Halloween and Barn Owls

Happy Halloween to all. It is that wonderful pagan holiday where grown-up people can dress up and pretend to be something they are not. It is also the time when witches, owls, and ravens rule the night.

Ravens and owls have bad reputations the rest of the year. Edward Howe Forbush thought that unfair. He was the author of Birds of Massachusetts and Other New England States, a three volume work first published shortly after Mr. Forbush died in 1929. Here is what he had to say in defense of Barn Owls:

Since the dawn of history, owls have been the pitiable victims of ignorance and superstition. Hated, despised, and feared by many peoples, only their nocturnal habits have enabled them to survive in company with civilized man. In the minds of mankind they have leagued with witches and malignant evil spirits, or even have been believed to personify the Evil One. They have been regarded as precursors of sorrow and death, and some savage tribes have been so fixed in the belief that a man will die if an owl alights on the roof of his dwelling that, it is said, some Indians having seen the owl on the roof-tree have pined away and died. Among these eerie birds, the Barn Owl has been the victim of the greatest share of obloquy and persecution, owing to its sinister appearance, its weird night cries, its habit of haunting dismal swamps and dank quagmires, where an incautious step may precipitate the investigator into malodorous filth or sucking quicksands, and its tendency to frequent the neighborhood of man’s dwellings, especially unoccupied buildings and ghostly ruins. Doubtless the Barn Owl is responsible for some of the stories of haunted houses which have been current through the centuries. When divested by science of its atmosphere of malign mystery, however, this owl is seen to be not only harmless but a benefactor to mankind and a very interesting fowl that will well repay close study.

Indeed. For instance, that weird looking facial ruff appears designed to focus sound waves, magnifying them before delivery to the Barn Owl’s asymmetrical ears. Aware of minute differences in the time the sound waves arrive at each ear, the owl is capable of precisely determining the locus of the sound. A sound coming from above will seem to the owl to be slightly louder in the ear with the higher opening. A sound from the left will seem slightly louder in the ear with the left-most opening. A sound equal in both ears is straight ahead. In experiments, Barn Owls successfully hunt in absolute darkness even though in the wild there is usually at least some night illumination.

And like all owls, they hunt soundlessly. The leading edges of the first primary wing feathers are serrated which disrupts the flow of air over the wings which silences the vortex noise created by air flowing over a smooth surface.

But it is Halloween, so – if you want – you can be afraid of Barn Owls; but for tonight only.


For More on Barn Owls, see “Toe Dusting.”

Want to know how to identify Barn Owls?  Here is how if you can see the bird; here is how if it is dark and you can only hear it.

Here is a piece on the Wisdom of Owls.

For more on the delightful E.H. Forbush, see our post about Belted Kingfishers.


UPDATE – APRIL 3, 2010

Follow this link to a live web cam of a Barn Owl tending to brand new babies.

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35 Responses to “Halloween and Barn Owls”

  1. Bailey Says:

    I am a huge owl fan and i am doing a report on them and this page helped a lot. Thank You!!!!! I hope you don’t mind i Recamended this to my Professer.

  2. clancy Says:

    please go see the nearly 100 owls i have drawn and painted at this site
    please leave a comment
    also, these owls will be in a show in los angeles at the world of wonder gallery 6650 hollywood blvd. opening november 13.

  3. shayla Says:

    i love animals

  4. shayla Says:

    i love owls

  5. charla Says:

    i absolutly LOVE owls

  6. veronica Says:

    i love owls their so cute i want one as a pet

  7. Kayla Says:

    I LOVE THIS PICTURE ITS SO BEAUTIFUL!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  8. Phoenix Says:

    Owls are the best animals ever!!

  9. Aleyna Says:

    awsome… beautiful owl

  10. katie Says:

    thank you it was very helpfull

  11. rhoda s. friedman Says:

    I think owls are mysterious, beautiful and have a most distinctive appearance. I think I finally saw one the other day. It looked huge. I am trying to id the type of owl, ie, barn, snow…it was speckled brown and huge…

  12. safeer Says:

    i like animals

  13. Lidija Kostovska Says:

    I found on the road a small owl (forest owl with ears) who couldn’t fly because haven’t had the feathers yet.Other bigger birds were attacking it and I took the owl with me. I couldn’t find his nest, and it was not possible to live the owl in the special shelter for the birds, because there is not such in my country.I decided to save the owl and I keep it almost one months at home. I feed it with meet an water and help the owl to fly in my yard. Now, I think the owl is ready to be left in the forest, because it can fly well. I hope that the owl will find his family bu himself, because I will release it near the place I found it a months ago. As his name is Bosko, and as the group of owls is called ,,Parliament,, I call my owl ,,Bosko-the Parlamentarian,,.I am very proud with it and I will be very sorry when I will release Bosko, but it is the only way for the owl to live as it deserve-free!

    • Julie Says:

      We found a barn owl and did the same as you, but now feel it,s the time to let it go, it’s approx 13 weeks old. my worry is that it may not be able to feed it’s self, do you know how yours is getting on, any help would be appreciated.


    • Emma Says:

      That is very thoughtful of you i wish i could save an animal but im afraid my playful puppy might attack it and my mom wont let me. i want to be an animal rescuer when i grow up im only in 4th grade though

  14. Lidija Kostovska Says:

    Last few days I was hunting small lizards in my yard and I gave them to my owl.At the beginning the owl was playing with them, but than I didn’t give him the meat as usually and the owl ate the lizards.I am also playing with him with the small toy on the string, just to learn him to catch the toy.I also made a small wooden house for him and I am trying to teach the owl to stay some time in it. It is because I don’t know would it be possible for the owl to find a nest with his family or some other free nest or place in the tree to sleep there when I will release him free. During the day, while I am at work, the owl is free at home and he could fly everywhere, he can stay on the window and can look outside in the yard. I hope that a few days more the owl will be at my home and than I will put his wooden house on the tree near the place I find him and I will release him free. Of course, I will bring meat several days near the house in case the can not find the food in the beginning.
    I know that my experience is not big, but that all I can do for the owl.And for the end, let me tell you that my owl likes to bath-he is jumping under the water in the kitchen and when he finishes with his bath, I take him to the bathroom and dry him with my fen-and he is staying calm.
    Best wishes and good luck with your owl.

  15. ron owen Says:

    the most beautiful of all birds,not surpassed by any other,i named my bungalow after them..

  16. patrick Says:

    my name patrick and i lik owls. ther not many owls in my country but wen i do see owl i look at it for long tim. owls one ov my favorit animal! superstition bad here so no peoples lik owls very much. i no lisin to those guy at all

  17. Ophedia Says:

    Hail all, I would love to have an owl for a pet…there is also a dog in my house,so it is a bit difficult…when they r babies they r so CUTE! Their eyes!

  18. Cathy Blecker Says:

    All owl lovers,
    Try to find a wildlife rehabilation site near you. They are great at teaching the young owls to hunt and and keep their wild status. Owls can become imprinted on humans when they are very young. Search the internet for a wildlife rehabilatator near you. This will give them a chance to return to the wild and be free.

  19. Yahn Sasuake Says:

    On the golf course near my house there are some burrowing Ground-Owls.

  20. SARAH Says:

    Owls are thaa best. i love owls more than all yall. ya hurr me!?

  21. megan higgins Says:

    im doin a topic in school bout owls its really interesting
    i think there nice love there feathers!! 🙂

  22. shaqueeb Says:

    owl is more beautiful than my girl friend.

  23. ally Says:

    i love owls they r the best!!

    sincerly Ally parkmeen

  24. Saurabh Says:

    I am a true Lover of OWL…

  25. kanchana Says:

    owls are dead cool. snowy owl is th e best of all the owls.

  26. Leisl Says:

    I have saved one that was hit by a Truck, do you know how I should care for it.It’s in my sons cuboard blacked out by a sheet with some water, meat & Grain’n’seed. Thanks leisl

  27. Raevonn Says:

    I love owl’s

  28. Eileen Says:

    I would love to paint this owl would I be infringing copyright?

    • fatfinch Says:

      Probably. We have searched and searched for a credit to put on this photo as we don’t know who took it. Keep watching this space and, if we find the photographer, we’ll let you know and if you find the credit, please let us know.

  29. Soren ( Not real name) Says:

    Omg! I love it because I love the gaurdians of ga’hoole books this is the best pic of a barn owl i have ever seen!

  30. owlfreak Says:

    Hey Soren i love the guardians too!!!!!! Read the series 2 times!! Im insanely in LLLLOOOOOOOOOOOVVVVVEEEE with it.

  31. hailie Says:

    i love owls i am doing a repot about them…..all about them

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