Huge snowy owl attacks dog
Rare for snowy owls to attack pets, say experts
Wednesday, Nov 30, 2011 06:00 am
A St. Albert family is warning pet owners to watch the skies after an unprecedented, fatal attack on their dog by a snowy owl.
Darrell Bablitz says he and his wife, Roxy, added a black and brown Yorkshire terrier named Maggie May to their home back in February.
“She was almost one-year-old to the day,” he says, and was about the size of a cat, when attacked Nov. 22 by a large snowy owl.
The couple let the dog out into their Erin Ridge backyard as usual at about 6:30 p.m., Bablitz says. They soon heard a strange whoosh from the yard, which Roxy went to investigate.
“She took about four steps onto our deck and gave out a yell,” Bablitz says.
He ran out in his sweats and slippers and saw a large owl perched atop his dog, grasping it by the head and stomach. The owl was about three feet tall, with a flat face, bright yellow eyes, almost pure white feathers and no ear tufts. He later identified it as a snowy owl.
Bablitz says he took a swing at the owl with a slipper, which scared it off. Veterinarians determined that the bird's sizeable claws had given the dog brain and eye damage.
“They waited 12 hours, and it couldn't stand up or sit anymore, so we had to put it down.”
It's been a rough week since then, Bablitz says. “We've been pretty scared about even going to the backyard.”
Rare attack, say experts
Snowy owls are migratory birds that spend their winters in Alberta, according to Alberta Sustainable Resource Development. They are typically 60 centimetres (two feet) long with white or white-barred-with-brown feathers.
Judging from its size and coloration, says Gordon Court, a wildlife status biologist specializing in raptors who works for Sustainable Resource Development, this particular bird was likely an adult male snowy owl, as the males tend to be pure white.
While snowy owls do eat rabbits, Court says it's extraordinarily rare for them to attack pets, let alone in an urban setting.
“I don't know of any records of a snowy owl doing that sort of thing.”
Great horned owls are known pet predators, he says, but it would be hard to confuse one with a snowy — they're grey and have big ear tufts. This might have been an albino horned owl, he speculates, but that would be even less probable.
Local birder Peter Demulder, a 40-year veteran of bird-watching in the city, says St. Albert usually gets about two to 12 snowy owls each winter, but most stick to hunting voles in open fields.
He was flabbergasted when told of this incident.
“I've never heard of a snowy owl taking a domestic little dog,” he says, and he had never seen a snowy owl in Erin Ridge. “I'll have to go out there tomorrow and have a look around.”
Owls typically attack pets when they're injured or very hungry, Court says, which he suspects was the case here. Pet owners should keep an eye on their animals at night around this time of year as a result.
Bablitz says he doesn't blame the owl for what happened, and hasn't seen it since. “Maybe it was hungry or something.”
He's since warned his neighbours to watch out for owls. “We all have small dogs, so maybe he'll fly back and try to get another one.”