Owls are probably one of the most misunderstood birds. In folklore they are often associated with wizardry and the like, look no further than the Harry Potter series where every wizard has a pet owl. In some communities, owls are largely omened. Some Native American tribes regard owls as symbols of death. Hearing an owl’s hoot is an unlucky omen and owls featured prominently in scary stories used to deter children from wandering and being noisy at night. In other tribes, owls were associated with ghosts and that they would bring messages from the other side as a warning to those who went against tribal customs.
In East Africa among the Agikuyu of Kenya, owls were not harbingers of death but rather emissaries of God. It was believed that if they hooted near your home, that was a sign of that one needed to repent to for sin and that the owl would return till the wrong is right.
In Greek mythology, the owl is revered as Athena’s, the goddess of wisdom, a companion who would tell her of the unforeseen. This view found its way into popular literature where the owl is presented as a wise animal such as in the famous cartoon, Winnie the Pooh.
With that said, here are some actual facts about owls that may make us understand them a little better.
THE OWL FAMILY
Generally, owls are grouped with hawks and eagles as birds of prey, also known as raptors. This is because they share the common features of sharp talons and sharp curved beaks that are adapted for hunting, killing and eating other animals.
Owls, however, differ from hawks and eagles in many ways. First, is the physical appearance as owls have stocky bodies, rather large heads, soft feathers, short tails and a reversible toe. Owls also have forward-facing eyes, unlike other birds that have their eyes at the sides of their head. Another distinctive characteristic of owls from hawks and eagles is that they are mainly nocturnal. Although some are diurnal, active in the day and rest at night and others are crepuscular, active at dawn and dusk.
As with all other animals, owls are taxonomically classified. Owls belong to the group of birds called Strigiformes. This group is then divided into two families; heart-shaped faced owls, Tytonidae and round-faced owls, Strigidae. There are about two hundred and fifty species of owls in the world and can be found in every continent except for Antarctica.
NIGHT TIME FEEDER
As mentioned, many owls are nocturnal hence are active at night. This includes hunting. Owls spend a lengthy amount of time hunting. Their primary prey are small rodent-like mammals such as mice and voles, but other prey would consist of; frogs, lizards, snakes, fish, rabbits, other birds, squirrels among others. Outliers within the species such as the Flammulated Owls are insectivores meaning that their diet is made up exclusively of insects.
Owls hunting techniques may vary depending on terrain and species. Generally, owls hunt close to the ground so that they may be able to see and hear their prey. Some owls perch and pounce; where they wait for their prey from a comfortable position and the glide down on it. Others use quartering flight where they search for prey as they fly.
OH? I DID NOT KNOW THAT ABOUT OWLS
Owls truly are interesting birds. Here are some facts about them that we might have heard and doubted or had never heard of before.
Owls can turn their heads nearly 360 degrees. Please note the keywords, nearly. Owls cannot make a 360-degree head turn, but they can move their necks 135 degrees in either direction. This gives them a total movement of 270 degrees which is still incredible. Scientists state bone adaptations and different vascular composition allows these birds to do so without cutting off circulation to their brains.
Owls can see very far and very well at night because of their tubular eyes. As opposed to having spherical eyeballs, owls have ‘eye tubes’ that go far back into their skulls. This is another reason that they move their eyes instead of their eyes.
Stealth is an owl’s expertise. Unlike other birds, owls fly very silently. Their feathers are soft and velvety, which muffles noise and break turbulence into smaller currents, which reduces sound.
Their ingestion process is far from aesthetic. Once an owl grabs its prey, it crushes it to death with its strong talons, and if it is small enough, the prey is swallowed whole! If it is too big, it is ripped apart. The owl’s digestive tract processes the body, and the parts that can’t be digested, like fur and bones, are compacted into a pellet, which the owl later regurgitates.
Owls are good at camouflage. Most owls sleep during the day and even then it might be hard to spot them. This is because the colors and markings on their feathers blend with their surroundings. For example, the African Scops Owl has dark brown feathers with streaks of black making it look like the bark of trees.
Owls are advantageous for farmers. Since their prey consists of small rodents, farmers with grain especially would benefit from having owls around. It is estimated that a single barn owl family can eat three thousand rodents in a four-month breeding cycle! In fact, farmers may be warming up to this natural pest control idea compared to poisoning the rodents.
So from the above, owls are generally normal birds of prey, with a few special features here and there. The ominous appearances and nocturnal behavior are adaptations to it their way of life and therefore do not qualify for the owl being a bad omen. As is with all wildlife, people should be considerate of their activities and how they would affect owls, their sources of food places to roost and nest to ensure their needs are met and that these magnificent birds continue to live and thrive.