Please Preside Over This Meeting. Signed: The Parliament Of Owls
“Knock, knock.”/ “Who’s there? “ / “Owl” / “Owl who?” / “Owl be seeing you.” Much like these lines suggest I do possess a rear eye and “owl be seeing you” throughout the world of these predominantly night birds.
At times we happen to be some sort of night birds even ourselves and whenever this happens, either on a regular basis or on a now and then basis, we call for the night as our home territory. Even so, trying to fool out Mother Nature doesn’t always work in our case, since it appears that we have been created to function at all engines during daytime. Our vision loses some of its strength during the darkness of the night, yet this surely doesn’t prevent many of us screaming for party all night. The crack of dawn catches many of us waiting for tomorrow as if tomorrow isn’t already there. The so called wee hours catch us unprepared and ready for sleep. Did you ever feel like the whole night was yours? This is what I am actually talking about. Still, the nightfall and the early bright are still placed at opposites for many of us. Poetry comes to confirm this too, creatures inhabiting this planet come to avow for this idea as well. “The night has a thousand eyes, / And the day but one; / Yet the light of the bright world dies / With the dying sun.”-these words were once written down by Francis William Bourdillon. Do you embrace the idea of the night having a thousand eyes? If you do, then you happen to be what most people label as the owl type, my type.
And being the owl type you need to know something about your sisters and brothers out there that keep on knocking at your door threatening with “owl be seeing you” or perhaps it should be “owl come back”. They’ll come back bringing us news about their life as a raptor, an interesting life too, triggering all sorts of myths and beliefs around their name. Owls are enigmatic, mostly nocturnal birds that have been sort of sanctified by primitive peoples and most often their existence has been connected with such things as magic, witchcraft or superstitions. Being portrayed either as bad omens, standing as some sort of epitomes of wisdom, tragedy or even death, owls have accompanied our nights and days throughout the centuries. The owl fossils being found and dating back to almost 80 million years ago certainly come to prove this. They can be seen all over the world, living in a variety of habitats on almost every continent, excepting Antarctica.
Whenever thinking of owls, the idea of active nightlife crosses our mind. And much like it happens in our case, the nightlife carries on different meanings among the owls too. There may be an owl out there that simply enjoys partying all night, another one that likes to spend her time in front of a bar tasting on new exotic cocktails recently launched on the market or there may equally be one dancing around all night long. Unless you happened to see such owls yourself, I would not bet that such owls even existed. But, going back to real owls I’d say that much like us, there are some owls that are strictly nocturnal, some that are what people generally call diurnal, meaning active during the day and some owls that are “crepuscular”, meaning they like going out and becoming more active at dawn and dusk. They have their own reasons for “working in shifts”, probably thinking mainly of avoiding the other species of owl that share their habitat. As far as rumors go, owls are not so sociable and as such even their sisters may come out to be some sort of a “Wow, wow…here I am to scary you!” No matter the case, owls need to get their dinner, even if it happens to be a quite late one. Since they do not have to compete in a world promoting top models, late dinners to not constitute such big problems for them.
Mentioning top models, I feel the almost stringent need to Photoshop them to you or better said organize some sort of an owl pictorial for you only. It would be pretty interesting, quite a challenge in fact to do this mainly because these rather mysterious creatures happen to display some interesting features as well but they sort of do this hiding behind a screen. Behind or not the screen I managed to catch a glimpse of them and I can tell you that they happen to be quite atypical top models. I shall further on translate this in size; owls can be either very large or very small. In the small category, there is the 5-inch elf owl, whereas in the big category there is the 2-foot tall great gray owl. When reading what I just wrote, a pretty funny idea crossed my mind: a boxing ring where these two categories would fight each other or they may as well look forward to competing other birds from their category. The “fly category” and the “bear category” are there!
Whether large or small, all owls happen to look alike when it comes to portraying their rather large heads and their soft, fluffy feathers. “Fluffy they may be, yet they are beautiful! I may leave you an impression of squatness yet I am nevertheless interesting and interested in owling you!” – This I suppose would be an owl’s answer to what I just said. I haven’t said that they are not beautiful, my apologies Mr. or Mrs. Owl; fluffy may sound funny or injurious to some, yet when it comes to me I happen to like this word. Much like I happen to find interesting owls too.
And since I have been going around the bush, I shall go back now to feathers by saying that these feathers verge on such nuances as brown, gray, tan, white or rufous. These rather soft tunes prove to be of great aid when it comes to making use of camouflage techniques, allowing owls to go unnoticed and practically match in very well with the natural setting, meaning in their case the tree trunks and branches. They are helped by the fact that unlike many raptors, many owls happen to have feathers on their legs and toes as well.
As for the wing part, if you ever happened to see them then you most surely noticed that they have been endowed with rather long and broad wings. These wings, together with the previously mentioned fluffiness of their feathers enable them to fly silently towards whatever attracts their attention in the natural setting they inhabit. It could be its prey or perhaps just a new horizon they happen to envisage for them.
Talking about attention, do the following words tell you something? Which following words? I am referring to “Eye see you!” words or was it another warning like the “owl be seeing you”? I am not sure yet…namely because the eyes of an owl look spectacular to me. These eyes grant them permission to voyage through their habitat in the dark. And owls need these eyes “to sail” for food whenever deciding to hunt either during the day, if they happen to be diurnal or during the night if they happen to be nocturnal. Either way, they happen to be the first thing we notice when looking at an owl. But, did you know that the color of an owl’s eyes comes to be considered as a clear indicator of the moment of the day owls happen to prefer when it comes to hunting? They may either have orange eyes and this clearly means that they enjoy going hunting at dawn or dusk, yellow eyes and this means that they prefer hunting during the day and the almost irresistible dark colored eyes. The latter eyes certainly make one think about the darkness of the night, so it must be already clear for everyone that these owls actually love being active during the night.
“Why are your eyes so big?” “To see better” – might be the answer of an owl. Not to conquer any heart or for flirting, or any beauty needs, but just because it is very important for them to see at night. And Mother Nature took good care of them and endowed them with such large eyes that they find themselves incapable to even roll them. Though expected to have a greater visual field than us, owls happen to have a smaller one in fact. Rumors say that an owl’s visual field is just about 110 degrees. And just to focus an object well, an owl needs to sort of bring that object into its visual field. Have you ever seen an owl nodding his head up and down? All those movements were in fact meant to make it tell the distance. Being so large, an owl’s eyes collect more light and in fact this is what makes them able deem things better even during the nighttime. Owls possess the somehow bizarre, for us humans, ability to turn the night into day. They are even said to be able to see three times better in the dark than we do.
And just because they have been granted such big eyes and good vision, we tend to think that they heavily rely on sight when it comes to hunting. Amazingly enough, owls contradict us and come to tell us that they hunt mainly by sound. If this isn’t amazing for you, then just imagine how it would be if you had to feed yourself by relying on sound. We’d probably remain hungry and as such slim and shady.
First it should be made clear for everyone that what most of us believe to be an owl’s ears are in fact just some feathers brought together just to mislead us. These amalgam of feathers positioned on the top of an owl’s head are known under the name of “ear tufts” and they actually have nothing to do with hearing but rather come to indicate their mood (they can be moody too, what did you think?), to use it as a clear display of aggression, thus meaning to scary away any intruders or just as a peaceful camouflage technique. The hearing part when it comes to this supposedly night bird gets somehow more complicated or just more complex. A multitude of things come to work together in order to make that hearing part intriguingly interesting and in one word excellent. First there are the so called facial discs. If you ever wondered why owls have the face they have then you should have blamed it all on these discs. But even so, these discs do even more than just come with some owlish looks, if I am allowed to speak in such terms. They sort of work out like some satellite dish and this time stockpile or sort of convoke sounds around the owl’s head. “Roger, roger…any sound around there?” “Here…Here..!” – I guess this must be Roger’s answer when being called for help.
Another interesting fact about an owl’s ears is that they happen to have been placed asymmetrically. This could be translated as follows: they happen to have an upper ear and a lower one. Doesn’t this make them special enough? It certainly does, considering the fact that by having been endowed with asymmetrical ear placement the sounds make it to the owl’s ears at different times. This means that when the owl executes all those head movements it may be all because she wants to hear something with both its ears. Just imagine how funny it would be for us not to hear the same sound with both ears. That would certainly have a result a certain resonation of things inside our heads. Yet, owls came to be even more gifted than just this: some of them have even been equipped with a moveable ear flap that they can use to control the volume of the sounds approaching their ears. Some sort of “Turn it on mute baby!”, yet unlike us they do not need a remote control to do this (I was referring to the TV, of course because in order to turn everything on mute in our case we would need some plugs stuck into our ears). You probably know what I am talking about. After all you must have had some dorm colleagues who used to do almost everything with their plugs stuck into their ears, simply because every small noise turned out to be just too unbearable for them. I know I had mine!
Most of you probably know the saying which states that one “can hear a pin in a drop.” Well, apparently this seems to be the case of owls. So, no need to scream at an owl because he hears you anyway, unless he happens to have some moveable flap and he chooses to decrease the sound. Next time you feel like knowing that the owl is there where you happened to leave it just say “Roger, Roger…” and he will show out of nowhere!
In their case, listening certainly comes to be better than looking when it comes to hunting their next dinner.
Talking about dinner, I shall now refer to what happens to be on an owl’s menu. As I am referring to some predators, owls’ menu can include almost anything depending on their own size. Small owls usually hunt for large insects and small rodents like mice and voles. As long as they can get their sharp talons on these preys they certainly enjoy eating them.
As for larger owls, these ones can lay their talons on bigger prey like rabbits, squirrels, voles and even skunks (How yummy that can be!) They may as well include in their daily menus such creatures as toads, birds, bats, snakes, lizards, scorpions and even fish. Did you know for example that the so called barn owl can eat up to 1000 mice a year? So, they are good to hold next to one’s farm!
The following fact may seem quite disgusting to some of you: as owls happen to have no teeth, they happen to have what most call a “razor sharp beak” and as such when capturing living prey they would simply swallow it whole or by choice in rather rough, torn chunks. This is just to make you know that if you ever decide to invite them over to dinner, you should not worry too much about the aspect of the food you happen to be serving to them. Good to know! I shall keep that in mind! But, did you know that owls can devour or better said monopolize the equivalent of their own body weight each night? And just by “eating too much junk food” as I happened to find it written somewhere, they also learned to regurgitate the parts of its prey which it simply can not digest. If interested which are these parts, I shall further on make sure that you have all of them listed. So, here they are: owls must be choking with so much fur, bones, feathers, beaks and nails. Wouldn’t you choke with these too if you were in their place? You’d most probably do.
As for the sense of smell and the sense of taste, evidences proved that owls possess none of these two. Now, one should not pity them because of this! I say this because I really, really think that when dining on a skunk they probably do not need the sense of smell at all. Yet, owls happen to be lucky enough since they have been endowed with some other acute senses which I have previously mentioned. From the cycle “why is good to be an owl?” I did not fail to mention their acute vision and their even more accurate, first-rate hearing.
Yet, what do these birds to in their spare time? It is said that they are pretty lazy and that this is why they prefer simply sitting on their butt or I should perhaps use here one of my favorite expressions, namely diddle-daddle all day long. Almost all their activities can be summed up to hunting or feeding the young owlet. Yet, when it comes to the behavior they display, they become nevertheless interesting. If disturbed during its rest hours, an owl will simply do its best to mend with its habitat, meaning it would make its best to become part of the tree in which it is roosting. As such they would stretch themselves as much as they can, just to seem taller, making use of their ear tufts as well and they would even pull the eyelids over their eyes, sign “Closed” misleading their enemy or better said trying to fool them. Their erect position reminds me of the moments when being little mother used to come to me and kept on nagging me with these words: “Stand straight. Attitude comes to be very important in life and you need to take care of your back.” I guess this happened to you too.
Another defensive weapon they make use of is that of pretending to be bigger than they actually happen to be. This weapon comes of great use to baby owls especially. In order to appear bigger these owls would simply reportedly raise its wings over its back like some sort of a fan and embark upon releasing all kind of supposedly scary sounds. Pretty smart defensive weapons, don’t you think so? Keeping in mind the fact that the voice of the majority states that they apparently have eyes bigger than their brain, this privilege of defense techniques certainly comes to be considered as being nevertheless impressive.
Do owls happen to have their own language? Even a toddler would know this and as such when being asked this question he’d probably say in his own cute way: “Yes, they do. Hoo-hoo away!” After all they may as well need to tell an intruder “Back Off!” or they may mark their territory by saying “Hey, back off, I am on my territory!” or they may as well try to make the female owl lose her head when it comes to courting her. And just in case you tended to believe that all owls hoot then evidences come to contradict you when stating that in fact owls can come out with a pretty wide variety of other sounds, such as barks (they must be some sort of dogs of the air. So, there are even flying dogs out there!), hisses (Hiss away or hiss towards me, I just wonder if these two have entered their vocabulary), whistles (Hey baby, here I am! You happen to be so hoot tonight!) and even screeches. Even so, they tend to be noisier during their nesting seasons.
And if you ever wondered where the members of the parliament are, then this clearly makes me think that you never took part at a meeting of owls. I say this having in mind the information according to which, funny enough a reunion of owls is called a parliament or wisdom and even study. Does this mean that owls can make better politicians than the actual ones, or that they spend their entire life studying or that they just happen to be so wise? I tend to think that this still remains to be debated.
As for their courtship behaviors, amazingly enough owls tend to be quite tender courting partners. In fact this may be the only occasion for these rather solitary creatures to display their tenderness. Otherwise chasing females, males may be lenient in these cases and allow them to approach. He may as well show off in some way, either by making use of vocalizations, fanning his tail, flying around trying to impress the lady owl or simply bowing in front of the chosen one. After doing all these things, he appeals to the “come home with me” technique. Do all these things sound familiar to you? It is said that at the beginning of the courtship ritual, the owl partners use to “talk” more, probably trying to know each other better. Afterwards they become more attentive to each other and can even get to share the same branch and even preen each other. Or, amazingly enough these owl partners may as well start sharing their food or perhaps I should say that the male invites the female to dinner together. Males usually offer their females, as some sort of a token of love, a mouse or anything that may be on their menu in that respective day. How sweet! Now admit it, isn’t this simply amazing?
I’d say that this is simply amazing, considering the fact that most owls happen to enjoy spending their time all by themselves, being what most call “solitary souls”. Even though a pair of owls may share the same territory all year long, without organizing any dinners together or without males inviting lady owls to their homes, when it comes to mating they suddenly come to discover each other. As far as I know, some men out there would probably prefer doing just about the same thing, meaning they get together only when mating is launched on the scene of life. It looks like when it comes to “private life”, owls lack the courage they display on the hunting field or if they do not lack it then at least they need a lot of it to get going with all the demands of courtship.
I’ll end it all by saying that owls certainly have their own special place in the world of birds, being deemed as mysterious, intriguingly built and endowed creatures. And who can say this better if not poetry, namely a poem once written by Charles Baudelaire, a poem entitled “The Owls”: “Under the overhanging yews, / The dark owl sits in dark in solemn state, / Like stranger gods; by twos and twos / Their red eyes gleam. They meditate. / Motionless thus they sit and dream / Until that melancholy hour / When, with the sun’s last fading gleam, / The nightly shades assume their power. / From their still attitude the wise / Will learn with terror to despise / All tumult, movement, and unrest; / For he who follows every shade, / Carries the memory in his breast, / Of each unhappy journey made.”11