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Watch for territorial owls at Green Lakes State Park

A barred owl perches in a tree.
Mara Koenig/USFWS
A barred owl perches in a tree.

Workers at Green Lakes State Park are posting warning signs on the trails, after they received reports of owls acting aggressively over the past few months.

A spokesperson for the New York State Parks Department said the park has heard of owls hitting visitors in the head or grabbing their headlamps on the trails around Round Lake during the summer months. Most of the incidents were in the early morning hours before sunrise.

Chris Briggs, an instructor at SUNY ESF, said it sounds like the actions of a cranky barred owl.

"It's probably some aggressive youngster who's just kind of figuring out where in the world they fit and is getting a little annoyed that somebody is coming through their hunting lanes and disrupting their hunting,” he said.

Briggs said owls usually breed early in the year and lay eggs in the spring. The parents will take care of their young until around this time of year, when the babies will start exploring more.

While the state said it has not received any reports of bites or wounds from owls at Green Lakes, Briggs said there are ways people can protect themselves if they’re concerned. An umbrella can provide a layer of protection, or you may be able to trick them because owls don’t like to attack people from the front.

"If you have a mask or something or something that looks like it has eyes, I mean just put on a hat with big googly eyes on the back, especially if they're a little reflective,” Briggs said. “It's going to make that owl think that you see it, so even if it dives toward you, it's not going to probably come quite as low."

The state said it’s likely the aggressive behavior will decline as the young owls leave their nesting area. Briggs agrees.

“Like us, they're just trying to make a living, and sometimes they want to make sure that they have enough room and that they have access to their prey."

Briggs said owls are a federally protected animal, so while people can defend themselves if attacked, it’s illegal to harass, hurt, or provoke them if they’re not acting dangerously.


Jessica Cain is a freelance reporter for WRVO, covering issues around central New York. Most recently, Jessica was a package producer at Fox News in New York City, where she worked on major news events, including the 2016 presidential conventions and election. Prior to that, she worked as a reporter and anchor for multiple media outlets in central and northern New York. A Camillus native, Jessica enjoys exploring the outdoors with her daughters, going to the theater, playing the piano, and reading.