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Clinicopathologic Reports, Case Reports, and Small Case Series
October 2004

Imitation of Typical Birdcall Causes Ocular Perforation by a TawnyOwl Attack

Author Affiliations


Arch Ophthalmol. 2004;122(10):1556-1557. doi:10.1001/archopht.122.10.1556

Bird attacks on people are rare, but they have been described for severalspecies.1 Most reports involve domesticbirds such as roosters, where the mistreated bird seems to have acted in self-defense.In the wilderness, owls, birds of prey, and magpies are known to attack people.Whereas fast-moving objects on the ground, such as joggers, seem to triggerassaults by birds of prey, magpies are reported to attack mostly childrenand often from behind.2 Owl attacks havebeen reported to occur mainly in springtime, when the young are leaving thenest.3 In this case, the attack was mostlikely provoked by the imitation of the typical birdcall of this rather aggressivespecies during the highly vulnerable prebreeding season, which is marked bythe final establishment of tawny owls' breeding territories. The fact thatthe injury was caused by the bird's claw may be typical for this species becausethis is their strongest weapon. This is in contrast to most other reportson bird attacks, in which injuries are inflicted by beak hits.

Report of a Case

On a late December night, a hunter on a raised hide was attacked bya tawny owl (Strix aluco) immediately after he had imitated the characteristicbirdcall of this species. During the summer, he had mimicked this birdcallmany times. Never before had he experienced any aggressive behavior by thebird, but instead he was usually answered by the owl's song. The attack resultedin several superficial skin wounds on his right cheek and nose and radiallimbal-scleral perforation with uveal, vitreal, and retinal incarceration.The lesions' distribution revealed the typical pattern of the bird's claw(Figure 1). Because of intraocularhemorrhage and massive inflammatory infiltration, which is typical for perforatinginjuries by organic material, vision was reduced to light perception. Afterresection of the incarcerated tissue, the corneal and scleral wounds weresutured, and cryocoagulation was applied to the retinal defects. Ofloxacineyedrops (four times daily) and dexamethasone eyedrops (one week four timesdaily, another week twice daily) were given topically. Oral ciprofloxacin(750 mg twice daily for one week) and oral prednisone (100 mg once a day for4 days, then down-titrated for 10 days until discontinued) were given as systemictreatment. Eight weeks later, vitreous traction caused a retinal break, whichwas successfully treated by laser coagulation. During a 5-month follow-up,the vitreous cleared progressively and visual acuity increased to 20/25.

Injuries of the skin and the right eye after the attack of a tawnyowl. The lesions' distribution reveals the typical pattern of the bird's claw(arrows).

Injuries of the skin and the right eye after the attack of a tawnyowl. The lesions' distribution reveals the typical pattern of the bird's claw(arrows).


In conclusion, this case demonstrates that, depending on species andseason, special caution is needed when attracting birds by imitating theircall. Furthermore, this example confirms that successful treatment of perforatingeye injuries after bird attacks is possible4 ifimmediate surgical care as well as consequential treatment of the usuallysubsequent severe septic inflammation is provided, in our case with high-dosesystemic and local antibiotics and steroids.

Correspondence: Dr Pruente, University Eye Clinic Basel, MittlereStr 91, 4012 Basel, Switzerland (cpruente@uhbs.ch).

The authors have no relevant financial interest in this article.

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