why do they say owls are wise

hat is it about owls that so captivates us? What has made them among the most popular, reproduced, documented and frequently referenced birds in British culture? The answer is simple. Owls inhabit the one landscape that we weak-sighted, day-loving primates still haven't mastered. Night-time. These glorious birds loom at us out of the darkness, freighted with a rich sense of mystery and, at one time, with a touch of evil. Owls were once seen as dangerous omens and not even Victorian intellectuals could resist the superstition. John Ruskin once announced: "Whatever wise people may say of them, I at least have found the owl's cry always prophetic of mischief. " Seeing a bird land on a particular roof was often taken as a sign of impending doom within. The owl had more than its nocturnal lifestyle to confirm its status as death's messenger-in-chief. All of the British species have binocular vision and suggest, perhaps, what humans might look like were we ever reincarnated as birds.


Throw in their absolute silence in flight, the ghostly pale of the barn owl, their predatory habits, their eerie shrieking or moaning vocalisations, which cut through the darkness like an uncloaked dagger, and you have a set of creatures ready-made to inhabit our most cherished nightmares. Even if 150 years of hard natural science and decades of electrified street light have helped to drain the owl of much of its menace, note how the stock metaphor for danger in television dramas is still either the sound or the brief glimpse of an owl landing on a tree just outside the scene of the crime. Over that same period owls have gradually been clasped tighter and tighter to the national bosom in the form of T-shirts, cushions and ornaments, Beatrix Potter's innocently blinking Old Brown or a score of wise-looking bespectacled owls in Disney cartoons.


These birds are also the stars in, a 3D animated film that hits cinemas next month. Yet I think the real reason we cherish owls is that they have retained a slight frisson of danger. Of all widespread British birds, they are still the species we hear most and where I live in Norfolk, it is nightly but see the least. That glorious wavering disembodied song of the tawny owl still has an ability to raise the hairs on the backs of our necks. It reminds us as we lie in our beds that beyond the gutter's edge, over the rooftop, outside the penumbra of any streetlight, is a life and a beating heart that we can never quite know.
The owl is not a wise animal. For its size, the owl has a small brain, and in fact, is not as smart as geese, crows, and ravens.


However, from ancient times, people have used the owl as a symbol of wisdom. The very serious look on the owlвs face might have given people the idea that the owl was wise. It has large, bright, wide-awake eyes that point forward. Its long lashes and upper eyelids close over its eyes. The owl has been called a wise bird for the same reason that some men are thought to be wise в he looks wise. One reason he looks so steadily at you that you think he is studying you is because the light is so strong in the daytime that his sight is bad. But the owl is not as wise as he is said to be. Owls are nocturnal birds and function extremely well at night. Their ability to see in the dark has elevated owls, in some cultures, to manifestations of wisdom. In Western folklore, owls are commonly associated with studious scholars and wise elders.


Perhaps the earliest known link between owls and wisdom is their association with Athena. The Greek goddess of wisdom is often depicted holding an owl. Because of their close kinship with the night, owls are also associated with magic and witchcraft. Merlin was known to have an owl, and in the Harry Potter series, young wizards communicate by owl messengers instead of instant messengers. Some have viewed owls as manifestations of a more sinister darkness. Ancient Romans believed the screech of an owl foretold death and that witches transformed into owls and sucked the blood from babies. Many other cultures share these fearful views. Almost every culture has either a positive or negative belief about the bird. This compelling link with human folklore makes some conservationists hopeful that endangered owls can be protected -- because humans really do give a hoot.

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