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Be Aware of Owls

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Owls, while favorite birds for many people, are often overlooked in our day-to-day lives. This is unfortunate, because owls do a great deal to help us. In return, we should take steps to help owls. There is no better day to do this than International Owl Awareness Day!

Barn Owl - Photo by Simon Stobart
Barn Owl – Photo by Simon Stobart

About Owls

Basic owl facts are easy and familiar – these are birds of prey, largely nocturnal, with excellent senses of sight and hearing. These are largely solitary birds, and because they are most active either at night or during the twilight periods of late evening and early morning, they can be more difficult to see and enjoy.

But did you know a few more fun owl facts?

  • There are two bird families of owls – Tytonidae, which includes all species of barn owls and their close relatives, and Strigidae, which includes all “typical” owls.
  • Between the two families, there are more than 240 species of owls in existence today, with more species being differentiated as deeper studies are made.
  • Owls do not typically drink from bird baths or fountains unless in extreme need, as these birds derive all the moisture they need from the blood of their prey.
  • All owls have distinct facial “disks” that funnel sounds to their asymmetrical ears. This can magnify the sounds as much as 10 times to help owls hear even better.
  • Owls are carnivores but they eat much more than mice or rodents. Depending on the species, owls eat insects, fish, snakes, reptiles, or even other, smaller owls.
  • Hooting is only one sound owls may make. Some owls hiss, growl, bark, rattle, whistle, or screech, and they can also make clacks and clicks with their bills.
  • While most owls stay by themselves and groups of owls are rare, a flock of owls might be called a parliament, wisdom, bazaar, or study.

How Owls Help Us

Little Owl - Photo by Simon Stobart
Little Owl – Photo by Simon Stobart

The most fun owl facts of all are just how these powerful, amazing birds help us. Owls serve as expert pest control to keep rodent and insect populations from exploding out of control. Depending on where an owl is hunting, this can be an amazing benefit to homeowners and farmers, requiring less money spent on pesticides or other artificial control measures. This leads to healthier landscapes and crops, and higher yields for fruits, vegetables, and grains.

Owls also help ornithologists study prey population changes. Owls swallow their prey whole, and the indigestible bits – large bones and skulls, fur, etc. – are compacted into small, dense pellets that the owls regurgitate. Dissecting those pellets can reveal what the owl has eaten, and as dietary changes occur, it is possible to track prey populations and other animal shifts, which can show indications of other potential problems, such as habitat loss or climate change.

Of course, owls are also inspiring. These amazing birds can capture our imaginations and spark interest in birding and bird conservation, and in certain instances (such a particular series of magical books or book-inspired movies) can be a great source of entertainment and enchantment.

How We Can Help Owls

Of course, all has not been positive about owls throughout our shared history. Owls have been the source of a variety of unfavorable superstitions, including omens of death, illness, or otherwise bad fortune or evil spirits. Because of this, owls have been wrongly persecuted in many ways, but fortunately, there are many ways we can write these wrongs and help owls today. Even if you may not currently have a resident owl in your yard or neighborhood (but perhaps you do, and you just aren’t aware of these sneaky birds!), you can always…

  • Minimize pesticide, rodenticide, and insecticide use, both chemical and mechanical. Instead, let owls provide free, natural pest control.
  • Take down sports nets (basketball, hockey, soccer) when not in use. Owls can get tangled in these nets and may be gravely injured.
  • Preserve dead or hollow trees if possible. These are ideal roosting and nesting spots for owls and many other cavity-nesting birds.
  • Install an owl box on your property of the proper size for local species. They may roost or nest in convenient boxes.
  • Do not use cobweb-style Halloween decorations outdoors. Like nets, owls can tangle in these decorative items.
  • Minimize outdoor lighting at night. This can help owls hunt more successfully, and will help other birds as well.
  • Never toss food out a car window. Not only is this littering, but it attracts rodents and therefore owls to the roadside, where they are at greater risk of getting hit.
  • Always keep cats indoors, especially at night. Not only are small pets at risk from hungry owls, but a cat might also injure or kill an owl on the ground.
  • Learn more about owls. The more you know about these birds, the more you can debunk superstitions about them and better appreciate their admirable attributes.
  • Respect owls. If you are fortunate enough to see an owl in the wild, keep your distance and keep noise minimal so you do not disturb or stress the bird.
  • Enjoy owls. These can be fun and amazing birds, and if you enjoy them, you will be better moved to nurture and protect them.
  • Support captive owls. These may be birds in zoos, sanctuaries, or rescues that cannot be released, and they are often fine avian ambassadors to teach others about owls. Donations and symbolic adoptions go a long way toward protecting these and all owls.

Finally, celebrate International Owl Awareness Day (annually on August 4), or just use every day to enjoy, celebrate, and help owls!

Snowy Owl - Photo by Silver Leapers
Snowy Owl – Photo by Silver Leapers

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