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Last night, I had to climb a tower at work. When I reached the top platform (about 40 feet up), and turned my back to close the swinging gate behind me, I was whacked on the back of the head.

Fortunately, I was wearing a hard hat and was not knocked off my feet. It did hurt, though - without the hard hat it would have been worse.

What hit me? A bird. I saw it gliding away as I looked around to see "what hit me" (literally). It was probably an owl, as this was after dark. We also have seagulls in the area, and it's possible it was one of them, too. I wasn't being overly observant at the moment, obviously, as I don't know which one it was - it was a good-sized bird, though.

I realized then that the other time a similar occurrence transpired it had to be a bird, too - possibly the same feathered "friend." I had thought somebody had hit me with a rock or a dirt clod (but nobody was around; I looked at the ground below me, rather than outwards, where I would have no doubt seen a bird, as I did last night).

The platform is small and when the plant is in operation, very noisy and vibrates. I am almost 100% certain there is no nest up there.

So why did this bird attack me? Both times it/they whacked me on the back of my head, hitting my (plain white) hard hat. They were sharp blows that hurt, even with the hard hat protecting my noggin.

My question is: why would this/these bird[s] attack me? For fun? Because I was in their airspace? Or what? I have never molested them. I have shone a flashlight on them a couple of times as they sat in their tree. They have never swooped down on me as I was walking in the area, only when I'm about 40 feet above ground level.

This occurred in Marina, California, a quarter mile east of Monterey Bay (between the Bay and Highway 1).

Do owls (or seagulls) have something against white hard hats, or people climbing up on platforms?

  • 4
    They could be nesting near by. – paparazzo Apr 29 '18 at 22:14
  • Could you hear it flapping it's wings? Owls have velvety feathers and have evolved to fly silent, you can't hear them flying even when they fly directly overhead. Most other birds you can hear the whoosh of air as they flap their wings. – ShemSeger Apr 30 '18 at 14:51
  • @ShemSeger Owls aren't totally silent, if you are close enough you can definitely hear them. – Charlie Brumbaugh Apr 30 '18 at 15:07
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    Sounds like an owfull experience... – Charlie Brumbaugh Apr 30 '18 at 15:27
  • @CharlieBrumbaugh I've been close enough, we have lots of owls here, I had one fly right over my head once and never heard it coming. It was it's shadow in the moonlight flashing over my face that gave it away. – ShemSeger Apr 30 '18 at 16:23
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You almost certainly got close to a nest. The behavior you describe fits various raptors when intruders get close to a nest. There very likely is a nest up there somewhere. If the nest isn't on the tower, then it is in a nearby tree.

The bird being a owl wouldn't be my first thought. A seagull is even more unlikely. Since you're only ¼ mile from the coast, a osprey would fit. However, various hawks and falcons exhibit the same behavior.

Ospreys would nest right on top, perhaps on the roof so that you can't see the nest from the tower. Falcons would usually go for a niche, like a shelf just under the roof.

Look really carefully with binoculars from the ground. Consider avoiding having people go up the tower during nesting season, although you haven't said what the purpose of the tower is and how realistic such a restriction might be.

  • Terns also exhibit this behaviour during nesting season, but probably not in the environment described by the OP. – Rory Alsop Apr 30 '18 at 12:06
  • We have to climb the tower about once a week to reset the router. It's only happened twice, so it's not a "scientific" observation, but both occasions took place at night, so I'll try to go up during daylight hours when possible. – B. Clay Shannon Apr 30 '18 at 20:33
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    @B.Clay: Sounds like the real problem is poor design, with no way to reset the equipment without climbing up the tower. – Olin Lathrop Apr 30 '18 at 21:48
  • @OlinLathrop: Cheap and old router - a recipe for cameras that become easily disconnected and "chew up" battery life. – B. Clay Shannon May 1 '18 at 19:22
  • Crows and ravens and such (corvids) do it as well, it's called mobbing. Even when they do it alone, curiously. Both corvids and gulls often make some noise while doing it though, an owl would fit it happening in silence. – Monster May 4 '18 at 11:39
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So, you saw it gliding away. And it didn't return to resume an attack. Which makes me think that the contact was not intended.

Very likely a night hawk or a nightjar; they do not really care about the obstacles.

  • 1
    Nighthawks are relatively small birds and don't glide much. They aren't even hawks, despite the common name. It is rather unlikely the bird was any of the nightjars (Caprimulgidae). – Olin Lathrop May 4 '18 at 11:24
  • @user58697: It happened twice, though. Would have to be a pretty clumsy bird or set of birds to be smashing into things that often. – B. Clay Shannon May 4 '18 at 14:18

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