strange owl

strange owl

A Eurasian eagle owl, one of the largest owls in the world, whose wings may span more than six feet; from Mike Unwin and David Tipling’s <i>The Enigma of the Owl</i>

Humans have always noticed owls. One of the earliest examples of Paleolithic art is an owl engraved on the wall of the Chauvet cave in France. Among the peculiarities of owl physiognomy is that owls have both eyes facing forward, unlike most birds. They can also turn their heads 270 degrees (making up for their inability to move their eyes). It has been easy to imagine that these creatures of darkness, mostly experienced as an ominous cry in the night or a disconcerting stare during the day, have personalities, and malign ones at that. Even today, the two books under review tell us, in many parts of the world owls are killed whenever they are encountered, for fear of their evil influence.

The Greeks perceived owls more positively, as embodiments of wisdom. The “owl of Athena” portrayed on Athenian coinage represents a real species, the little owl (Athene noctua), which can still be seen among Mediterranean ruins. Nowadays Europeans and Americans generally regard owls as benign but sometimes as pretentious, as in The Stuffed Owl: An Anthology of Bad Verse, which famously mocks poetry of “sentimentality” and “banality,” or the pompous know-it-all in A.A. Milne’s Winnie-the-Pooh who misspells his own name “Wol.”

A few have been found the old-fashioned way, by hard slogging in remote places. In September 1976, John P. O’Neill and Gary Graves, researchers from Louisiana State University, were studying the birds of an unexplored stretch of dense cloud forest high in the northern Peruvian Andes. They were preparing to strike camp after three unsuccessful days in the rain when a tiny owl turned up in one of their nets. They had never seen anything like it. They named it the long-whiskered owlet for its strange facial bristles. It was so unlike any other owl that it was placed in a new genus all to itself, Xenoglaux, whose name is derived from the Greek words for “strange owl.” Additional long-whiskered owls weren’t found until 2007

the first picture is : Xenoglaux

the second picture : A Eurasian eagle owl, one of the largest owls in the world, whose wings may span more than six feet; from Mike Unwin and David Tipling’s The Enigma of the Owl

Source : New York Review of Books:

A Parliament of Owls By Robert O. Paxton



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