February 4, 2018 9:00 AM   Subscribe

A Parliament of Owls [New York Review of Books] “Humans have always noticed owls. One of the earliest examples of Paleolithic art is an owl engraved on the wall of the Chauvet cave in France.1 Among the peculiarities of owl physiognomy is that owls have both eyes facing forward, unlike most birds. They can also turn their heads 270 degrees (making up for their inability to move their eyes). It has been easy to imagine that these creatures of darkness, mostly experienced as an ominous cry in the night or a disconcerting stare during the day, have personalities, and malign ones at that. [...] The truth about owls is less fantastical but no less interesting than what humans project onto them. Owls’ remarkable physical attributes were shaped by the imperatives of the hunt. They are impressive killing machines, capable of dispatching other birds or animals larger than themselves. Central to this are big legs and claws, wing feathers designed for silent flight, and highly sensitive eyes and ears. Owls have acute binocular vision and, contrary to legend, can see in daylight.”

• The Silent Flight of Owls, Explained [Audubon]
““Owls have a suite of unique wing and feather features that enable them to reduce locomotion-induced sound,” says Krista Le Piane, a graduate student at the University of California, Riverside who recently presented her work on the evolution of silent owl flight at the Animal Behaviour Society conference in Ontario, Canada. They have large wings relative to their body mass, which let them fly unusually slowly—as slowly as two mph for a large species like the Barn Owl—by gliding noiselessly with little flapping. Additionally, the structure of their feathers serves as a silencer. Comb-like serrations on the leading edge of wing feathers break up the turbulent air that typically creates a swooshing sound. Those smaller streams of air are further dampened by a velvety texture unique to owl feathers and by a soft fringe on a wing's trailing edge. These structures together streamline the air flow and absorb the sound produced.”
• The Delicate Politics of Chasing Owls [The New York Times]
“Owls tend to be secretive. While there are a few American species that enjoy the daylight hours, most are nocturnal and spend their days behind thick greenery or uncannily blending into the bark of the trees they nestle against. Once they’ve found a secure place to snooze, they are likely to return to that spot daily, but even if you find evidence of their presence — scat and regurgitated pellets — good luck seeing the clandestine culprits. I’m a seasoned birder with a particular interest in owls, and on my ventures to find them, even when I have specific information on where they’ve been seen just minutes before, I’ve failed to find them more often than not. Such elusiveness makes “owling” one of the great birding challenges. Being the first to find a particular owl is regarded by some as a badge of distinction, and those who find them regularly are viewed with awe-struck reverence.”
• Owls for peace: how conservation science is reaching across borders in the Middle East [Nature]
“More than three decades and numerous conflicts later, the barn-owl approach to controlling rodents has succeeded beyond Leshem’s wildest expectations, spreading across much of Israel and into the neighbouring Palestinian territories and Jordan. And the work has brought together Arab and Israeli scientists at a time of increasing political tensions. “Birds have the power to bring people together, because they know no boundaries,” says Leshem, who now also works at Tel Aviv University. In January, researchers from the Middle East, Mediterranean and North Africa met at a Dead Sea resort in Jordan to see barn-owl nest boxes in the field, discuss scientific findings and hatch plans for similar efforts in Egypt, Cyprus, Greece, Tunisia and Morocco. The programme benefits farmers, biodiversity and sociopolitical networks alike, says conservation biologist Sara Kross at California State University in Sacramento, who in March will host some of the researchers involved in a joint US–Israeli workshop on the topic.”
• Aliens Among Us: A Brief History of the Owl [Lit Hub]
“Pliny the Elder described the owl as “the very monster of the night” and argued that “when it appears, it foretells nothing but evil.” He also believed the viscera of owls held curative properties that, when applied properly, could restore health and relieve pain. A healthy elixir of owl brain and oil introduced directly into the ear canal, for example, was a handy cure for an earache. From Pliny’s time onward, owls have always been a symbol of shifting and seemingly antithetical qualities—hulking observer and swift hunter, totem of wisdom and escort of the occult. These dueling qualities and fluctuating characteristics compete across cultures and traditions to cast the owl as a creature of influence, both benevolent and evil, and therefore, a bird to be taken seriously. A few weeks ago in a park near my apartment, I was startled by what I took to be an off-leash dog seated calmly in the sun. As I approached, I noticed the figure was feathered, pantalooned in white. It was a bird, and it was startling in its heft. The bird was neither wounded nor trapped. It was alert amid the barbecue and sunbathers. Several onlookers snapped photos, and we speculated about the bird’s origins and intentions. Had it come for the barbecue? How close could we get? How comfortable were we with this giant, grounded creature?”
• Asia’s Harry Potter obsession poses threat to owls [The Guardian]
“Conservationists say the snowy owl Hedwig – who remains the young wizard’s loyal companion for most of the Harry Potter series – is fuelling global demand for wild-caught birds for use as pets. In 2001, the year in which the first film was released, only a few hundred were sold at Indonesia’s many bird markets. By 2016, the figure had soared to more than 13,000, according to researchers Vincent Nijman and Anna Nekaris of Oxford Brookes University in a paper in Global Ecology and Conservation. At around $10 to $30, the price tag is affordable to most middle-class families. The issue is of critical concern because the owls being offered for sale are nearly all taken from the wild. “The overall popularity of owls as pets in Indonesia has risen to such an extent that it may imperil the conservation of some of the less abundant species,” Nijman and Nekaris say. As a result, they urge that owls should be added to Indonesia’s list of protected bird species, pointing out that owls may look cute on display in the market but generally die quickly after being removed from the wild.”
• Superb Owl Sunday [The Atlantic]
“A special Sunday event, a photographic essay celebrating a few of these magnificent raptors. Not Falcons (nor Patriots), these superb owls hail from Europe, Asia, North and South America, captured in photos both recent and more than a century old. If you have some time today before the big game (or are skipping the event entirely) I invite you to have a look.”
posted by Fizz (22 comments total) 37 users marked this as a favorite
“Pliny the Elder described the owl as “the very monster of the night” and argued that “when it appears, it foretells nothing but evil.”

Pliny the Elder - "Let's get a closer look at that volcano."
posted by lagomorphius at 9:13 AM on February 4, 2018 [13 favorites]

I love Superb Owl Sunday!
posted by sweetmarie at 9:17 AM on February 4, 2018 [15 favorites]

The owls are not what they seem?
posted by elsietheeel at 9:17 AM on February 4, 2018 [4 favorites]

A Parliament of Owls

Far better to see them in the legislative branch than the judicial. You certainly don’t want a Court of Owls.
posted by leotrotsky at 9:20 AM on February 4, 2018 [7 favorites]

Of course, True Facts About the Owl.
posted by Splunge at 9:35 AM on February 4, 2018 [8 favorites]

A great day for watching The Owl Service! Macabre Owl Sunday!
posted by lefty lucky cat at 10:05 AM on February 4, 2018

One of the weirder (but more entertaining) webcomics out there today is Realm of Owls. An entire society made up of owls... and most closely related to the one in the Tootsie Pop commercial.
posted by oneswellfoop at 10:34 AM on February 4, 2018 [3 favorites]

Superb Owl day is a winter treat.

My aunt died recently - it's been tough. But seeing lots of beautiful owns makes me happy. She collected images and sculptures of them - her cabinet was filled with little owls, big owls, artistic owls, tacky owls. So many lovely owls.
posted by jb at 10:41 AM on February 4, 2018 [10 favorites]

When I saw the superb title I was stuck trying to remember the significance for a while but wouldn't move on until I did.
posted by Obscure Reference at 10:51 AM on February 4, 2018 [2 favorites]

posted by Johnny Wallflower at 11:36 AM on February 4, 2018 [6 favorites]

Among the peculiarities of owl physiognomy is that owls have both eyes facing forward, unlike most birds.

This is patently untrue. (Or at least very very skewed). ALL birds of prey, like ALL predators, have forward facing eyes. PREY has its eyes on the side...it's one of its main identifying features. So while 'most birds' aren't 'birds of prey' it's not like 'only owls have forward eyes.' Sloppy science writing. 
posted by sexyrobot at 11:47 AM on February 4, 2018 [1 favorite]

Everybody knows the burrow owl lives in a hole. In the ground. Why the hell do you think they call it a burrow owl, anyway?
posted by peeedro at 2:00 PM on February 4, 2018 [2 favorites]

I found myself giving all the pictures in the Atlantic's Superb Owl Sunday article the caption “I will fuck you up”, but with different emphasis. F'rinstance, the owl that W's holding is saying “I will fuck you up”.

All of the pictures, that is, except the screeching owl. That one can only be saying “Ever get the feeling you've been cheated?
posted by scruss at 2:11 PM on February 4, 2018

You certainly don’t want a Court of Owls.

Especially since they hold to the principle "Owls fair in love and war...."
posted by GenjiandProust at 2:27 PM on February 4, 2018 [2 favorites]

GP: this is pun control.

Mate, you're outta line.
posted by pjmoy at 3:14 PM on February 4, 2018 [2 favorites]

No matter how "superb" your owl may be, the Owl build in general is still a low B-tier member of the Raptor Guild in the game of Outside.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 3:20 PM on February 4, 2018 [1 favorite]

This is patently untrue.

Agreed - completely glosses over the owl's secondary rear-facing eyes.
posted by sebastienbailard at 8:56 PM on February 4, 2018

Indonesian Hedwigs

posted by Mister Bijou at 4:45 AM on February 5, 2018

In Summary: Owls are fucking awesome
posted by Hermione Granger at 5:55 PM on February 5, 2018 [2 favorites]

Cool post, thanks! I'm gonna start with the Nature link about owls for peace.
posted by WalkerWestridge at 11:06 AM on February 6, 2018

Truly a superb owl post. Well done, Fizz! Owls have always been a kind of side fascination of mine, so all of this, spectacular comments and all, has just been pure gold and glee!

Y'owl folk are good people.
posted by Lizard at 8:02 AM on February 7, 2018

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