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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Fossil range: Late Paleocene–Recent
The rare Northern Spotted Owl
Strix occidentalis caurina
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Subclass: Neornithes
Infraclass: Neognathae
Superorder: Neoaves
Order: Strigiformes
Wagler, 1830

Ogygoptyngidae (fossil)
Palaeoglaucidae (fossil)
Protostrigidae (fossil)
Sophiornithidae (fossil)


Strigidae sensu Sibley & Ahlquist

The Owls are the order Strigiformes, comprising 200 extant birds of prey, species. Most are solitary, and nocturnal, with some exceptions (e.g. the Northern Hawk Owl). Owls hunt mostly small mammals, insects, and other birds, though a few species specialize in hunting fish. They are found in all regions of the Earth except Antarctica, most of Greenland, and some remote islands. Though owls are typically solitary, the literary collective noun for a group of owls is a parliament.

Living owls are divided into two families: the typical owls, Strigidae; and the barn-owls, Tytonidae.



Owls have large forward-facing eyes and ear-holes, a hawk-like beak, a flat face, and usually a conspicuous circle of feathers, a facial disc, around each eye. Although owls have binocular vision, their large eyes are fixed in their sockets, as with other birds, and they must turn their entire head to change views. Most birds of prey sport eyes on the sides of their heads, but the stereoscopic nature of the owl's forward-facing eyes permits a greater sense of depth perception necessary for low-light hunting.

Owls are farsighted and are unable to see anything clearly within a few centimeters of their eyes. Caught prey can be felt by owls with the use of filoplumes, which are small hair-like feathers on the beak and feet that act as "feelers". Their far vision, particularly in low light, is exceptionally good. Contrary to popular myth, an owl cannot turn its head completely backwards. It can turn its head 135 degrees in either direction; it can thus look behind its own shoulders, with a total 270-degree field of view.[1]

The smallest owl is the Elf Owl (Micrathene whitneyi), at as little as 31 g (1.1 oz) and 13.5cm (5.3 inches). Some of the pygmy owls are scarcely larger. The largest owls are two of the eagle owls; the Eurasian Eagle Owl (Bubo bubo) and Blakiston's Fish Owl (Bubo blakistoni)—which may reach a size of 60 - 71cm (28.4 in) long, have a wingspan of almost 2 m (6.6 ft), and an average weight of nearly 4.5kg (10 lb).

Different species of owls make different sounds; the wide range of calls aids owls in finding mates or announcing their presence to potential competitors, and also aids ornithologists and birders in locating these birds and recognizing species. The facial disc helps to funnel the sound of prey to their ears. In many species, these are placed asymmetrically, for better directional location.[2]

Owl eggs are usually white and almost spherical, and range in number from a few to a dozen, depending on species. Eggs are laid at intervals of 1 to 3 days and do not hatch at the same time. This accounts for the wide variation in the size of sibling nestlings. Owls do not construct nests, but rather look for a sheltered nesting site or an abandoned nest in trees, underground burrows, or in buildings, barns and caves.


Most owls are nocturnal, actively hunting for prey only under the cover of darkness. Several types of owl, however, are crepuscular, active during the twilight hours of dawn and dusk; one example is the pygmy owl (Glaucidium). A few owls are also active during the day; examples are the Burrowing Owl (Speotyto cunicularia) and the Short-eared Owl (Asio flammeus).

The serrations on the leading edge of an owl's flight feathers reduce noise.

Much of the owls' hunting strategy depends on stealth and surprise. Owls have at least two adaptations that aid them in achieving stealth. First, the dull coloration of owls' feathers can render them almost invisible under certain conditions. Secondly, serrated edges on the leading edge owls' remiges muffle an owl's wingbeats, allowing its flight to be practically silent. Some fish-eating owls, for which silence is of no evolutionary advantage, lack this adaptation.

An owl's sharp beak and powerful talons allow it to kill its prey before swallowing it whole (unless it is too big). Scientists studying the diets of owls are helped by their habit of regurgitating the indigestible parts of their prey (such as bones, scales and fur) in the form of pellets. These "owl pellets", which are plentiful and easy to interpret, are often sold by companies to schools for dissection by students as a lesson in biology and ecology. [3]

Evolution and systematics

A Great Horned Owl (Bubo virginianus) sleeping at daytime in a hollow tree.

The systematic placement of owls is disputed. For example, the Sibley-Ahlquist taxonomy finds that, based on DNA-DNA hybridization, owls are more closely related to the nightjars and their allies (Caprimulgiformes) than to the diurnal predators in the order Falconiformes; consequently, the Caprimulgiformes are placed in the Strigiformes, and the owls in general become a family Strigidae. This is not supported by more recent research.[4] In any case, the relationships of the Caprimulgiformes, the owls, the falcons and the accipitrid raptors are not resolved to satisfaction; currently there is an increasing trend to consider each group (with the possible exception of the accipitrids) a distinct order.

There are some 220 to 225 extant species of owls, subdivided into two families: typical owls (Strigidae) and barn-owls (Tytonidae). Some entirely extinct families have also been erected based on fossil remains; these differ much from modern owls in being less specialized or specialized in a very different way (such as the terrestrial Sophiornithidae). The Paleocene genera Berruornis and Ogygoptynx show that owls were already present as a distinct lineage some 60 - 57 mya (million years ago), and presumably also some 5 million years earlier, at the extinction of the non-avian dinosaurs. This makes them one of the oldest known groups of non-Galloanserae landbirds. The supposed "Cretaceous owls" Bradycneme and Heptasteornis are apparently non-avialan maniraptors.[5]

During the Paleogene, the Strigiformes radiated into ecological niches now mostly filled by other groups of birds. The owls as we know them today, on the other hand, evolved their characteristic morphology and adaptations during that time, too. By the early Neogene, the other lineages had been displaced by other bird orders, leaving only barn-owls and typical owls. The latter at that time were usually a fairly generic type of (probably earless) owl similar to today's North American Spotted Owl or the European Tawny Owl; the diversity in size and ecology found in typical owls today developed only subsequently.

Around the Paleogene-Neogene boundary (some 25 mya), barn-owls were the dominant group of owls in southern Europe and adjacent Asia at least; the distribution of fossil and present-day owl lineages indicates that their decline is contemporary with the evolution of the different major lineages of typical owls, which for the most part seems to have taken place in Eurasia. In the Americas, there was rather an expansion of immigrant lineages of ancestral typical owls.

The supposed fossil herons "Ardea" perplexa (Middle Miocene of Sansan, France) and "Ardea" lignitum (Late Pliocene of Germany) were more probably owls; the latter was apparently close to the modern genus Bubo. Judging from this, the Late Miocene remains from France described as "Ardea" aureliensis should also be restudied.[6] The Messelasturidae, some of which were initially believed to be basal Strigiformes, are now generally accepted to be diurnal birds of prey showing some convergent evolution towards owls. The taxa often united under Strigogyps[7] were formerly placed in part with the owls, specifically the Sophiornithidae; they appear to be Ameghinornithidae instead.[8]

For fossil species and paleosubspecies of extant taxa, see the genus and species articles.

Unresolved and basal forms (all fossil)

  • Berruornis (Late Paleocene of France) - basal? Sophornithidae?
  • Strigiformes gen. et ap. indet. (Late Paleocene of Zhylga, Kazakhstan)
  • Palaeoglaux (Middle – Late Eocene of WC Europe) - own family Palaeoglaucidae or Strigidae?
  • Palaeobyas (Late Eocene/Early Oligocene of Quercy, France) - Tytonidae? Sophiornithidae?
  • Palaeotyto (Late Eocene/Early Oligocene of Quercy, France) - Tytonidae? Sophiornithidae?
  • Strigiformes gen. et spp. indet. (Early Oligocene of Wyoming, USA)[9]


  • Ogygoptynx (Middle/Late Paleocene of Colorado, USA)


  • Eostrix (Early Eocene of WC USA and England - Middle Eocene of WC USA)
  • Minerva (Middle – Late Eocene of W USA) - formerly Protostrix, includes "Aquila" ferox, "Aquila" lydekkeri, and "Bubo" leptosteus
  • Oligostrix (mid-Oligocene of Saxony, Germany)


  • Sophiornis

Strigidae: Typical owls

A Long-eared Owl, Asio otus, in erect pose.

Fossil genera

  • Mioglaux (Late Oligocene? - Early Miocene of WC Europe) - includes "Bubo" poirreiri
  • "Otus/Strix" wintershofensis: fossil (Early/Middle Miocene of Wintershof West, Germany) - may be close to extant genus Ninox[9]
  • Intutula (Early/Middle –? Late Miocene of C Europe) - includes "Strix/Ninox" brevis
  • Alasio (Middle Miocene of Vieux-Collonges, France) - includes "Strix" collongensis

Placement unresolved

Masked Owl, Tyto novaehollandiae.
  • "Strix" edwardsi: fossil (Middle Miocene)
  • "Asio" pygmaeus: fossil (Early Pliocene of Odessa, Ukraine)
  • Ibiza Owl, Strigidae gen. et sp. indet.: prehistoric[10]

Tytonidae: Barn-owls

  • Genus Tyto: typical barn-owls, stand up to 12 feet (0.15 m) tall some 15 species and possibly one recently extinct
  • Genus Phodilus: bay-owls, 1–2 extant species and possibly one recently extinct

Fossil genera

  • Nocturnavis (Late Eocene/Early Oligocene) - includes "Bubo" incertus
  • Necrobyas (Late Eocene/Early Oligocene - Late Miocene) - includes "Bubo" arvernensis and Paratyto
  • Selenornis (Late Eocene/Early Oligocene) - includes "Asio" henrici
  • Prosybris (Early Oligocene? - Early Miocene)

Placement unresolved

  • Tytonidae gen. et sp. indet. "TMT 164" (Middle Miocene) - Prosybris?

Relationship with humans

A Burrowing Owl, Athene cunicularia.

Owls have been a feature of falconry for years. In recent years, many owls have moved from their previous rural habitats to start to inhabit urban areas. The Tawny Owl has been a common visitor to cities across the UK for about forty years, where it survives on a diet of pigeons and small birds.

In many parts of the world, owls have been associated with death and misfortune, likely due to their nocturnal activity and common screeching call. However, owls have also been associated with wisdom and prosperity, frequently being companion animals for goddesses. In Hindu Mythology, the barn owl is considered to be the vehicle of Goddess Lakshmi (Goddess of Wealth) and thus it is considered lucky if an owl resides near a house. The Greek goddess Athena was commonly depicted accompanied by an owl, and it has remained a common Western symbol of wisdom. This symbolism is evident in the frequent use of an owl in the logos of institutions such as universities and libraries.

Henry David Thoreau summarized one perception of owls when he wrote in 1854's Walden, "I rejoice that there are owls. Let them do the idiotic and maniacal hooting for men. It is a sound admirably suited to swamps and twilight woods which no day illustrates, suggesting a vast and underdeveloped nature which men have not recognized. They represent the stark twilight and unsatisfied thoughts which all [men] have."

Use as rodent control

Encouraging natural predators to control rodent population is a natural form of pest control, along with excluding food sources for rodents. Placing a new box for owls on a property can help control rodent populations (one family of hungry barn owls can consume more than 3,000 rodents in a nesting season) while maintaining the naturally balanced food chain.[11]

Owls are also known to become victims of secondary poisoning by eating mice or rats that have previously been poisoned with rodenticides.



Ancient Egyptians used a representation of an owl for their hieroglyph for the sound m. They would often draw this hieroglyph with its legs broken to keep this bird of prey from coming to life.[citation needed].

Among the Kikuyu of Kenya it was believed that owls were harbingers of death. If one saw an owl or heard its hoot, someone was going to die. In general, owls are viewed as harbingers of bad luck, ill health, or death. The belief is widespread even today. [12]

The Americas

Moche Owl, 200 A.D. Larco Museum Collection Lima, Peru.

The feathers of owls are often used in connection with art and ritual. However, in the United States, as with eagle feathers, the possession of owl feathers as religious objects is regulated by federal law (e.g. The Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 and Title 50 Part 22 Code of Federal Regulations).

In the culture of the Uto-Aztec tribe, the Hopi, taboos surround owls, which are associated with sorcery and other evils. The Aztecs and Maya, along with other Natives of Mesoamerica, considered the owl a symbol of death and destruction. In fact, the Aztec god of death, Mictlantecuhtli, was often depicted with owls. There is an old saying in Mexico that is still in use[13]: Cuando el tecolote canta, el indio muere ("When the owl cries/sings, the Indian dies"). The Popol Vuh, a Mayan religious text, describes owls as messengers of Xibalba (the Mayan "Place of Fright").[14] The belief that owls are messengers and harbingers of the dark powers is also found among the Hočągara (Winnebago) of Wisconsin.[15] When in earlier days the Hočągara committed the sin of killing enemies while they were within the sanctuary of the chief's lodge, an owl appeared and spoke to them in the voice of a human, saying, "From now on the Hočągara will have no luck." This marked the beginning of the decline of their tribe.[16] An owl appeared to Glory of the Morning, the only female chief of the Hocak nation, and uttered her name. Soon afterwards she died.[17] People often allude to the reputation of owls as bearers of supernatural danger when they tell misbehaving children, "the owls will get you." [18]

The Moche people of ancient Peru worshipped the animal and often depicted owls in their art.[19]

In pre-Columbian Florida, the owl was one of the sacred totems of the Timucua people. In 1955, a carved owl totem was discovered buried in the St. Johns River.


In Japanese culture, owls are seen as either negative or positive symbols depending on species. Sometimes owls are seen as divine messengers of the gods, while Barn or Horned owls are perceived as demonic figures.

In India, a white owl is considered companion and vāhana (Vehicle of god/goddess) of Lakṣmī, the goddess of wealth, and therefore a harbinger of prosperity.

The demoness Lilith is thought to have been associated with (screech) owls as well, by way of the KJV translation of the passage in Isaiah 34:14. Prior to the rise of Islam, owls were considered bad omens and associated with evil spirits in most Middle Eastern pagan traditions. In modern times, although such superstitions are less prevalent, owls are still popularly considered "evil" because of their fierce appearance.


In Greek mythology, the owl, and specifically the Little Owl, was often associated with the goddess Athena, a bird goddess who became associated with wisdom, the arts, and skills, and as a result, owls also became associated with wisdom. They are the unofficial mascot of the high-IQ society Mensa.

The Romans, in addition to having borrowed the Greek associations of the owl (see Owl of Minerva), also considered owls to be funerary birds, due to their nocturnal activity and often having their nests in inaccessible places. As a result, seeing an owl in the daytime was considered a bad omen. For example, in Book 12 of Virgil's Aeneid, an owl appears before Turnus toward the end of his battle with Aeneas, prefiguring his death, and "a strange, numbing dread / Washed through Turnus' body; his hair / Bristled with fear; his voice stuck in his throat."[20] The vampiric strix of Roman mythology was in part based on the owl.

In France, a difference is made between hiboux, eared owls, which are considered symbols of wisdom, and chouettes, earless owls, which are considered birds of ill omen.

In the Welsh Cycles of the Mabinogion, the Owl is considered cursed; the first owl was Blodeuedd, a woman born of flowers to be the wife of Lleu Llaw Gyffes. Because she fell in love with another man and plotted to kill Lleu, Lleu's guardian Gwydion turned her into the first owl, saying "You are never to show your face to the light of day, rather you shall fear other birds; they will be hostile to you, and it will be their nature to maul and molest you wherever they find you. You will not lose your name but always be called Blodeuwedd." The addition of the w in her name changed her from a woman of flowers to an owl.

In Finland the owl is paradoxically viewed as both a symbol of wisdom, and as a symbol of imbecility, presumably because of its "dumb stare".

Owl conservation issues

Laughing Owl (Sceloglaux albifacies)- last seen 1914

Like most wildlife, owls are increasingly threatened by loss of habitat due to human activity or climate change.[citation needed] In tropical countries with high biodiversity, owls and other forest animals are hunted to supplement the diets or the income of impoverished families. The sale of bushmeat has risen sharply in recent decades. "Silent forest" is a familiar term describing forests that have been completely stripped of wildlife. Logging roads have increased access to previously inaccessible forest depths, and modern automatic weapons have made the shooting of wildlife much more efficient.

All owls are listed in Appendix II of the international CITES treaty (the Convention on Illegal Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora). Although owls have long been hunted, a 2008 news story from Malaysia indicates that the magnitude of owl poaching may be on the rise. In November 2008, TRAFFIC reported the seizure of 900 plucked and "oven-ready" owls in Peninsular Malaysia. Said Chris Shepherd, Senior Programme Officer for TRAFFIC's Southeast Asia office, "This is the first time we know of where 'ready-prepared' owls have been seized in Malaysia, and it may mark the start of a new trend in wild meat from the region. We will be monitoring developments closely." Traffic commended the Department of Wildlife and National Parks in Malaysia for the raid that exposed the huge haul of owls. Included in the seizure were dead and plucked Barn Owls, Spotted Wood Owls, Crested Serpent Eagles, Barred Eagles, and Brown Wood Owls, as well as 7,000 live lizards.[21]


  1. ^ "Wildlife Rehabilitation & Release - Raptors". Retrieved 2009-07-29. 
  2. ^ Cotty, 2008.
  3. ^ "Owl Pellets in the Classroom: Safety Guidelines".
  4. ^ See Haaramo (2006). In reality, the presumed distant relationship of the accipitrids - namely, the "Accipitriformes" according to Sibley and Ahlquist (1990) - with owls (and most other bird lineages) is most likely due to systematic error. Accipitrids have undergone drastic chromosome rearrangement and thus appear in DNA-DNA hybridization generally unlike other living birds.
  5. ^ Mortimer (2004)
  6. ^ Olson (1985): pp.131, 267
  7. ^ Mayr (2005)
  8. ^ Alvarenga & Höfling (2003), Peters (2007)
  9. ^ a b Olson 1985: p.131
  10. ^ Sánchez Marco (2004)
  11. ^ "The Hungry Owl Project". Retrieved 2009-07-29. 
  12. ^ "Owls in Lore and Culture - The Owl Pages". Retrieved 2009-07-29. 
  13. ^ "La Cronica". Retrieved 2009-03-21. 
  14. ^ "The Popol Vuh". Retrieved 2008-07-23. 
  15. ^ See the article "Owls" in the Hočąk Encyclopedia. Retrieved: 4/21/09.
  16. ^ Paul Radin, The Winnebago Tribe (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1990 [1923]) 7-9.
  17. ^ David Lee Smith, Folklore of the Winnebago Tribe (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1997) 160. See also "Glory of the Morning" in the Hočąk Encyclopedia. Retrieved: 4/21/09.
  18. ^ E. W. Lenders, "The Myth of the 'Wah-ru-hap-ah-rah,' or the Sacred Warclub Bundle," Zeitschrift für Ethnologie 46 (1914): 404-420, p. 409.
  19. ^ Berrin & Larco Museum (1997)
  20. ^ Virgil, Aeneid, trans. Stanley Lombardo (Indianapolis: Hackett, 2005): 12.1047-49.
  21. ^ Wednesday (2008-11-12). "Wildlife Trade News - Huge haul of dead owls and live lizards in Peninsular Malaysia". Traffic. Retrieved 2009-07-29. 


  • Alvarenga, Herculano M. F. & Höfling, Elizabeth (2003): Systematic revision of the Phorusrhacidae (Aves: Ralliformes). Papéis Avulsos de Zoologia 43(4): 55-91 The Spirit of Ancient Peru:Treasures from the Museo Arqueológico Rafael Larco Herrera. Thames and Hudson, New York.
  • Calaprice, Alice & Heinrich, Bernd (1990): Owl in the House: A Naturalist's Diary. Joy Street Books, Boston. ISBN 0316354562
  • Haaramo, Mikko (2006): Mikko's Phylogeny Archive: "Caprimulgiformes" - Nightjars. Version of May 11, 2006. Retrieved November 8, 2007.
  • Heinrich, Bernd (1987): One Man's Owl
  • Johnsgard, Paul A. (2002): North American Owls: Biology and Natural History, 2nd ed.. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington DC. ISBN 1-56098-939-4
  • Mayr, Gerald (2005): "Old World phorusrhacids" (Aves, Phorusrhacidae): a new look at Strigogyps ("Aenigmavis") sapea (Peters 1987). PaleoBios (Berkeley) 25(1): 11-16 HTML abstract
  • Mortimer, Michael (2004): The Theropod Database: Phylogeny of taxa. Retrieved August 14, 2008.
  • Norberg, R.A. (1977): Occurrence and independent evolution of bilateral ear asymmetry in owls and implications on owl taxonomy. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London, Series B, Biological Sciences 280: 375-408.
  • Olson, Storrs L. (1985): The fossil record of birds. In: Farner, D.S.; King, J.R. & Parkes, Kenneth C. (eds.): Avian Biology 8: 79-238. Academic Press, New York.
  • Peters, Dieter Stefan (2007): The fossil family Ameghinornithidae (Mourer-Chauviré 1981): a short synopsis. Journal of Ornithology 148(1): 25-28. doi:10.1007/s10336-006-0095-z PDF fulltext
  • Sánchez Marco, Antonio (2004): Avian zoogeographical patterns during the Quaternary in the Mediterranean region and paleoclimatic interpretation. Ardeola 51(1): 91-132. PDF fulltext
  • Sibley, Charles Gald & Monroe, Burt L. Jr. (1990): Distribution and taxonomy of the birds of the world: A Study in Molecular Evolution. Yale University Press, New Haven, CT. ISBN 0-300-04969-2

External links



North America

Source material

Up to date as of January 22, 2010
(Redirected to The Owl article)

From Wikisource

The Owl
by Alfred Tennyson

    When cats run home and light is come,
      And dew is cold upon the ground,
    And the far-off stream is dumb,
      And the whirring sail goes round,
      And the whirring sail goes round;
        Alone and warming his five wits,
        The white owl in the belfry sits.

    When merry milkmaids click the latch,
      And rarely smells the new-mown hay,
    And the cock hath sung beneath the thatch
      Twice or thrice his roundelay,
      Twice or thrice his roundelay;
        Alone and warming his five wits,
        The white owl in the belfry sits.

1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

OWL (0. Eng. Ule, Swed. Uggla, Ger. Eule - all allied to Lat. Ulula, and evidently of imitative origin), the general English name for every nocturnal bird of prey, of which group nearly two hundred species have been recognized. The owls form a very natural assemblage, and one about the limits of which no doubt has for a long while existed. They were formerly placed with the Accipitres or diurnal birds of prey, but are now known to belong to a different group of birds, and are placed as a suborder Striges of Coraciiform birds, their nearest allies being the goatsuckers. The subdivision of the group has always been a fruitful matter of discussion, owing to the great resemblance obtaining among all its members, and the existence of safe characters for its division has only lately been at all generally recognized. By the older naturalists, it is true, owls were divided, as was first done by F. Willughby, into two sections - one in which all the species exhibit tufts of feathers on the head, the so-called " ears " or " horns, " and the second in which the head is not tufted. The artificial and therefore untrustworthy nature of this distinction was shown by Isidore Geoffroy St-Hilaire (Ann. Sc. Naturelles, xxi. 194-203) in 1830. The later work of C. L. Nitzch on pterylography and of A. Milne-Edwards on osteology has led to a division of the family Strigidae into the sub-families Striginae, in which the unnotched sternum has its broad keel joined to the furcula, and Buboninae, in which the sternum is notched posteriorly, the clavicles do not always meet to form a furcula, nor meet the sternum. The Striginae contain the screechor barn-owls (Strix) and the partly intermediate Heliodilus of Madagascar, whilst all the other genera are now placed with the Buboninae. Among owls are found birds which vary in length from 5 in. - as Glaucidium cobanense, which is therefore much smaller than a skylark - to more than 2 ft., a size that is attained by many species. Their plumage, none of the feathers of which possesses an aftershaft, is of the softest kind, rendering their flight almost noiseless. But one of the most characteristic features of this whole group is the ruff, consisting of several rows of small and much curved feathers with stiff shafts - originating from a fold of the skin, which begins on each side of the base of the beak, runs above the eyes, and passing downwards round and behind the ears turns forward, and ends at the chin - and serving to support the longer feathers of the " disk " or space immediately around the eyes, which extend over it. A considerable number of species of owls, belonging to various genera, and natives of countries most widely separated, are remarkable for exhibiting two phases of coloration - one in which the prevalent browns have a more or less rusty-red tinge, and the other in which they incline to grey. Another characteristic of owls is the reversible property of their outer toes, which are when perching quite backwards. Many forms have the legs and toes thickly clothed to the very claws; others have the toes, and even the tarsi, bare, or only sparsely beset by bristles. Among the bare-legged owls those of the Indian Ketupa are conspicuous, and this feature is usually correlated with their fish-catching habits; but certainly other owls that are not known to catch fish present much the same character.

Among the multitude of owls there is only room here to make further mention of a few of the more interesting. First must be noticed the tawny owl - the Strix stridula of Linnaeus, the type, as has been above said, of the whole group, and especially of the Strigine section as here understood. This is the Syrnium aluco of some authors, the chat-huant of the French, the species whose tremulous hooting " to-whit, to-who," has been celebrated by Shakespeare, and, as well as the plaintive call, " keewick," of the young after leaving the nest, will be familiar sounds to many readers, for the bird is very generally distributed throughout most parts of Europe, extending its range through Asia Minor to Palestine, and also to Barbary - but not belonging to the Ethiopian Region or to the eastern half of the Palaearctic. It i. - Strix occidentalis., is the largest of the species indigenous to Britain, and is strictly a woodland bird, only occasionally choosing any other place for its nest than a hollow tree. Its food consists almost entirely of small mammals, chiefly rodents; but, though on this account most deserving of protection from all classes, it is subject to the stupid persecution of the ignorant, and is rapidly declining in numbers.' Its nearest allies in North America are the S. nebulosa, with some kindred forms, one of which, the S. occidentalis of California and Arizona, is figured above; but none of them seem to have the " merry note " that is uttered by the European species. Common to the most northerly forest-tracts of both continents (for, though a slight difference of coloration is observable between American examples and those from the Old World, it is impossible to consider it specific) is the much larger S. cinerea or S. lapponica, whose iron-grey plumage, delicately mottled with dark brown, and the concentric circles of its facial disks make it one of the most remarkable of the group. Then may be noticed the genus Bubo - containing several species 1 All owls have the habit of casting up the indigestible parts of the food swallowed in the form of pellets, which may often be found in abundance under the owl-roost, and reveal without any manner of doubt what the prey of the birds has been. The result in nearly every case shows the enormous service they render to man in destroying rats and mice. Details of many observations to this effect are recorded in the Bericht fiber die XIV. Versammlung der Deutschen Ornithologen-Gesellschaft (pp. 30-34).

which from their size are usually known as eagle-owls. Here the Nearctic and Palaearctic forms are sufficiently distinct - the latter, B. ignavus, 2 the duc or grand duc of the French, ranging over the whole of Europe and Asia north of the Himalayas, while the former, B. virginianus, extends over the whole of North America. A contrast to the generally sombre colour of these birds is shown by the snowy owl, Nyctea scandiaca, a circumpolar species, and the only one of its genus, which disdains the shelter of forests and braves the most rigorous arctic climate, though compelled to migrate southward in winter when no sustenance is left for it. Its large size and white plumage, more or less mottled with black, distinguish this from every other owl. Then may be mentioned the birds commonly known in English as " horned " owls - the hibous of the French, belonging to the genus Asio. One, A. otus (the Otus vulgaris of some authors), inhabits woods, and, distinguished by its long tufts, usually borne erected, would seem to be common to both America and Europe - though experts profess their ability to distinguish between examples from each country. Another species, A. accipitrinus (the Otus brachyotus of many authors), has much shorter tufts on its head, and they are frequently carried depressed so as to escape observation. This is the " woodcock-owl " of English sportsmen, for, though a good many are bred in Great Britain, the majority arrive in autumn from Scandinavia, just about the time that the immigration of woodcocks occurs. This species frequents heaths, moors and the open country generally, to the exclusion of woods, and has an enormous geographical range, including not only all Europe, North Africa and northern Asia, but the whole of America - reaching also to the Falklands, the Galapagos and the Sandwich Islands - for the attempt to separate specifically examples from those localities only shows that they possess more or less well-defined local races. Commonly placed near Asio, but whether really akin to it cannot be stated, is the genus Scops, of which nearly forty species, coming from different parts of the world, have been described; but this number should probably be reduced by one half. The type of the genus S. giu, the petit duc of the French, is a well-known bird in the south of Europe, about as big as a thrush, with very delicately pencilled plumage, occasionally visiting Britain, emigrating in autumn across the Mediterranean, and ranging very far to the eastward. Farther southward, both in Asia and Africa, it is represented by other species of very similar size, and in the eastern part of North America by S. asio, of which there is a tolerably distinct western form, S. kennicotti, besides several local races. S. asio is one of the owls that especially exhibits the dimorphism of coloration above mentioned, and it was long before the true state of the case was understood. At first the two forms were thought to be distinct, and then for some time the belief obtained that the ruddy birds were the young of the greyer form which was called S. naevia; but now the " red owl " and the " mottled owl " of the older American ornithologists are known to be one species. 3 One of the most remarkable of American owls is Speotyto cunicularia, the bird that in the northern part of the continent inhabits the burrows of the prairie dog, and in the southern those of the biscacha, where the latter occurs - making holes for itself, says Darwin, where that is not the case - rattlesnakes being often also joint tenants of the same abodes. The odd association of these animals, interesting as it is, cannot here be more than noticed, for a few words must be said, ere we leave the owls of this section, on the species which has associations of a very different kind - the bird of Pallas Athene, the emblem of the city to which science and art were so welcome. There can be no doubt, from the many representations on coins and sculptures, as to their subject being the Carine noctua of modern ornithologists, but those who know the grotesque actions and ludicrous expression of this veritable buffoon of birds can never 2 This species bears confinement very well, and propagates freely therein. To it belong the historic owls of Arundel Castle.

3 See the remarks of Mr Ridgway in the work before quoted (B. N. America, iii. 9, to), where also response is made to the observations of Mr Allen in the Harvard Bulletin (ii. 33 8, 339).

cease to wonder at its having been seriously selected as the symbol of learning, and can hardly divest themselves of a suspicion that the choice must have been made in the spirit of sarcasm. This little owl (for that is its only name - though it is not even the smallest that appears in England), the cheveche of the French, is spread throughout the greater part of Europe, but it is not a native of Britain. It has a congener in C. brama, a bird well known to all residents in India.

Finally, we have owls of the second section, those allied to the screech-owl, Strix flammea, the Efraie 1 of the French. This, with its discordant scream, its snoring, and its hissing, is far too well known to need description, S? N P W7. ? y I fU?, rw, I I i?? ?", ?. ty ? q ?Q?.. ., for it is one of the most widelyspread of birds, and is the owl that has the greatest geographical range, inhabiting almost every country in the world - Sweden and Norway, America north of lat. 45°, and New Zealand being the prin cipal exceptions. It varies, however, not inconsiderably, both in size and intensity of colour, and several ornithologists have tried to found on these variations more than half-a-dozen distinct species. Some, if not most of them, seem, however, hardly worthy to be considered geographical races, for their differences do not always depend on locality. R. Bowdler Sharpe, with much labour and in great detail, has given his reasons (Cat. B. Brit. Museum, ii. 291-309; and Ornith. Miscellany, i. 269-298; ii. 1-21) for acknowledging four" subspecies" of S. flammea, as well as five other species. Of these last, S. tenebricosa is peculiar to Australia, while S. novae-hollandiae inhabits also New Guinea, and has a " subspecies," S. castanops, found only in Tasmania; a third, S. candida, has a wide range from Fiji and northern Australia through the Philippines and Formosa to China, Burmah and India; a fourth, S. capensis, is peculiar to South Africa; while S. thomensis is said to be confined to the African island of St Thomas. To these may perhaps have to be added a species from New Britain, described by Count Salvadori as Strix aurantia, but it may possibly prove on further investigation not to be a strigine owl at all. (A. N.)

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Up to date as of January 15, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary

See also owl


Proper noun


  1. A fictional character in A. A. Milne's book Winnie the Pooh and the Disney film of the same name.


  • Anagrams of low

Bible wiki

Up to date as of January 23, 2010

From BibleWiki

  1. Heb. bath-haya'anah, "daughter of greediness" or of "shouting." In the list of unclean birds (Lev 11:16; Deut 14:15); also mentioned in Job 30:29; Isa 13:21; Isa 34:13; Isa 43:20; Jer 50:39; Mic 1:8. In all these passages the Revised Version translates "ostrich", which is the correct rendering.
  2. Heb. yanshuph, rendered "great owl" in Lev 11:17; Deut 14:16, and "owl" in Isa 34:11. This is supposed to be the Egyptian eagle-owl (Bubo ascalaphus), which takes the place of the eagle-owl (Bubo maximus) found in Southern Europe. It is found frequenting the ruins of Egypt and also of the Holy Land. "Its cry is a loud, prolonged, and very powerful hoot. I know nothing which more vividly brought to my mind the sense of desolation and loneliness than the re-echoing hoot of two or three of these great owls as I stood at midnight among the ruined temples of Baalbek" (Tristram). The LXX. and Vulgate render this word by "ibis", i.e., the Egyptian heron.
  3. Heb. kos, rendered "little owl" in Lev 11:17; Deut 14:16, and "owl" in Ps 1026. The Arabs call this bird "the mother of ruins." It is by far the most common of all the owls of Palestine. It is the Athene persica, the bird of Minerva, the symbol of ancient Athens.
  4. Heb. kippoz, the "great owl" (Isa 34:15); Revised Version, "arrow-snake;" LXX. and Vulgate, "hedgehog," reading in the text, kippod, instead of kippoz. There is no reason to doubt the correctness of the rendering of the Authorized Version. Tristram says: "The word [i.e., kippoz] is very possibly an imitation of the cry of the scops owl (Scops giu), which is very common among ruins, caves, and old walls of towns...It is a migrant, returning to Palestine in spring."
  5. Heb. lilith, "screech owl" (Isa 34:14, marg. and R.V., "night monster"). The Hebrew word is from a root signifying "night." Some species of the owl is obviously intended by this word. It may be the hooting or tawny owl (Syrnium aluco), which is common in Egypt and in many parts of Palestine. This verse in Isaiah is "descriptive of utter and perpetual desolation, of a land that should be full of ruins, and inhabited by the animals that usually make such ruins their abode."
This entry includes text from Easton's Bible Dictionary, 1897.

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Simple English

A typical owl
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Subclass: Neornithes
Infraclass: Neognathae
Superorder: Neoaves
Order: Strigiformes
Wagler, 1830
File:Tyto alba
A Barn Owl
File:Eagle Owl IMG
An Eagle Owl

Owls are birds in the order Strigiformes. Most of them are solitary and nocturnal.

Owls are specialists at night-time hunting. They feed on small mammals, insects, and other birds, and a few species like to eat fish as well.

They are found in all parts of the Earth except Antarctica, most of Greenland, and some other small islands.


Main owl families

The two most important groups of owls are the true owls and the barn owls:

  • True owls: Family Strigidae (185 species in 25 genera)
  • Barn Owls: Family Titonidae (Tyto alba, with many sub-species). Hunts mainly by sound.


Owls have large eyes and holes for ears, a hawk-like beak, and a rather flat face.

Most birds of prey have eyes on the sides of their heads, but the owl's eyes are facing forwards to help it see better in the dark. Their eyes are also fixed inside their sockets, so they have to turn their whole head to look at other things. Owls can rotate their heads and necks up to 270 degrees in both directions.[1][2][3]

Owls are good at looking at things far from its eyes, but it cannot see anything clearly within a few centimeters of their eyes. Owls use small feathers on the beak and the feet that help it feel the prey it catches.


Most owls hunt at night, and in twilight (dawn and dusk). A few owls are also active during the day.

The owls' hunting depends on surprising its prey. Their most important adaptation is their almost silent flight. The feathers are soft, with fringes on the back edge, and the base of each is downy. This all muffles noise, and makes for silence. Also, coming in for the kill, they glide.

The dull colors of the owls' feathers make them less visible by camouflaging the owl. This helps them as they roost during the day.

Also, they have fantastic hearing. The shape of the head helps slight sounds reach the ears. The feathers of the facial disc are arranged in order to increase sound delivered to the ears. Their ears are asymmetrical allowing the owl to locate a sound. They can hear a mouse move in the grass.

An owl's sharp beak and powerful talons allow it to kill its prey before swallowing it whole, unless it is too big. Owls usually regurgitate the parts of their prey that they cannot digest. These parts include bones, scales, and fur. Scientists who study the things that owls eat can get clues by studying the parts that the owl spit back out, called "owl pellets". These "owl pellets" are often sold by companies to schools for use in the students' biology and ecology lessons.[4]

Although owls live separately, the noun for a group of owls is a parliament.

Owls in culture

Mythology and stories that include owls are:

  • The owl is the symbol of the Greek goddess Athena (Minerva to the Romans)
  • Nursery rhyme- "The wise old owl sat in an oak, the more he heard, the less he spoke."
  • Poem by Tennyson- "The wise owl in the belfry sits..."
  • "Wol" is a character from the Winnie the Pooh books by A. A. Milne
  • Owls carry the mail in the Harry Potter books by J.K. Rowling


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