So What’s The Deal With: Owls

So What’s The Deal With: Owls

Illustrated by what are, IMHO, Bridgeman’s top ten owls.

The first time I met an owl was on a Groupon thing somewhere in a home county. I got up super early and got on a train and gave a man my voucher and then I got to meet an owl. I learned a lot of things very quickly:

10. Owls are not wise, they are stupid. But hilarious.

Close up portrait of a snowy owl, Bubo scandiacus (photo), . / Darlyne A. Murawski/National Geographic Creative / Bridgeman Images
Close up portrait of a snowy owl, Bubo scandiacus (photo), . / Darlyne A. Murawski/National Geographic Creative / Bridgeman Images

9. Basically their entire head is taken up by giant cylindrical eyes that go all the way to the back of their skull, which gives them amazing long-distance vision but little space for brain (“this owl could read a newspaper as far away as that tree”, as if an owl can read).

Clip brooch (sapphire, star rubies, coloured diamonds, diamonds, white gold & yellow gold), Etcetera Private Collection / Photo © Christie's Images
Clip brooch (sapphire, star rubies, coloured diamonds, diamonds, white gold & yellow gold), Etcetera
Private Collection / Photo © Christie’s Images

8. This is also the reason they do the sassy head swivel; the long eyeballs are not the right shape to swivel in their sockets, so the owl’s head has to do all the swivelling if it wants to look around at stuff.

Bubo bubo / Natural History Museum, London, UK / Bridgeman Images
Bubo bubo / Natural History Museum, London, UK / Bridgeman Images

7. They are secretly small: most of their apparent size is fluff. Underneath they are skinny. You can poke your finger into an owl down to the second knuckle.

A great gray owl protects her prey, a dead gopher, from the photographer (photo) Tom Murphy/National Geographic Creative
A great gray owl protects her prey, a dead gopher, from the photographer (photo)
Tom Murphy/National Geographic Creative

6. They don’t like it when you do this though.

Snow Owl, 2010 (oil on aluplate) (see also 1190810), Verebics, Agnes (b.1982) / Private Collection
Snow Owl, 2010 (oil on aluplate) (see also 1190810), Verebics, Agnes (b.1982) / Private Collection

5. I got to hold one and was informed that it could hear my heartbeat, which was creepy. Their ears aren’t where you think they are – they’re just behind and above the eyes. The round ‘facial discs’ help funnel the sound into them. This is important for hunting voles etc., because they can spot a vole from up in a tree with their long-distance tube eyeballs no problem, but their short-distance vision is quite bad, so they have to finish the vole mainly by sound.

Portrait of a woman with an owl / Alinari
Portrait of a woman with an owl / Alinari

4. Then I got to hold a piece of bacon and have an owl land on my glove. I shouted, “Accio Owl!”, and no one laughed. The owl was called Warren and he was a Great Grey Owl, and he was on a diet because he was too fat.

Daniel Radcliffe in 'Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone', 2001 (photo)
Daniel Radcliffe in ‘Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone’, 2001 (photo)

Afterwards I went to the canteen and had a sausage roll and roast potatoes with gravy for lunch. It was a great day.

3. Some owls have jobs. I met another owl a couple of years later at Center Parcs, whose job was to fly up and down next to a runway, to muscle pigeons away from nearby aeroplanes. Its Center Parcs gig was just a sideline.

A Galapagos short eared owl on Genovesa Island in Galapagos National Park (photo) / Karine Aigner/National Geographic Creative
A Galapagos short eared owl on Genovesa Island in Galapagos National Park (photo)
/ Karine Aigner/National Geographic Creative

2. Its name was Moonbeam.

James Boswell, 1765 (oil on canvas), Willison, George (1741-97) / Scottish National Portrait Gallery, Edinburgh, Scotland
James Boswell, 1765 (oil on canvas), Willison, George (1741-97) / Scottish National Portrait Gallery, Edinburgh, Scotland

1. It also did a trick where its owner (manager?) made you shout “Moonbeam, show us your wings!” and did a secret signal and Moonbeam would flap.

Pablo Picasso in his workshop in Antibes in 1946 with an owl (coloured photo), . / Photo © Michel Sima
Pablo Picasso in his workshop in Antibes in 1946 with an owl (coloured photo), . / Photo © Michel Sima

Owls: very good at flying around, hearing, and seeing things that are far away.

This way to more owls

 
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