The hoot of an owl in the depths of the dark forests at night sent imaginations running wild. And throughout history, the shrill cries ringing through the trees haunted those that heard them…
With Halloween approaching and the great grey owl as our cover animal, we thought we’d take a look at some of the superstitions of older times, and the intrigue surrounding these aerial predators.
In pre-20th century England, superstition was rife. The sick and bedridden feared hearing an owl lurking near their window for it meant death was imminent, and the eerie cries and screams in the dead of night sent shivers down spines. The association between owls and witches has been made across many cultures. Old Greek and Roman superstitions claimed that witches could turn themselves into owls and swoop down to feed on the souls of the dying. In North America, Cherokee Indians believed that witches transformed into owls as a disguise for their magical misdeeds; the ability of witches to embody owls made for quick getaways up chimneys and through windows. It was also believed witches could hitch a ride from their winged companions should a broom not be available.
Few birds are surrounded by as many superstitions as owls, especially the barn owl. Its ghostly white face has been imagined by some to resemble that of a ghost, eerily roaming from tree to tree as a symbol of bad luck and misfortune. It’s also said in Cameroon there is no name for owl, they are just referred to as ‘the bird that makes you afraid’. Their ghostly apparitions, fast flight, and seeming ability to disappear, have seen owls become one of the most written-about birds of prey in literature. Of course, these days we can just appreciate owls for what they really are: “Using razor-sharp vision, acute hearing and the secret weapon of silent flight, owls have truly mastered the art of hunting in every corner of the planet”
If you’d like to learn more about some of the world’s most amazing owl species, where they live, and how they hunt – be sure to pick up our latest issue (issue 25) and take a look at our amazing owl feature