British Columbia

Hats off to this young owl that stole cap off jogger's head

Alison White was running along the Galloping Goose Trail on Monday when an owl stole her hat and then appeared to try to eat it.

Owl showed 'puzzling' but possibly playful behaviour in grabbing Alison White's favourite hat, biologist says

An owl sits in a tree holding a hat in its talons.
An owl stole Alison White's hat while she was out for a run on Monday night. (Alison White)

Alison White was out for her usual evening run on Monday at dusk when something hit the back of her head. 

"I was terrified because, obviously, I'm like, oh my God, I don't know what's happened."

She looked up and saw an owl flying off with her favourite hat, one she had bought on a trip to Switzerland. 

"I'm pretty sure I screamed."

White runs on the Galloping Goose, a popular 55-kilometre trail that connects Victoria to suburbs to the west. Cyclists and runners use it for recreation and to get into the city.

A woman stands on top of a mountain smiling at the camera.
Alison White had her favourite hat — she's wearing it here — stolen by an owl. (Submitted by Alison White)

White watched as the owl, which appeared to be a barred owl, flew into a tree with her beloved chapeau. Some passersby stopped to try to help her retrieve it. 

"I had hoped that it might drop it, but it didn't," White said. 

Instead, the bird started picking away at it. It appeared to be trying to eat the hat.

Eventually, it flew away, hat in tow. 

'Puzzling behaviour'

Wildlife biologist David Bird says behaviour like this is unusual. 

"I'm not aware that hats of any kind are in the diets of any owl that I know," he said on CBC's All Points West.

He said his son had a toque with a white pom-pom swiped by a hawk once, likely because it looked like a rabbit.

In this case, he said, the hat doesn't resemble anything an owl would prey upon, such as squirrels or smaller birds.

Bird said barred owls commonly defend their territories and their young but typically in the spring and summer. 

But he said the fact the bird took her hat leads him to believe that it may have been playing. 

"It is not beyond the realm of possibility that this owl was simply a young owl from a nest this year, and it was engaging in some sort of play behaviour and playfully grabbed the hat off this woman's head and took it to a tree only to find it was not something he could digest."

"It's really a puzzling behaviour."

He said it's unlikely this would happen to White again or anyone else for that matter. However, people should keep an eye on their small pets, Bird said.

White went back to the area on Tuesday morning and found her hat near where she had last seen the owl. 

Her advice to other runners on the trail?

"Keep an eye out for the owls!"


Courtney Dickson is a journalist in Vancouver, B.C. Email her at with story tips.


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