Every day, we see stuff that evoke our curiosity, things that push us to know more. These “Things” constantly remind us of how much we don’t know about our existence. Like Buddha said, all things are as they should be. But are they really in their place?
Owls, a symbol of wisdom since medieval times, has intrigued me to learn more about it multiple times. These creatures are what one might usually call “Odd”, and that is not without cause. They spend most of their active periods perched on a branch, their everlasting gaze fixed upon the void of the night. And that is until they spot their prey. Once they do, they move in with deadly silence, snatching the little creature off the ground. These silent, yet deadly creatures personify nature in the best way: Calm till the storm hits.
What a hoot!
I’ve always wondered why owls do not move their eyes to look. It’s easier than turning your head around to look at something. But well, it’s because they can’t. They’re made that way, with fixed tubular eyes, which prevent any time of movement. Makes them creepier, but all the more interesting because they use it to their advantage. They have higher depth-perception, aided by binocular-vision helping them stay at a reasonable height on the food-chain and providing them with a three-dimensional view of everything. It is worth noting that owls are the only birds to have binocular-vision like we do.
Evolution has granted the owls a very powerful gift: Being able to rotate their necks up to a whopping 270 degrees! Imagine approaching your friend from behind to give him a surprise slap on the back and he/she immediately turns their head 180 degrees to look at you. Obviously, I’d be freaked out. Now, just imagine yourself as the predator and your friend as the sly owl. Not only does it allow them an opportunity for a quick escape, it also, sometimes, scares away the predator. Quite a perk, huh?
One other “weird” about owls is that they have another eyelid, in addition to the usual two most creatures possess. Although not exactly an eyelid, they have a nictitating membrane, a thin layer of tissue positioned diagonally from the inside of the eye to the outside. The purpose is quite simple: To make sure the eye remains clean.
Owls also have asymmetrical ears, positioned at different heights on their head, making them even more weirder. It also makes them awesome because they can pinpoint origins of a sound in three dimensions. Pretty cool, right? Apart from the awesomeness factor, it also makes them expert hunters.
Member of Parliament
Owls are like us, in more ways than one. They begin their day (or night) by yawning and stretching, then cleaning themselves up with their beak, un-ruffling any ruffled up feather, and claiming their roosting branch. Then, they roost. Oh, and while they’re at their usual roosting business, they bob their heads in all directions to get a three-dimensional idea of their surroundings (What a home-field advantage!) and when a prey approaches, it’s hunting time!
It’s kinda funny to know that the association of the term ‘Parliament’ with owls was inspired by C.S. Lewis in his masterpiece, The Chronicles of Narnia, when he described a meeting between a group of owls.
They often spend their time roosting alone, with a partner or with a parliament, although they’re solitary creatures that prefer silence and loneliness.
The Wild Hunt
Early bird gets the.. Mice?
Being a bird of prey, owls hunt other creatures for their survival. They prey on almost anything smaller than them. Their primary diet includes invertebrates and small mammals like spiders, worms, snails, mice, and even fish. Except for a few species which have a preference in their food, most species just eat whatever’s small and prey-able in the area.
They usually hunt in their respective hunting territories mostly during twilight or in the dead of the night. When the time’s right, all the special attributes the owl has such as it’s eyesight and hearing come into play in locating the prey. Once the target’s locked and topped, they carefully plan their approach and swoop down with a deadly silence, thanks to their special wing feathers which muffle the sound of air swooshing over the wings, and allows them to tale their prey by surprise, relenting any resistance the prey had in store as futile. By the time the helpless to-be-food realises what’s happening, it’s already too late.
Some species hunt prey lurking in water bodies, and some braver owls even hunt dangerous creatures like water snakes. They glide over the surface, giving a teasing chase before grabbing it away from it’s habitat and taking it back home, either for a safe lunch or for later consumption. Some species of owls even hunt other owls! Guess being at the top of your food-chain isn’t as safe as you thought.
Love is in the air, literally.
Meet the owlets.
Although owls usually breed during spring, it may vary from species to species depending on weather, abundance of prey, etc. The mating rituals vary from species to species, but the mating call remains common in all of them. The male sends an invitation to a female to join him in a suitable breeding spot. He then tries variable courtship activities, ranging from offering food too performing stunts in the air (The things people do to impress their loved ones..). The female, if unimpressed, leaves promptly or if it’s swept off it’s legs, accepts the offering and the mating ensues.
Owl pairs most often consist of one male and one female, and neither of them have any kind of involvement with a member of any other couple (Monogamy!). In most species, this bond only lasts for the rest of the breeding season, but in some species, it lasts till they die.
Since owls do not construct nests, they take over an abandoned nest constructed by other birds and lay their eggs there. An owl may lay up to 13 eggs in a single breeding season. Once the first egg has been laid, the male defends the surrounding areas relentlessly while the female stays back home incubating them. The male owl is a great parent, because after an hatch, it brings food for it’s off-springs multiple times.
After hatching, the development of the owlet is common to that of other birds and they attain maturity within a year after they hatch. But they do not rush, and plan their breeding activities very carefully.
Considering their strategic planning in everything they do, it’s safe to say that they’re indeed the wisest of all the birds, and hence, a symbol of wisdom.