The barn owl adds to its family’s ghostly reputation

Photo by mikezwei from Pixabay • The barn owl is the most common owl in the world. Almost exclusively nocturnal, these owls keep such a low profile that they are often mistakenly assumed to be rare.

By Bryan Stevens

Halloween is just a few days away, and it’s definitely the one night of the year where we become fully aware of the things that happen overnight.

While goblins and ghouls may be thought of as mere appearances of the imagination, some actual feathered ghosts roam the darkness, perhaps even your own backyard. If so, you are more likely to have heard them than to have seen them.

If you hear anything unusual on Halloween night, chances are the sounds were made by an owl.

Several species of owls reside in northeastern Tennessee, including the Eastern Screech Owl, Barred Owl, Great Horned Owl, and Barn Owl. A fifth owl, the tiny little northern owl, can be found in some high elevation locations, including Unaka Mountain in Unicoi County. A few other owls have made sporadic appearances in the area, including the short-eared owl, short-eared owl, and even the snowy owl.

The barn owl is an owl that has adapted its ways of coexisting with humans. Even its common name refers to the fact that these owls roost and nest in barns and other structures. They are also known to select natural tree cavities, caves, and other human structures, including nooks and crannies built into sports stadiums and arenas. My most recent barn owl sightings were in a grain elevator in Sullivan County a few years ago, a large barn on Antelope Island State Park in Utah in 2006 and under the eaves of the old theater. on the Mountain Home Veterans Administration campus near East Tennessee State University in 2000. These sporadic sightings are a testament to this owl’s overall elusive nature.

I was surprised to learn during my basic research that the barn owl is the most common owl species as well as one of the most common birds on the planet. This owl is also called the barn owl, to distinguish it from other species of the barn owl family Tytonidae. Owls in this family include one of the two main lineages of living owls, the other being the typical owls of the Strigidae family. The barn owl, known scientifically as Tyto alba, is found almost everywhere in the world except in polar and desert regions, Asia north of the Alpid belt, most of Indonesia and the islands. of the Pacific.

The genus name for this owl is Tyto, a variation of the ancient Greek word “tuto”, which meant “owl”. The barn owl family, Tytonidae, consists of true barn owls, as well as barn owls and masked owls.

All owls are carnivorous, but the barn owl specializes more on rodents than many of its relatives. However, this owl will also eat other birds and insects.

Due to their pale plumage and nocturnal habits, barn owls have been given common names such as demonic owl, mortuary owl, night owl, and ghost owl.

Other common names include the rat owl, inspired by one of its primary prey, and the barnyard owl and church owl, which are two haunts where these owls often roost or perch. I also liked the names owl and hissing owl, which were acquired because of this bird’s vocalizations.

Barn owls have several adaptations that allow them to hunt in complete darkness. These owls have excellent hearing, allowing them to locate their prey even when the lack of light makes vision unnecessary. The characteristic barn owl facial disc helps channel sound to the bird’s ears.

Even owl feathers have adapted to the need to stalk wary prey without revealing their presence. Specialized feathers allow owls to fly almost silently. Their feathers absorb flight noise and even alter air turbulence to keep the flight smooth and quiet. Most prey never suspect the owl is approaching until it is too late.

To the average person, the term “owl” is indicative of what is, in fact, an extremely diverse bird family. Worldwide, there are around 220 species of owls of varying sizes and habits.

Humans have found descriptive names for various owls across the world. A sample of these names include the fearful owl, pharaoh owl, collared owl, pearl owl, little owl, red-breasted owl, buff-fronted owl, stygian owl, owl. wormy fisherman, black and white owl, bare-legged owl, maned owl, bearded owl, bespectacled owl and golden masked owl.

Owls, according to Linda Spencer, author of “Touching Wood: A Chance Selection of Superstitions,” have inspired a mixture of superstitions since humans arose. Owls have long been associated with the forces of good and evil. The “hoot” or call of an owl is considered by people of many cultures to predict death. There are some interesting ways to counter an owl’s menacing hoot, according to Spencer. The ways to ward off the power of the evil owl are to put the irons back on the fire, throw salt, pepper and vinegar on the fire, tie a knot or undress, turn them over and put them back on.

According to Laura Martin, author of “The Folklore of Birds,” one of the earliest human drawings of owls dates back to the early Paleolithic period. The scene is that of a family of snowy owls painted on the wall of a cave in France.

Owls have also entered the culture as symbols of wisdom and kindness. The wise old owl, writes Martin, dates back to the time of King Arthur. The wizard Merlin was still depicted with an owl on his shoulder. In the Middle Ages, owls became symbols of learning and intelligence. The Greeks were not afraid of owls like the Romans. In fact, the owl was the sacred mascot of the Greek goddess Athena.

There is another owl myth that I forgot to mention. There is a Chinese belief that owls tear the souls of unwary people – just something you should know if you are out after dark on Halloween night.

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