The Silent Swooper
IF YOU have ever walked in the woods at night, you may have heard the plaintive hooting of the silent swoopers—the owls. Since there are at least 145 species of owls worldwide, most people could get within earshot of an owl. You can find the common barn owl throughout the Americas, Europe, Africa, and many parts of Asia, as well as in Tasmania and other areas of Australia. What makes the owl distinctive?
First of all, its face and eyes. The facial design varies from species to species, but it usually has a “large, broad head with a saucer-shaped ruff of feathers around the eyes. . . . It serves to reflect sound to the owl’s ear openings.” (The World Book Encyclopedia) Unlike the eyes of most birds, the owl’s eyes face forward; it cannot move them in their sockets. Thus, owls must move their heads to follow moving objects. And they can turn their heads through almost a complete circle!
Another distinctive feature of these nocturnal swoopers is their feather design that allows them virtually soundless flight. Locating their prey by sight or by acute hearing, they can swoop down silently for their next meal. They are said to be “among the most useful birds to farmers” because they destroy rodents that often damage crops.
The Book of North American Birds states: “Owls around the world . . . have been perceived in all cultures as birds of ill omen and harbingers of death.” The 14th-century English poet Geoffrey Chaucer called the barn owl the “prophet of woe and mischance.” The Bible speaks of owls in seven verses, including Isaiah’s reference to Babylon’s ruined houses, “filled with eagle owls.”—Isaiah 13:21.
The great horned owl has an enormous appetite. One source says: “On rare occasions, the bird has even been known to swoop in and attack people wearing fur hats, apparently mistaking the pelts for living prey”! Although declared an unclean bird under the Mosaic Law, the owl’s unique design bespeaks a unique Creator.—Leviticus 11:16, 17.
[Pictures on page 31]
Great horned owl—keen-eyed, acute of ear, and silent on the wing
Photos: Courtesy of Green Chimneys Wildlife Rehabilitation Center, Brewster, NY