Mark Zapien was on his morning run when he saw a huge owl near Meyer Circle and Ward Parkway.
It flew away before he could take a picture.
A few days later, Zapien was running near that same spot.
It was 5 a.m., still dark, when he heard “whoosh” and was knocked off stride by a sharp blow to the side of his head.
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“It was enough to stun me for a moment,” Zapien said.
His initial thought was that a newspaper carrier had inadvertently beaned him.
But then he touched the aching spot on his head, pulled his hand away, and saw blood.
Zapien turned and started to head home when a huge winged creature swooped past him and alighted on a tree branch ahead of him.
“I could see the silhouette,” he said. “It was a big one.”
Zapien made a wide detour around the bird and headed home. When his wife checked his scalp, she found several small puncture wounds.
The incident last Monday was at least the sixth reported in the same general area of Brookside since early August.
Attack locations have been clustered on Pennsylvania and Summit for several blocks north of 63rd Street.
All have occurred at dusk or dawn.
After his incident, Zapien contacted Larry Rizzo, natural history biologist with the Missouri Department of Conservation. Rizzo consulted with Mark Robbins, ornithology collection manager at the Biodiversity Institute and Natural History Museum at the University of Kansas.
It is likely a barred or great horned owl defending a nest containing eggs or fledglings. That is not unusual behavior for owls.
What puzzles them is the date.
“It’s pretty strange happening this time of year,” Rizzo said.
Owls typically nest in late winter or early spring, and it may a situation where an adult is still protecting an older fledgling that has not yet left the nest, according to Rizzo.
Robbins said that it could be a situation where a bird may have had a second, later nesting attempt.
“It would be really unusual,” he said. “But it’s not outside the realm of possibility.”
There is another possibility, according to Robbins.
“It could be that you’ve got a crazed individual,” he said.
An owl could be affected neurologically if it had preyed upon a rodent that had consumed some type of poison, a veterinarian told Zapien’s wife.
Whatever the reason for the attack, Zapien said he knew one thing for sure.
“This one was all business,” he said.