Skip to content
Join our Newsletter

Woman swooped by owl on Squamish trail

Quest University student out for a run when the owl grabbed her head
A barred owl, but not the one involved in the incident.

Fourth-year Quest University student Kysa Johnson was swooped by a barred owl.

She was out for a run at 5:15 p.m. Wednesday evening on the trail off Mamquam Road, behind the soccer field at Quest ("access 1" on the Trailforks app) before the Carpenter's Son bridge when the bird swooped in behind her and grabbed her head.

At first, she thought it was a man attacking her from behind, his hands on her head and then his arm swinging around her face to cover her mouth.

But then she felt feathers.

"It is a big bird," she said. "It actually pushed me... toward the ground. I got my bearings and it flew away."

But that wasn't the end of it.

The bird flew back at her two more times.

"I took two steps and it came after me again," she recalled.

She picked up a stick and waved it above her head.

"It still came after me."

After the third swoop at her, Johnson made it onto the bridge. As soon as she stepped on the bridge, the bird stopped following her. "It was like I wasn't even there," she said.

She was too scared to go back the way she came immediately, so went on a longer run than planned. Once dark, she put her coat over her head and ran home.

The owl left marks on her scalp to the point she didn't want to brush through her hair at the top, when she spoke to The Chief Thursday.

She said her hair was in a braid when she was attacked, but she wasn't sure if that was related to the bird's behaviour.

On the Quest student Facebook page, the owl has been a topic of conversation even last spring, with students mentioning they spotted it, or that it flew at them, but she hadn't heard of any other attacks, Johnson said.

Typically, barred owls weigh between 630 and 800 grams (1.4 to 1.8 pounds) and have a wingspan of about 110 cm (43 inches), according to Encyclopædia Britannica.

Attacks by barred owls have been reported from Texas to British Columbia.

Rob Hope, raptor care manager with the OWL (Orphaned Wildlife) Rehabilitation Society, told The Chief this bird was likely protecting its territory or mistook Johnson for prey.

"Pony tail or black hair or anything that resembles a squirrel or some sort of prey," he said. "They don't know that there is 100 pounds and five or six feet below. They just see that hair moving looks like a squirrel tail."

His advice is for those out in the forest to wear brightly coloured clothing.

"They don't' see colour, but it breaks you up from the environment," he said.

Mating season for owls also beings in the early spring, which could have contributed to the incident.

"The males are generally very territorial and that is more so when they are trying to find mates," states an article on owl reproduction on

"All of the various species are very protective of their young. In fact, that is when they will become very aggressive and fight off other animals and even attack humans."

The Chief contacted the Sea to Sky Conservation Service but no one was available to comment. The Chief will update this story as more information becomes available.

This story originally appeared on The Chief website.