ADOPT AN OWL
An owl is a member of any of 222 currently known species of solitary,
mainly nocturnal birds of prey in the order Strigiformes. Owls mostly
hunt small mammals, insects, and other birds, though a few species
specialize in hunting fish. They are found on all continents 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.
Owls are classified in two families: the typical owls, Strigidae, and
the barn owls, Tytonidae.
Owls have large forward-facing eyes and ears, a hawk-like beak,
and usually a conspicuous circle of feathers around each eye called a facial disc. Although owls have binocular vision, their large eyes are fixed in their sockets, and they must turn their entire head to change views.
Owls are far-sighted, and are unable to clearly see anything within a few inches of their eyes. Their far vision, particularly in low light, is incredibly good, and they can turn their head 180 degrees around.
Many owls can also hunt by sound in total darkness. Different species of owls make different sounds, one of which is the widely recognizable, drawn-out "hoo" sound. The facial disc helps to funnel the sound of prey to their ears, which are widely spaced. In some species, they are placed asymmetrically, for better directional location.
Despite their appearance, owls are more closely related to the nightjars (Caprimulgiformes) than to the diurnal predators in the order Falconiformes. Some taxonomists place the nightjars in the same order as owls, as in the Sibley-Ahlquist taxonomy .
Owls' powerful clawed feet and sharp beak enable them to tear their prey to pieces before eating, although most items are swallowed whole. Their muffled wings and dull feathers allow them to fly practically silent and unseen.
Scientists studying the diets of owls are helped by their habit of disgorging the indigestible parts of their prey (bones, scales, fur, etc.) in the form of pellets. These "owl pellets" are often sold by companies to schools to be dissected by students as a lesson in biology and ecology, because they are plentiful and easy to interpret.
Owl eggs are white and almost spherical, and range in number from a few to a dozen dependent on species. Their nests are crudely built and may be in trees, underground burrows or barns and caves.
Most owls are nocturnal, but several, including the pygmy owls (Glaucidium), are crepuscular, or twilight active, hunting mainly at dawn and dusk. A few owls, such as the Burrowing Owl (Speotyto cunicularia) and the Short-eared Owl (Asio flammeus), are also active during the day.
The smallest owls include the pygmy owls, some of which are only 13 cm (5.1 in) long, have a 32-cm (12.6-in) wingspan, and weigh only 50 g (1.76 oz). The largest owls are the eagle owls, the Eurasian Eagle Owl Bubo bubo and Verreaux's Eagle Owl B. lacteus, which may reach 71 cm (28 in) long, have a wingspan of just over 2 m (6.6 ft), and weigh about 4 kg (almost 9 lb).
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 as a result of frequently being companion animals for goddesses.
Ancient Egyptians used a representation of an owl for their hieroglyph for the sound m, although they would often draw this hieroglyph with its legs broken to keep this bird of prey from coming to life.
In the culture of the Native American Hopi nation, taboos surround owls, as they are closely associated with evil sorcery. The possession of owl feathers is considered an indication of witchcraft.
The Aztecs and Mayans, 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 a saying in Spanish that still exists today: cuando el tecolote canta, el indio se muere ("when the owl cries/sings, the Indian dies").
In Japanese culture, owls were seen as either negative and positive symbols depending on species. Eagle Owls were seen as divine messengers of the gods while Barn or Horned owls were perceived as demonic figures.
In Indian culture, a white owl is considered a companion of the goddess of wealth, and therefore a harbinger of prosperity. The owl has been adapted as an emblem to reflect its implications of wisdom (Wise old owl) by a revered military institution in India known as the Defence Service Staff College. In colloquial use, however, it is commonly used to refer to stupidity.
In the ancient region of Akkadia (located in present-day Iraq), the goddess Lilith is thought to have been associated with owls as well. However, prior to the rise of Islam, owls were considered evil omens and bad luck 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, horrific appearance.
In Greek mythology, the owl, and specifically the Little Owl, was often associated with the Greek goddess Athena, a bird goddess who often assumed the form of an owl. Athena was also the goddess of wisdom, the Arts, and skills, and as a result, owls also became symbols of teaching and of institutions of learning, being included in the crest of arms of many universities. In the Western world, owls continue to be traditionally associated with wisdom.
The Romans, in addition to having borrowed the Greek associations of the owl, 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. The vampiric strix of Roman mythology was in part based on the owl.
Likewise, in Romanian culture, the mournful call of an owl is thought to predict the death of somebody living in the neighbourhood. Such superstitions caused a minor disturbance when an owl showed up at Romanian President's residence, Cotroceni Palace.
Barn owls (family Tytonidae) are one of the two generally accepted families of owls, the other being the typical owls, Strigidae. They are medium to large sized owls with large heads and characteristic heart-shaped faces. They have long strong legs with powerful talons. The barn owls comprise two sub-families: the Tytoninae or Tyto owls (including the Common Barn Owl) and the Phodilinae or bay-owls.
The fossil record of the barn owls goes back to the Eocene, with the family eventually losing ground to the true owls after the radiation of rodents and owls during the Neogene epoch . Two sub-families are only known from the fossil record, the Necrobyinae and the Selenornithinae.
The barn owls are a wide ranging family, absent only from northern North America, Saharan Africa and large areas of Asia. They live in a wide range of habitats from deserts to forests, and from temperate latitudes to the tropics. The majority of the 16 recognized species of barn owls are poorly known, some, like the Madagascar Red Owl, have barely been seen or studied since their discovery, in contrast to the Common Barn Owl, which is one of the best known owl species in the world. However, some sub-species of the Common Barn Owl possible deserve to be a species, and are very poorly known.
5 species of barn owl are threatened, and some island species have gone extinct (like the species Tyto letocarti, known from the fossil record of New Caledonia). The barn owls are mostly nocturnal, and generally non-migratory, living in pairs or singly.
The barn owls main characteristic is the heart-shaped facial disc, formed by stiff feathers which serve to amplify and locate the source of sounds when hunting. Further adaptations in the wing feathers eliminate sound caused by flying, aiding both the hearing of the owl listening for hidden prey and keeping the prey unaware of the owl. Barn owls overall are darker on the back than the front, usually an orange-brown colour, the front being a paler version of the back or mottled, although there is considerable variation even amongst species. The bay owls closely resemble the Tyto owls but have a divided facial disc, and tend to be smaller.
Typical owls (family Strigidae) are one of the two generally accepted families of owls, the other being the barn owls.