PURMEREND, Netherlands — The residents of one Dutch town are cowering under umbrellas after an aggressive eagle owl started swooping out of the sky, sinking its talons into them and gouging their flesh.
The so-called "terror owl" has become a media sensation after attacking people in recent weeks in and around Purmerend, 20 kilometers (12 miles) north of Amsterdam. The hardest hit area in town is the Prinsenstichting assisted-living complex for people with disabilities.
A spokeswoman for the complex, Lieselotte de Bruijn, said Thursday the owl has attacked up to 20 people there in recent weeks, sometimes causing injuries that required stitches.
One Prinsenstichting resident who fell prey to the owl, Niels Verkooijen, told the Dutch news show Hart van Nederland that it was a painful experience.
"It was like having a brick laced with nails thrown at your head," he said.
The town is warning residents to steer clear of the bird, which is reported to be 60-to-75 centimeters (24-to-30 inches) tall. It has applied for a permit to catch the owl, which is a protected species. Officials suspect the "terror owl" was once kept in captivity, as they say such aggressive behavior is not known among wild eagle owls and the species is not commonly found in the region.
In the meantime, the town has advised residents not to approach the bird and to use umbrellas if they are walking in the evening, when the owl is most active. Marielle de Munnik of Rabobank said staff visited the Prinsenstichting complex this week to hand out dozens of umbrellas.
Bas van Gelderen, who works at Prinsenstichting, saw an owl attack a resident, gouging her cheek with its talons.
"(Now) when we go out at night, or when it's dark, we go out only with umbrellas," he said.
Mike Corder in The Hague contributed.