Owls. "Solemn Solomon of the Shade"
Owls are mysterious and lovely...budgies are obvious and noisy!Click thumbnail to view full-size
Humans have had a love/hate affair with Owls for millenia
Owls…”Solemn Solomon of the Shade.”
It constantly amazes this reporter to be reminded just how long many of the creatures who share our world have actually been here, compared to our own insignificant tenure.
One of the favorites are the owls, perhaps because so little is seen of them as they live their lives during our long nights when most humans sleep.
It was astonishing to find that owls have been around for 60 million years - and birds in general for about 140 million.
The first owls, blinking sleepily in the dawn light as their shifts ended, gazed down at a far different world of critters than we see today.
They were little different from those of modern times, not the case with many mammals, the owls might have gaped at rhinoceros-like herbivores 20 feet long and weighing several tons.
Elephants and felines were a long time in the future and the apes that would evolve into homo sapiens were not even a twinkle in the eye of their lemur-like forefathers.
The familiar horse which has played such a huge part in our own history, including - sadly - a large place in our supermarket meat shelves of late, were the size of terriers and had four toes on each foot.
Forests were plentiful and plants like conifers and palms were dominant, but flowers were few: magnolias had arrived but the orchid was still way in the future.
Birds were competing vigorously back then during the Eocene Period with the mammals as the last of the dinosaurs faded away, along with many of the reptiles.
To do this, birds produces “monsters’ which would have our own Ostriches and Emus calling “Foul!”
Like the Diatrymas, standing at least 6 feet high; voracious meat eaters, far too heavy to fly. Others were even larger, like the 10 foot high elephant bird, weighing nearly half a tone and probably the largest bird ever. (Relatives survived until recent times in Madagascar, falling into extinction due to hunting)
The birds of prey probably competed just as energetically forcing the perhaps weaker owls to find their niche as nocturnal predators: evolution always spreads its creatures around to cover every opportunity as both plant and flesh eaters.
The owl is the supreme hunting and killing machine of small rodents. Its soundless, swift flight, keen eyesight in bad light and evolved hearing that allows the creatures to hear small rodents while still in their burrows, ensures that few owls face sunup with empty tummies. It’s clear that owls and hawks, etc., have evolved into all the types as rodents have done the same, world-wide, over all the millions of intervening years.
Owls have always done well in the United States. The first fossil of an owl - petrified and sixty million years old… was found there in Wyoming. Although all the scientists had were petrified bones, they could see this ancient bird would have had a similar configuration with all modern owls: face plates, and large, frontal eye sockets as well as prominent ear structure. The toes of owls are in a two in front, two behind. In some species, a rear claw can swivel to join the front set to add power when gripping or strangling prey.
Owls vary as much in size as do the prey they subsist upon. This ranges from the Pygmy Owls of around 5 inches in height and weighing a few of ounces, to the giant and quite fearsome Eagle Owls, up to 30 inches high; the huge Snowy Owl, a gorgeous creature in its white plumage as befits its northern locations. In between are many types, such as the Hawk Owls, the handsome “Spectacled Owl,” the European favorites, the quite recently evolved Barn Owls.
In all, there over 200 recognized and studied species, many of which boast some of the most imaginative and evocative names allotted to the creatures of our planet.
We have Barking Owls, Laughing Owls, Fearful Owls, Bare-Legged Owls, Barred Owls (banned from pubs), the Least Pigmy Owl, Bare-Flanked Screech Owl, (screeched cause he’s cold, maybe),. Many owls bear the name of the discoverer, and still more carry the names of their locations. Common is a name that describes the color configuration of the bird: like the Sooty Owl who makes a nest in chimneys, (not really, just seeing who is paying attention).
Actually, owls, on the whole, are not great nest builders: some nest on the ground and others prefer natural cradles in trees. Among their enemies, owls count other owls, the smaller varieties often preyed upon by the large species, such as the eagle owls, etc. Owls rest during the day in their lair or in the high branches of trees where their excellent camouflage allows them to rest undetected. As predators, they also count snakes, tree climbing mammals, such as the Weasel family, as well as the smaller members of the cat species who might creep up on they as they doze…and, of course, idiot man, although they are usually revered and protected in Britain.
Owls either swallow their prey whole, or in large chunks where some digestion time is required until the pieces of bone, fur and feathers, etc., that defeats their digestive juices can be spat out in pellets. Scientists often examine such pellets to ascertain the particular owl’s diet.
Basically asocial in nature, owls do often congregate at night, perhaps for reasons of safety, warmth, or a bit of nooky - we are not quite sure.
The bird has generally been considered “wise” in folk lore, like the “Wise old owl, the more he saw, the less he spoke.” Really, they do quite a lot of screeching and hooting at night, but would almost certainly keep very quite and still when spotted during the day; perhaps when the poet saw him.
Owls have also been seen as portents of evil - rather like HP editors.
Isaiah, one of the deluded writing in the bible, gave the owl a drubbing, along with the Bitterns, Cormorants and more. A certain baker’s daughter, reducing the size of a loaf being baked for Christ, was turned into an owl!
The Spanish are convinced the owl was once a song-bird until its presence at the crucifixion of Christ robbed it of its vocal range, so it can now only say “Cruz, cruz, cruz,” (Cross, cross cross). As the owl arrived 60 million years before Jesus, and was probably close by, hooting at the birth, this belief espouses unimaginable conceit.
Many societies have more of this laughable nonsense in their folk-lore…the owls might justifiably say “To-whit…idiots!”
“All the forest dwellers take flight
At the silent ruler of the night...
Golden-eyed warrior of the glade
Solemn Solomon of the shade…”
Excerpt from “Scourge of the Night,”
From Charged Particles,
By Robert Challen.
Note. Sadly, I dedicate this article to Woody, my female budgie, who passed on last night, peacefully. Now I will have to find another mate for her “toyboy,” Sparky. (see pic). Another mate for yours’ truly is proving more difficult!…All offers considered!
The author thanks the publication “OWLS.” by Soper, etc., (David and Charles, publishers) for some of the information in this article.