyone cares the world record for a hang glider is 475 miles. The record was set in Texas.

William Chadwick said...

Young Beckett's friends--Hunter and Porter and other members of the Pretentiously Named Kids of America--vowed vengeance of the bird.

Michael McNeil said...

It's believed the Māori drove them [the Haast eagle] to extinction, possibly as a way of self defense.

Likely the most effective way the Maori “drove them to extinction” was by eliminating (over-hunting) the eagles’ natural prey, the giant Moa birds.

Gordon Scott said...

There is a good book called Wesley: An owl and his girl. A female grad student adopts a barn owl just after hatching and lives with it for the bird's entire life. And yes, the owl considered her his mate, with all that entails.

One time she decided to smuggle her boyfriend into her bed, so he could watch Wesley in his "natural environment" on his perch. The boyfriend hid under the covers so he could see out. She brought Wesley in and put him on the perch and left, closing the door behind her.

After 20 minutes or so, she looked in. The bird was perched on the end of the bed, rather menacingly, and the boyfriend was terrified. The bird had flown from the perch to the bed the instant the door closed and was staring at the guy, hidden under blankets and pillows, intently. Of course, she thought. This is an animal that can hear a mouse heartbeat under a foot of snow, while in flight. The bird knew instantly that the guy was in the bed.

The relationship with the boyfriend did not last much beyond that day.

tim in vermont said...

I got sucked into a clickbait of odd pictures from game cameras, and one of them was an owl attacking a deer. Not impossible that the Dr, who also had examined the actual wounds, is right.

Simon Kenton said...

There was a great-horned owl nest near our residence, on a shelf in a small Dakota Ss hogback. I walked up to look into the yellow eyes of the mother owl. Her eldest was nearly her height; her youngest was about half her size. Both leaned against her. Her look was a meta-human, devoid of curiosity or concern, wholly out of time, sympathy, interest, the impassive look of death protracted into eternity, the look of emptiness in the eyes of Barrier Canyon pictographs. Nothing that was not there, and the nothing that is. I would see it again in the dark eyes of a peregrine falcon: I am become Death, the destroyer of Worlds, in the eye of a small, martial bird perched on a gauntlet. The talons of a great-horned owl lock, which makes it much easier to bring prey back to the owlets. Once the talons set, no muscles need be exerted to carry the meal. So - perhaps this is a ranger myth, but I felt assured of its truth when looking into her eyes - an ornithologist climbed up to a great-horned owl's nest to peer in. The mother dabbed out her talon, plunged it through his eyeball, and it locked on the orbital plate and supraorbital ridge.

anti-de Sitter space said...

If folks work downtown Seattle but still want to have country living sans commuter hell, they should have a house on Bainbridge.

But watch out for owls:

http://www.bainbridgereview.com/news/heads-up-owl-attacks-on-the-rise-round-bainbridge/



IMHO.

Bob Loblaw said...

My sister the vet loved raptors... until she had to work with them. That's when she realized how dangerous they are.

Chris N said...

I’ll see your Beckett and raise you one ‘Archimedes.’ Unfortunately this young guy had the wind knocked out of him by his desperately weird, striving parents.

He probably didn’t know what hit him.

exhelodrvr1 said...

"It's believed the Māori drove them to extinction, possibly as a way of self defense."

That's impossible. Indigenous peoples lived in complete harmony with nature.

nancydr2 said...

Would you have the full Boston Globe article about the boy attacked while sledding? (The link does not open) I want to share it with a friend who recently was attacked by a hawk while bicycling in the Newburyport area. The hawk pierced her helmet and she was fortunate that she did not incur further injury. Thanks! Is there a wildlife hotline to report such attacks?

Ann Althouse said...

@nancydr2

The link works for me.