For the Birds: Owls belong to Halloween

Friday, October 26, 2018

Eurasian Eagle-owl with demonic eyes (most of our scary traditions are from Europe)
Stock photo

By Christine Southwick

Halloween decorations often have owls depicted — often flying toward the unwary night traveler. Witches, wolves, bats, vampires all make sense; but why owls?

Barred Owl— our most
commonly heard local owl
Stock photo
Could it be that any creature that flies, and especially hunts during the dark hours, is scary and frightening?

In olden times, anything that appeared without warning from outside the glow of campfires and hearths was something to be feared and defended against. Screams, hisses and hoots seem to chill the soul, especially when the source is disembodied and ethereal.

And finding remains of small dead animals just lead to stories of how BIG OWLS could hurt children, pets, and maybe even adults. (It doesn’t help that owls may defend their breeding territories by strafing the heads of unwary trespassers).

Because the leading edge of owls’ feathers are fringed, owls are able to materialize suddenly, hauntingly silent, without making any noise with their wings. Superstitions became hard-wired into many people’s psyche, and owls are often viewed as evil wraiths when confronted at night.

Additionally, the huge European Eagle-owl has orange eyes, that reflecting the firelight appear to be demonic.

Barn Owl suddenly appearing
Photo by Kevin Keatley

Which owl is the scariest?

I vote for the Barn Owl!

Instead of hooting, it produces piercing screams that sound like someone is being killed! Add to that, the ghostly white face that suddenly appears floating, coming straight toward you, and no wonder people are afraid, especially during the Halloween season that has its own scary mystique!

Barn Owls as a species are so successful that sub-species are found around the world — their family order is distinct from all the other owl species.

Our most common owl in the Shoreline - Lake Forest Park areas is the Barred Owl, which makes its own funny sounds in addition to its hoots that sound like “Who, who cooks for youuuu?”

Northern Saw-whet Owl (only 8” tall)
We also have Western Screech Owls and Northern Saw-whet Owls in the area, mostly trying not to be eaten by the bigger Barred Owls. 

All our owls eat mice, voles, shrews, small squirrels, smaller birds, and large insects.

Some cultures view owls as beneficial and a blessing (Athena’s owl is an example), whereas other cultures believe seeing an owl during the day predicts a soon-to-happen death. 

Many peoples believe that owls are wise, in part because of their large eyes, and their quiet patient nature.

Personally, I love to hear owls — any of them….


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