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In an-almost Exorcist fashion, these predators turn their heads 270 degrees.
Their creepy toes face forward and backward, allowing better captures.
And these spooky creatures have specialized feathers with fringes of varying softness to help muffle their movements.
“They don’t digest the bones of their prey, so after digesting the meat, the bones are coughed (or cast) up as a pellet,” explained Duncan’s Robyn Radcliffe of the 25 or so owls featured at the Pacific Northwest Raptors Centre on Herd Road.
The centre is currently hosting an Owl’loween event’ featuring nine species of the spooky owls that call the Herd Road location home, including a fairly new pair of majestic Snowy Owls.
“Owls are nocturnal predators and have often been associated with being spooky,” Radcliffe said. “Years ago people were terrified of owls, and associated them with death and doom, despite them playing such an important role in our ecosystems as top predators. I suppose this association and their nocturnal habits have made them a perfect fit with Halloween, just like the cat.”
Radcliffe could write a 10-page essay on the species.
“In general, owls are primarily nocturnal, although some species are diurnal. As a result, they have some great adaptations for hunting at night: excellent night vision, superior hearing, silent flight.”
PNWR’s owl flying demonstrations often include a great horned owl (Spock) and a barn owl (Ollie), and meet and greets are had with their snowy and spectacled (Elton) owls.
“We also have our snowy owls out for the first time,” Radcliffe said. “(They) arrived in the middle of the summer as chicks, and it was too hot for them to be outside, so they were living in a huge indoor aviary with air conditioning that was not on view. So we just moved them down to the centre so people can meet them up close, and we are just starting to get them going. Hopefully they will be flying in the next month or two.”
Owls prey on all sorts of animals, but are most well-known for hunting rodents, and in fact help to maintain the predator prey equilibrium in our ecosystems, Radcliffe said. “Owls have large eyes for seeing well at night, which gives them often an interesting, questioning or attentive look.”
Maybe Harry Potter’s pet snowy owl Hedwig plays a part in the bird-of-prey’s recent gain in popularity.
“They have recently become incredibly popular, which is awesome as long as people don’t start to think of them as pets, as they are not good pets at all,” said Radcliffe. “The old saying ‘wise old owl,’ is likely because they sit so still (primarily to avoid being seen) and watch things intently with large eyes. They are not particularly wise, however. But nonetheless, very good at what they do.”
A barn owl can swoop up to 1,000 mice each year, and many farmers try to attract them to help control their rodents.
“In medieval times people associated owls with death and persecuted them, killing so many the populations dropped significantly enough to see an explosion of rodent populations, which just so happened to coincide with the black plague,” Radcliffe said.
According to a What’s so scary about owls piece by Mike O’Connor, the Romans “would freak out if they saw an owl during the day.
“A daytime sighting of an owl was a bad omen, especially if a major battle was about to take place,” wrote O’Connor. “In fact, the fall of the entire Roman Empire probably can be attributed to some insomniac owl that left its roost too early one day.
“But why owls? Owls are soft, warm and fluffy, and just because they can rip the head off a live animal and eat it in total darkness shouldn’t make them scary. Or does it?”
In Malaysia, O’Connor writes, it was thought owls ate newborn babies.
“I don’t think this one is much of a stretch. Great horned owls have been known to take prey as large as a woodchuck; therefore, it is conceivable that a large owl could go after a newborn. However, I don’t think that’s a good reason to be upset with the owl. If you have owls eating your kids, it’s time to think about getting a new babysitter.”
In the meantime, Radcliffe wants folks to know owls aren’t all doom and gloom.
They’re the complete opposite rather.
“Basically the goal is to discuss owls and how incredible they are,” she said, noting demos are available up until Halloween day as part of the event, but can be organized anytime by calling the centre. “...People leave knowing more about owls in their backyard, and why they are so important to us and our ecosystems.
“Having an owl fly right over your heads is a pretty awesome way to showcase the silent flight of an owl, and the adaptations that make them such excellent nocturnal predators.”
For more information on the PNW raptors centre, click here.