" - yesterday the bird of night did sit
Even at noonday , upon the marketplace
Hooting and shrieking."
Shakespeare, "Julius Caesar".
The Tawny Owl is commonly found in woodlands across much of Europe and Asia - and it is the most common owl in Europe. It is a night creature and remains well hidden during the day - and it is responsible for the classic sound of owls at night. The nest is typically in a tree hole where it can protect its eggs and young against potential predators. This owl is non-migratory and highly territorial. Many young birds starve if they cannot find a vacant territory once parental care ceases. As with most owls, its flight is silent because of its feathers' soft, furry upper surfaces and a fringe on the leading edge of the outer primaries.
This nocturnal bird of prey hunts mainly rodents, usually by dropping from a perch to seize its prey, which it swallows whole; in more urban areas its diet includes a higher proportion of birds. Vision and hearing adaptations and silent flight aid its night hunting. The Tawny is capable of catching smaller owls, but is itself vulnerable to the Eagle Owl or Northern Goshawk. Red Foxes are an important cause of mortality in newly fledged young.
Although many people believe this owl has exceptional night vision, its retina is no more sensitive than a human's. Rather, it is its asymmetrically placed ears that are key to its hunting because they give the Tawny Owl excellent directional hearing. Its nocturnal habits and eerie, easily imitated call, have led to a mythical association of the Tawny with bad luck and death.Across the world owls have become birds of folklore and legend, and the tu-whit, to-whoo of a tawny owl is among the most obvious calls of any bird. Many superstitions are associated with owls. Witchcraft, medicine, weather, birth and even death. In the past the owl was thought to be both wise yet foolish, feared but venerated and despised while being admired.
In Aesop's fables and in Greek myths and beliefs the owl represents wisdom and helpfulness and has powers of prophecy. Owls were associated with Blodeuwed, the goddess of betrayal in the ancient Welsh story Maboginion and the Greek Athene was a goddess of wisdom and was represented by a Little Owl to which she gave her name.
In Celtic folklore the owl is a sign of the underworld, the Inuits on Greenland see the owl as a source of guidance and helpfulness, the Tartar shamen of Central Russia could assume owls' shapes and in Scotland it's bad luck to see an owl in daylight.
In medieval Europe the owl had become associated with witches and the inhabitant of dark and lonely places - the owl's appearance at night linked them with the unknown - but superstitions
died out in the 20th century, and the Owl has returned to its position as a symbol of wisdom. In fact the owl has become quite hot with the success of the Harry Potter books, which have reminded adults and kids alike of the mystic nature of these beautiful birds.
photo ⓒ 100208: grethe bachmann, Forsthaven, Århus