OWLS Quarterly, First Edition, February 2018

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Edition I February 2018

Oxford & Wimbledon Leading Scholarship


OWLS Quarterly, Edition I, February 2018 GDST schools Oxford High School for Girls and Wimbledon High School share a culture of promoting academic originality and excellence. The OWLS project (Oxford and Wimbledon Leading Scholarship) facilitates collaborative academic investigation and writing between the Sixth Form academic scholarship and exhibition holders of our two schools. The students’ work on the project will be published in this, the OWLS Quarterly journal. In September 2017, the girls met at Wimbledon High School to think about (what else for the inaugural session) owls - the feathery kind. With the inspiration of some real owls (and some rather excitable – and much bigger – birds of prey), and taking our Classicists’ translation of Dio Chrysostom’s Greek fable The owl and the other birds as a starting point, they collaborated to produce academic writing to look in detail at this fascinating creature; OWLS on Owls.

But later, through experience they came to admire her and consider her exceedingly wise. And that is why, whenever she shows herself, they flock to her as to one who possesses all knowledge. Dio Chrysostom – Orationes 12; Fable – The Owl and the other Birds.

Ms Rachael Pallas-Brown (OHS) and Dr John Parsons (WHS) – Editors

CONTENTS Introduction – Charles Foster ................................................................................................................... 3 Witchcraft, Magic and Ancient Symbolism ......................................................................................... 4 The Owl in the Hispanic World ................................................................................................................ 6 Wisdom or Witchcraft? ................................................................................................................................ 10 The Science of the Silent ............................................................................................................................. 12 Owls in Literature – A Poem...................................................................................................................... 15 The Impact of Habitat on the Anatomical and Behavioural Adaptations of Owls ............. 16 How Owls Differ from Other Birds, with special a special focus on hormones .................. 19 Night Owls and Early Birds ........................................................................................................................ 20 The Adaptations of Owls ............................................................................................................................. 22


INTRODUCTION by CHARLES FOSTER Fellow of Green Templeton College, University of Oxford Author of Being a Beast

Owls are proverbially wise. The ancients who first associated owls with wisdom did not make the dangerous mistake, ubiquitous today, of confusing wisdom with the possession of knowledge. Read Aristotle if you doubt it. If you want to be wise it helps to know some facts, but the knowledge of facts does not constitute wisdom. Today we have more information than we have ever had: far more than we can cope with. But we are less wise than any generation before us. So owls were not thought to be wise because they have big eyes – good for collecting information. What then, were the reasons? There were, I think, two. The first is their silent watchfulness. Although the scream of the barn owl and the hoot of the tawny owl are well known, they are not what country people think of first when they think of owls. They think instead of the silent twilight glide of the barn owl as it quarters a field looking for voles, or of glancing up at a tree and seeing that they are being watched by a still, quiet tawny owl. Old Brown endures Squirrel Nutkin’s taunts for days before acting. There is not much silent appraisal. We chatter. Chatter is an enemy of wisdom. The second is that owls are creatures of the edges. Their country is the in-between place, squeezed between the light and the dark. They stitch the day and the night together, giving integrity to the world. All wise people live at the edge. The shaman’s hut is at the edge of the village. The significant scholars work at the edges of disciplines. No one gets rich (should you care about that) by thinking inside the box. Nothing interesting, significant, or fun happens at the centre. Ever. And the people at the centre are plainly not living the Good Life, as everyone who’s worth reading, ever since those observant Greeks, has noticed. Owls, then, are good political, sociological and epistemological models. They can teach us a lot about how to thrive as humans. It is very owlishly wise of Wimbledon and Oxford High Schools to learn from them.


Owls in mythology and superstition


The declining significance of superstition in Western culture has resulted in the owl being perceived as a symbol of wisdom, yet by adopting a less Eurocentric approach, one can better understand the links between owls and witchcraft through symbolism. In early Indian folklore, owls represented prophetic qualities, whilst the Zulu people saw the owl as the bird of sorcerers. This demonstrates the malevolent power of the owl symbol, contradictory to most European and North American beliefs where the owl is seen as a protector. Likewise, in Madagascar and Malawi local superstitions imply that owls collude with witches and dance on the graves of the dead, so owls are very much allied to evil spirits. Yet this mythological fear of owls in some cultures is almost the opposite to perceptions in other cultures, making the owl a divisive symbol. For instance, in Medieval England, owls foreshadowed imminent death, but dead owls were used in potions to ward-off illness. Therefore, owls embody contrasting mythological interpretations; as either protectors or polluters. Similarly, the Tlingit tribes in North America approached battles making hooting owl noises to intimidate the enemy. Whilst this is indicative of the interpretation of the owl as a protector, there is an element of ‘prophecy’ in this practice, due to the belief that the owl could bring about victory. Undoubtedly, the owl was perceived as a powerful and significant creature in mythology; yet the nature of this power is contested – is the owl the very symbol of the ‘evils’ of witchcraft, or the protector who fights against these dark forces?


Camila Bonchristiano, Iris Petrillo (OHS) and Anna Kendall, Millie McMillan (WHS) The night and femininity As well as being symbols of wisdom, owls are closely linked to ideas of the night. This is partially due to the biological temperament of owls - most are solitary and, more importantly, strictly nocturnal birds of prey. Because of this, the owl is frequently associated with darkness, and therefore the mystery and supernatural elements that are so regularly attributed to the night. Furthermore, the Classical era also helped to establish the link between owls and darkness. Pliny the Elder, a Roman author and philosopher, represents the owl as a funereal bird, a true monster of the night; Virgil too describes its death-howl from the top of the temple by night, which is introduced as a precursor of Dido's death in his great epic The Aeneid, both of which reiterate the dark and sinister symbolism of the animal. Moreover, closely linked to the night is the moon, to which owls are also connected. The moon is a feminine symbol, and since it controls the tides, the rains, the waters, and the seasons, it is often seen as universally representing the cyclical nature of time. Thus, many believe that the cycles of the moon represent the stages of human development: the new moon is infancy, the crescent is youth and adolescence, the full moon is maturity and pregnancy, and the waning moon represents the decline of life, which highlights the link to femininity. Therefore, by default the owl can be interpreted as feminine. This notion is again reinforced by the Classical era: Diana, the Roman response to the Greek Goddess Artemis, was indeed the goddess of the moon. As well as this, she was also the goddess of the hunt, which associated her with wild animals (often including owls) and woodlands. Diana’s attributes clearly show the link that can be made between the owl and the moon, and thus the owl and femininity. It is interesting to consider these contrasting images of the owl, particularly within the ancient world, and see how they have influenced the symbolic perception of owls today.

Owls in occultism With the overwhelming majority of owl symbolism connoting wisdom, mythology and even death, its association with occultism and paranormal activity is often overlooked, even if these ideas have been woven through culture since Classical antiquity. Greeks and Romans named them ‘rulers of the nights,’ stemming from their symbolism of the occult knowledge of pagan gods such as Athena, whose head even morphed into that of an owl. From this time on, the owl came to be attached to an unnatural omniscience, which later came to fuel the medieval belief that owls were the symbol of Satan. As generations passed, the owl emerged as the figure of the Illuminati as it passed on the ancient knowledge of the devils. Its unblinking eye representing


the all-seeing eye of the Illuminati that never closes. Similarly, because an owl’s eyes seem not to move, its head rotating beyond the extent of any other species, the owl shows another sign of the occult Illuminati and Freemasons. Through their initiated agents, they can see where normal men cannot and, like the owl, the Freemasons gather in secret, far from the light of day. Now in present times, remnants of ancient omens and deities still persist in sleep paralysis hallucinations. Owls have been known to morph into terrifying demons, and sleep-paralysis sufferers have occasionally even heard the unmistakable screech of an owl in the dead of night. It is signs like these that demonstrate that the role of owls in occultism is still as significant nowadays as in ancient times.

References Owls in Mythology, The Owl Pages. URL https://www.owlpages.com/owls/articles.php?a=62 (accesse d 25.11.17) Owls in Religion, Tradition in Action. URL http://www.traditioninaction.org/religious/f032_Owl.htm (ac cessed 28.11.17) The Symbolism of Owls, Pure Spirit. URL http://www.purespirit.com/more-animal-symbolism/400-owl (accessed 29.11.17) Owl Folklore and Legends, 2017. ThoughtCo. URL https://www.thoughtco.com/leg ends-and-lore-of-owls-2562495 (accessed 25.11.17) The Unknowable Magic of Owls, 2016. The Guardian. URL https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/feb/02/un knowable-magic-owls (accessed 26.11.17)

Owls in magic

World Owl Mytholoogy, 2012. The Owl Pages. URL https://www.owlpages.com/owls/articles.php?a=63 (accesse d 26.11.17)

The superstitions surrounding owls are related to the magical powers associated with them. For many centuries all over the world, owls have been a symbol of magic, but very rarely did the tales correlate. Whereas in Algeria it was believed that if the right eye of an eagle owl was placed in the hands of a sleeping woman she would confess to everything she was asked, in Arabia there were tales that every female owl laid two eggs - one with the power to make hair fall out, and the other with the power to restore it. There were also various tales relating owls more specifically to witchcraft. These tales go back to Ancient Greek times, when it was believed that witches were able to turn themselves into owls so they could suck the blood of babies. More commonly, however, owls were seen as the messengers of witches, and their hoot was a warning that one was approaching. These beliefs, alongside some of the owl’s characteristics (such as binocular vision and ability to almost fully rotate their heads) may explain why recently owls have appeared in multiple supernatural stories, either as magical creatures themselves, or accompanying other magical characters. Take Harry Potter, for example, whose owl, Hedwig, was often seen with him, either protecting him from any danger or simply delivering letters.


outside their house until dusk, the uncles took it upon themselves to shoot the bird, and when they opened the door the next morning, there was an old lady lying there dead from gunshot wounds. Another tale tells of the Mucaro, an owl native to Puerto Rico, who was blamed for eating the coffee beans when the harvest was poor. Plantation owners believed that the coffee beans were part of the owls’ diet, and as a result they shot many owls for supposedly eating them. There were old folk songs written about the mucaro owl, for example one that goes:


Joana Baptista (OHS) and Isabella Gate, Sofia Justham-Bello (WHS)

Poor Mucaro you're a gentleman you just want to eat a rat, then the rat set up a trap, he eats the coffee grains and people blame you.

The owl, in its many forms, has inspired cultures, peoples and artists throughout history. Its charm has certainly transcended the confines of individual countries and it plays a part in the mythologies of many different cultures. Spanish and Latin American culture is no exception and many Hispanic artists have been creatively stimulated by the mystery, wisdom and eeriness that the owl has come to symbolise.

Ironically, today in Puerto Rico the Mucaro is no longer seen as an animal which ruins the coffee, but as one that sells it, as Mucaro coffee is now a well-known coffee brand in the Latin Americas.

The owl has, unsurprisingly, stolen the hearts of centuries of Hispanic myths, legends and folklore. All across the Spanish world, folklore uses owls to signify wisdom, cunningness and wizardry in order to provide a reason for things they could not explain. One such example is the Lechuza Legend from Mexico, which describes the bruja (old witch) who can turn into a big black bird, swooping across the moon at night making the sound of a crying baby. It is said that if you see mysterious scratches on your door it is a message from the lechuza. Classically, the lechuza will appear in the form of a large owl. However, it can also appear in the form of a big black bird with the head of a hideous woman. According to Mexican folklore, the Lechuza will only come out after dusk, and if you dare to go out to investigate it, it will pick you up and take you away. Mexican families from small villages often tell the tale of a neighbour who was known as the bruja; for example a woman who describes the lady next door who apparently conducted some ‘brujera’ (witchcraft) on her grandmother (resulting in the sudden loss of hair and eyebrows). The rest of the village wanted to hunt down this lechuza, and so they went out at night with guns. One villager shot it in the leg, and when a few days later the old lady finally left her house, she was hobbling on one leg. A similar story recounts the time a large black bird followed a family home after a picnic. Sitting

As language developed and the oral tradition was no longer the primary means of storytelling, writers and poets began to explore owls as metaphors. Spanish poet and playwright Federico García Lorca was inspired by these wise yet foreboding creatures in his poem Romance de la Luna, Luna. In the ninth stanza Lorca explicitly references the night owl (la zumaya) which in Spanish is given a different name than a generic owl (el búho). Cómo canta la zumaya, ¡ay, cómo canta en el árbol! Por el cielo va la luna con un niño de la mano.

Hark, hear the night owl – how it sings in the tree. Across the sky moves the moon, holding the boy by the hand.

In this poem Lorca frequently alludes to Spanish folklore, most notably to the superstition that if a child stares at the moon for too long they shall be taken away by it. The young boy is depicted as being dangerously infatuated with the moon, which Lorca conveys through his sensual description of the moon’s curvature and charm, likening it to the female form. The poem also speaks of gypsies; the demographic of early 20th century Spanish society that was perhaps most superstitious of all. Romance de la Luna is a tragic poem as the arrival of the gypsies seems inevitable, yet the naïveté of the young boy leads to him refusing to flee.


In Spanish folklore, the presence of an owl is seen as a bad omen, typically marking the death of a family member. Yet, owls were also seen as symbols of wisdom, and so there is an ambiguity as to whether Lorca is using the presence of the owl to forebode the arrival of the gypsies or whether he is suggesting that the owl is there to guide the young boy to safety. However, after the owl appears the moon takes the boy away across the sky and they both disappear. What is perhaps most haunting about the final stanza is that the gypsies, who were initially conveyed as being dangerous, are indeed the only people who mourn for the death of a boy who is killed by the very thing he sought comfort from - the moon. The poem ends with the line ‘The air/wind is watching (El aire está velando)’ implying that the sky is in a sense omniscient and omnipresent which can be linked to the owl’s ability to fly and survey the lands. Lorca vividly interprets traditional Spanish folklore in his poem, and exploits the ambiguity surrounding the symbolism of an owl in order to both reassure and haunt the reader.

crouches a lynx and owls with huge wings encircle him. Additionally, a group of owls fly on top of the head of the figure. The meaning of the title, ‘El Sueño De La Razón’ is ambiguous because “sueño” means both dream and sleep. Goya was known as “El Pintor Filósofo” so he may Goya – ‘El Sueño De La Razón’ 1799 have intended to express that when reason sleeps, the imagination creates monsters resulting in madness. Or, he may have implied that reason alone without imagination leads to insanity. Goya's favourite literary character, Don Quixote, is a perfect illustration of imagination lacking reason. Owls can also be found throughout Picasso’s career, particularly through his ceramics and line drawings. His affection for owls may have stemmed from his love for classics. It is rumoured he rescued an owl from which he then drew simplistic but charming line drawings. Influenced by primitive art, he conveys the idea of an animal rather than drawing it in full detail.

The owl has captured the imagination of iconic Spanish painters, most notably Goya and Picasso. Goya’s etching ‘El Sueño De La Razón Produce Monstruos’ (The sleep of reason brings forth monsters) uses the symbol of the owl to emphasise the downfall of a man to insanity. The picture shows a man asleep at his desk surrounded by four owls, each striking a different pose. Their positions are menacing, which is noteworthy considering the year the work was created, 1799, whereby an educated eighteenth-century viewer would regard a single owl as an emblem of wisdom not confusion and fright. The etching is part of a series- ‘Los Caprichos’ (Number 43) and is perhaps a self-portrait of the artist. On the desk and under his right elbow, there is a paintbrush.

Clearly, the owl has had a significant influence on Spanish and South American artists, proving that the metaphorical and occasionally somewhat muddled connotations of owls have transcended both country borders and linguistic barriers. When symbolism is recognised so innately and widely it is truly fascinating and, perhaps, a little haunting. Globally acknowledged metaphors connect humans across our vast world and reinstate the true universality, both geographically and historically, of literature, culture and art.

The side of the desk in the lower left corner bears the title of the work. On the floor to the man's right


viejas canciones populares escritas sobre el búho múcaro, por ejemplo, una que dice:

En Español El búho, en sus múltiples formas, ha inspirado culturas, pueblos y artistas a lo largo de la historia. Su encanto ciertamente ha trascendido los confines de países individuales y juega un papel en las mitologías de muchas culturas diferentes. La cultura española y latinoamericana no es la excepción y muchos artistas hispanos han sido creativamente estimulados por el misterio, la sabiduría y la inquietud que el búho ha llegado a simbolizar.

Pobre Mucaro" eres un caballero solo quieres comer una rata, entonces la rata preparó una trampa, él come los granos de café y la gente te culpa.

Curiosamente, hoy en día en Puerto Rico el Múcaro ya no se ve como un animal que arruina el café, sino que lo vende, ya que el café Múcaro es ahora una marca de café muy conocida en América Latina.

El búho, como era de esperar, ha robado los corazones de siglos de mitos y leyendas hispanos en su conjunto. En todo el mundo español, el folclore usa lechuzas para significar sabiduría, astucia y magia con el fin de proporcionar una razón para las cosas que no podían explicar. Un ejemplo es la Lechuza Legend de México, que describe a la bruja (vieja bruja) que puede convertirse en un gran pájaro negro, volando sobre la luna en la noche haciendo el sonido de un bebé llorando. Se dice que, si ves arañazos misteriosos en tu puerta, es un mensaje de la lechuza. Clásicamente, la lechuza aparecerá en forma de búho grande, pero también puede aparecer en forma de un gran pájaro negro con la cabeza de una mujer horrible. Según Mexican Folklore, el Lechuza solo saldrá después del anochecer, y si te atreves a salir a investigarlo, te recogerá y se lo llevará. Las familias mexicanas de pequeños pueblos a menudo cuentan la historia de una vecina conocida como bruja, por ejemplo, una mujer que describe a la señora de al lado que aparentemente llevó a cabo una brujería sobre su abuela, a la que perdió el pelo y las cejas. El resto de la aldea quería cazar a esta lechuza, así que salieron por la noche y dispararon contra ella. Un miembro le disparó en la pierna, y cuando unos días después la anciana finalmente salió de su casa, estaba cojeando en una pierna. Una historia similar narra el momento en que un gran pájaro negro siguió a un hogar familiar después de un picnic. Sentados fuera de su casa hasta el anochecer, los tíos se encargaron de disparar al pájaro, y cuando abrieron la puerta a la mañana siguiente, había una anciana muerta por heridas de bala. Otro cuento habla del Múcaro, un búho oriundo de Puerto Rico, a quien se culpaba por comer los granos de café cuando los dueños de las plantaciones de café de montaña dañan la cosecha. Creían que los granos de café eran parte de la dieta de los búhos, y como resultado dispararon a muchos búhos por supuestamente comérselos. Había

A medida que se desarrollaba el lenguaje y la tradición oral ya no era el medio principal para contar historias, los escritores y poetas comenzaron a explorar los búhos a través de metáforas. El poeta y dramaturgo español Federico García Lorca se inspiró en estas criaturas sabias, pero a la vez premonitorias en su poema: Romance de la Luna, Luna. En la novena estrofa Lorca hace referencia explícita al búho nocturno (la zumaya), que en español recibe un nombre diferente al de un búho genérico.

Cómo canta la zumaya, ¡ay, cómo canta en el árbol! Por el cielo va la luna moon, con un niño de la mano. hand.

Hark, hear the night owl – how it sings in the tree. Across the sky moves the holding the young boy by the

En este poema, Lorca alude con frecuencia al folclore español, sobre todo a la superstición de que, si un niño mira la luna demasiado tiempo, se lo quitará. El joven es descrito como peligrosamente enamorado de la luna que Lorca transmite a través de su descripción sensual de la curvatura y el encanto de la luna, comparándolo con la forma femenina. El poema también habla de gitanos; la demografía de la sociedad española de principios del siglo XX que quizás fue la más supersticiosa de todas. Romance de la Luna, Luna es un poema trágico ya que la llegada de los gitanos parece inevitable, pero la ingenuidad del joven lo lleva a negarse a huir. En el folclore español, la presencia de un búho es visto como un mal augurio, que generalmente marca la muerte de un miembro de la familia. Sin embargo, los búhos también fueron vistos como símbolos de sabiduría, por lo tanto, existe una ambigüedad sobre si Lorca está usando la presencia del


búho para prever la llegada de los gitanos o si está sugiriendo que el búho está allí para guiar al niño a la seguridad. Sin embargo, después de que aparece el búho, la luna se lleva al niño a través del cielo y ambos desaparecen. Lo que es más inquietante sobre la última estrofa es que los gitanos, que inicialmente fueron considerados peligrosos, son los únicos que lloran la muerte de un niño que es asesinado por la misma cosa de la que buscaba consuelo: la luna. El poema termina con la línea: “El aire está velando” lo que implica que el cielo es en un sentido omnisciente y omnipresente que se puede vincular a la capacidad del ave para volar y examinar las tierras. Lorca interpreta vívidamente el folclore tradicional español en su poema Romance de la Luna, Luna y explota la ambigüedad que rodea el simbolismo de un búho para, en ocasiones, tranquilizar y atormentar al lector.

con encanto. Influenciado por el arte primitivo del siglo XX, transmite la idea de un animal en lugar de dibujarlo en todo su detalle.

Picasso’s “Owl” Ceramic - 1947

Claramente, el búho ha tenido una influencia significativa en los artistas españoles y sudamericanos por lo largo del tiempo. Demostrando así que las connotaciones metafóricas, un tanto confusas, de los búhos han trascendido las fronteras de los países y las barreras lingüísticas. Cuando el simbolismo es reconocido innatamente y ampliamente, es realmente fascinante y, quizás, un poco inquietante. Las metáforas mundialmente reconocidas conectan a los humanos de muchas facetas de nuestro vasto mundo y restablecen la verdadera universalidad, tanto geográfica como históricamente, de la literatura, la cultura y el arte.

El búho ha capturado la imaginación de artistas famosos españoles, Goya y Picasso. El aguafuerte de Goya: “El Sueño De La Razón Produce Monstruos” usa el símbolo del búho para enfatizar la caída de un hombre a la locura. La pintura enseña un hombre dormido a su pupitre rodeado por cuatro búhos, cada uno haciendo una pose diferente. Sus posiciones son agresivas, que es interesante, considerando el año cuando creó la obra, (1799), cuando un espectador educado del siglo XVIII consideraría un solo búho como un emblema de la sabiduría no confusión y miedo. El aguafuerte es parte de una serie- “Los Caprichos” -(número 43)-y podía ser un autorretrato del artista. En el pupitre, debajo de su codo en su derecha, hay un pincel. En un lado del pupitre, en la esquina de la izquierda, podemos ver el título del trabajo. En ese suelo, a la derecha del hombre, se agacha un lince y los búhos con enormes alas le rodean. Además, vuelan un grupo de búhos encima de la cabeza de la figura. El significante del título es ambiguo porque “sueño” significa “dream” y “sleep”. Goya estaba conocido como el “Pintor Filósofo” así que podría ser que él estaba intentando de expresar que cuando “razón” duerme, la imaginación cree monstruos que causan locura. O, podría haber estado implicando que “razón” sin imaginación causa locura. El personaje literatura preferido de Goya era “Don Quixote” que es un símbolo perfecto de alguien con imaginación, pero sin razón. Podemos encontrar búhos durante la carrera de Picasso, sobre todo a través de sus cerámicas y dibujos de línea. Su amor por los búhos puede haber surgido de su amor por los clásicos. Se rumorea que rescató un búho del que dibujó dibujos simplistas, pero

References Ciofalo, John J. - The Self-Portraits of Francisco Goya (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press) 2001; Robert Hughes. Goya. (New York: Alfred A. Knopf) 2006, p.73. The British Museum- El sueño de la razon produce monstruos (The sleep of reason produces monsters) / Los Caprichos (http://www.britishmuseum.org/research/collection_online/collecti on_object_details.aspx?objectId=763518&partId=) Friedwald, Boris - Picasso’s Animals (Prestel, 2014) Federico García Lorca. Selected Poems (Penguin Books Ltd., 2001).

Image sources http://yannesposito.com/Scratch/img/blog/Haskell-the-HardWay/picasso_owl.jpg http://museumcrush.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/PabloPicasso-Little-Owl-1969.-Image-by-kind-permission-of-the-Estateof-Lord-and-Lady-Attenborough-and-The-Leicester-Arts-andMuseums-Service-890x1024.jpg https://fortynotes.files.wordpress.com/2011/03/the-sleep.jpg


owl as proof of her loyalty to her patron goddess. As the symbol of Athene, the owl was a protector in many ways, such as looking over Athenian trade and commerce from the reverse side of their coins. However, it was not a symbol exclusively related to Athene and Athens, accompanying Greek armies to war, and providing ornamental inspiration for their daily lives. If an owl flew over Greek soldiers before a battle, they took it as a sign of victory. Although there are often obvious correlations between Greek and Roman mythology because of the influence of Greek culture on the foundations of the Roman Empire, interestingly Roman depiction of owls contrasts with that of the Greeks. To the Greeks, the symbol of the owl was positive and had connotations of wisdom, but according to Roman superstition, the owl was an evil omen of disaster and was often killed. Hearing the hoot of an owl indicated an imminent death, and it is thought that the deaths of many influential Romans were predicted by the hoot of an owl, including Julius Caesar, Augustus, Commodus Aurelius, and Agrippa - referenced in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar; ‘Yesterday, the bird of night did sit Even at noonday, upon the market place, Hooting and shrieking.’ Furthermore, while the Greeks believed that sight of an owl predicted victory for their armies, the Romans saw it as a sign of defeat. It is told that the Roman Army was warned of impending disaster by an owl before its defeat at Charrheae, on the plains between the Euphrates and Tigris rivers. Additionally, according to Artemidorus, a second century soothsayer, to dream of an owl meant that a traveller would be shipwrecked or robbed. To ward off the evil caused by an owl, it was believed that the offending owl should be killed and nailed to the door of the affected house. Although this tradition began in Ancient Rome, after the owls foretold the deaths of several emperors, the custom persisted in some areas, including Great Britain; up to the eighteenth century an owl nailed to a barn door was said to protect the livestock within from fire or lightning. As with present day superstitions, owls were associated with witches; one Roman belief was that witches transformed into owls, and sucked the blood of babies, and Pliny, in his Natural History, mentions that the name of the owl was once used as a curse. Finally, the owl is mentioned in Roman mythology, in the story of Proserpine (the equivalent of the Greek goddess Persephone). Proserpine was transported to the underworld against her will by Pluto (the Roman version of Hades), god of the underworld, and was to be

WISDOM OR WICHCRAFT? Alex Berney-Stewart, Izzy Henstridge (OHS) and Anna Jeffries-Shaw, Jess Marais (WHS) “The owl is the wisest of all birds because the more it sees, the less it talks.” “Die Eule ist die klügste unter allen Vögeln, weil mehr es sieht, weniger spricht es.” “sapientissimus avium bubo est; plus videt, minus dicit.” “ἡ γλαυξ παντων ὀρνιθων σοφωτατη ἐστι διοτι μαλον ἡ ὁραει, ἡσσον ἡ λεγει.”

From Winnie the Pooh to Harry Potter, owls are represented in modern culture either as the quintessential bearers of knowledge and sagacity (hence their collective nouns ‘a parliament of owls’, or ‘a wisdom of owls’) or as being related to witchcraft with sinister connotations. As scholars of Classics and Modern Languages, we thought it would be fascinating to research where these beliefs originated and how they’ve influenced mythology and folklore across Ancient Greek, Ancient Roman, Germanic, and British cultures.

In Ancient Greek mythology, owls tended to have positive connotations. They were strongly linked to Athene, the Goddess of Wisdom, who was so impressed by the great eyes and solemn appearance of the owl that, having banished the mischievous crow, she honoured the night bird by making him her favourite among feathered creatures. In this way, the owl has been used as a symbol of knowledge, wisdom, perspicacity and erudition throughout the Western world. The reasons for the association of Athene and the owl are uncertain. Some mythographers suggest that she may descend from a Minoan palace goddess associated with birds, whilst others theorise about a simple association between founding myths of Athens and the significant number of little owls in the region (a fact noted since antiquity by Aristophanes in his plays The Birds and Lysistrata). As a result, the city of Athens adopted the


allowed to return to her mother Ceres (the equivalent of Demeter), goddess of agriculture, providing she ate nothing while in the underworld. Ascalpus, however, saw her picking a pomegranate, and told what he had seen. He was turned into an owl for his trouble, and is described as ‘a sluggish Screech owl, a loathsome bird.’

From a theological to a more biological basis, the owl is found recorded in the eighth-century treaty in the Aramaic inscription from Sefire, Ancient Syria in which the owl serves as an emblem of desolation. This is demonstrated through their rapid ability to settle back to a destroyed environment and breed the next season. However, despite all this...

In Germanic cultures, owls have a reputation as being cruel or cunning creatures. The folk story of Till Eulenspiegel (‘Eule’ meaning owl, ‘spiegel’ meaning mirror/glass), tells of the mischievous escapades of the trickster Eulenspiegel as he pranks his way across the Germanic world. His pranks stem from his literal interpretation of figurative language, and unpredictable nature. His pranks are scatologic in nature (another classic Germanic trait) with his victims being tricked into eating his faeces. Considering that Eulenspiegel was the first traceable reference to owls in mainstream Germanic culture, many of the traits attributed to the owl can be traced back to the story of Till Eulenspiegel.

“Sometimes an owl is just an owl” “Manchmal, ist eine Uhl nur eine Uhl.” “aliquando bubo est tantum bubo.” “ἀλλοτε γλαυξ ἐστι γλαυξ”

References The Owl Pages: Owls in Lore and Culture, 2012. URL https://www.owlpages.com/owls/articles.php?a=64&p=2 (accessed 10.29.17) The White Goddess: Owls - symbology and mythology, 2012. URL http://www.thewhitegoddess.co.uk/articles/mythology_folklore/ow ls.asp (accessed 10.29.17) Wikipedia: The Owl of Athena, 2017/. URL https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Owl_of_Athena (accessed 10.29.17) The Owl Pages: Owls in Mythology and Culture, 2006. URL https://www.owlpages.com/owls/articles.php?a=62 (accessed 10.28.17)

Another reference to owls in Germanic culture, is through the unnamed story of The Owl and the Villagers. The villagers mistake the owl for a terrifying monster, and after trying to fight it, decide to burn down the barn wherein it hides, killing it. This story portrays the villagers in a comical light, but also associates the owl with bad fortune and fear. Overall, the portrayal of the owl in Germanic culture is not as favourable as that in Ancient Greek culture, nor is it as prevalent a symbol as in Roman or English cultures.

Gnostic Warrior: Symbol of the Owl, 2015. URL https://gnosticwarrior.com/owl.html (accessed 10.31.17) Thought Co.: Owl Folklore and Legends, 2017. URL https://www.thoughtco.com/legends-and-lore-of-owls-2562495 (accessed 11.05.17) Dankalia: Owls in Roman Mythology. URL http://www.dankalia.com/literature/rme149.htm (accessed 11.02.17) The Spread of Non-Natural Concepts, 2004. URL http://booksandjournals.brillonline.com/content/journals/10.1163/1 56853704323074796 (accessed 11.02.17)

To early Christian Gnostics, the owl is associated with Lilith, the first wife of Adam who refused his advances and control. Showing control and power, this portrays the owl as a bird who is capable of great things. Throughout the African subcontinent, owls are seen to have powers which are not fully understood. A trend that reflects this belief is the increased belief of owls as 'unclean' in countries with greater religious followings, perhaps owing to their mysterious and little known behaviour. In Cameroon, too evil to say the name of, the owl is portrayed by an almost mystical means, mentioned only as ‘the bird that makes you afraid’. The Egyptian name for the owl is Mulak represented by the letter symbolism of M (m) because its name began with M, and the eyes or horns of this secret deity resemble it.

Owls Mythology & Folklore, 2007. URL http://www.pauldfrost.co.uk/intro_o2.html (accessed 10.29.17) Comparative Study of General Public Owl Knowledge in Costa Rica, Central America and Malawi, Africa, 2013. URL https://www.researchgate.net/publication/237420718_Comparative _Study_of_General_Public_Owl_Knowledge_in_Costa_Rica_Cent ral_America_and_Malawi_Africa (accessed 11.03.17


1. Serrated leading edge As you can see by comparing Figures 6a and 6d, the feathers of an eagle owl have hair like projections along the leading edge but the feathers of a common buzzard do not. These serrations act to stabilise the airflow on the wing surface, thus suppressing noise generation (Chen et al., 2012).


Thena Brooker, Pip Knight, Anoushka Patel, Sophie Sanderon (OHS) and Darciea Arulnesan (WHS)

2. Fringe on the trailing edge Research has concluded that overall the sparrow hawk generates more noise during flight than the tawny owl and one of the main source of noise during the flight of the sparrow hawk is on the surface of the wing near where the fringe trailing edge is on owls (Geyer et al., 2009). Sparrow hawks do not have a fringe trailing edge so it can be concluded that the fringe on the owl’s wing helps to damp the turbulence at these borders to contribute towards silent flight.

One of the most memorable characteristics of an owl is its ability to fly silently. This characteristic gives them a competitive edge whilst hunting for prey as it not only allows them to move relatively undetected but it allows them to hear the movements of their prey better (Rodríguez et al., 2009). It is not fully understood by scientists what gives owls the ability to fly silently but studies so far have concluded that there are three main traits that allow them to move undetected.

3. Velvety plumage on wing surface

It is thought that the three main characteristics of the feathers on the wings of owls that enable them to fly silently are: 1) a serrated leading edge 2) the fringe on the trailing edge and 3) a velvety plumage on the surface (Graham, 1934). These features combine to do 2 things: 1) avoid noise being generated by the movement of the owl and 2) absorb sound that is generated by the movement of the owl. Scientists also know that the three feather characteristics provide an explanation for the owls silent flight rather than its relatively lower flight speed because by comparing a tawny owl and a sparrow hawk in wind tunnel experiments the speed of flight factor is eliminated (Chen et al., 2012; Geyer et al., 2009).

The long hair-like projections on the feathers of an owl cross and intersect with each other to create a porous structure that is highly non-uniform. On the other hand the feathers of a common buzzard have tiny barbules that do not intersect and instead sit closely next to each other without overlapping, creating an organised, uniform height distribution (Chen et al., 2012). The pores of the owl feathers are useful for absorbing sound that is generated, subsequently allowing the owl to move more silently than the common buzzard.

Use in 3D printing Upcoming CLIP 3D manufacturing technology will allow materials similar to that of an owl’s feathers to be printed. The continuous process begins with a pool of liquid photopolymer resin. Part of the pool bottom is transparent to ultraviolet light (the "window"). An ultraviolet light beam shines through the window, illuminating the precise cross-section of the object. The light causes the resin to solidify. The object rises slowly enough to allow resin to flow under and maintain contact with the bottom of the object. An oxygenpermeable membrane lies below the resin, which creates a “dead zone” (persistent liquid interface) preventing the resin from attaching to the window. CLIP technology would be ideal for printing materials inspired by owl wings, as it eliminates the mechanical layer by layer building process, thus making the material much stronger and more flexible.

Image from (Chen et al., 2012)


the fringe of the trailing feather that reduces turbulence and noise, since the back edge of the wing is where most of the noise originates, there is an idea to create a retractable brush-like fringe, that would mirror the feather in that it would be flexible and porous allowing some air to pass through which would largely reduce the amount of noise produced as, if the edge of the wings were perforated correctly (taking into consideration that plane wings are hard and solid, unlike feathers of an owl), it could be as if there is not an edge at all, which would be tackling the root source of the noise. However, this idea is still premature, since the aviation industry is hesitant to follow up on this as although it would reduce noise, it may negatively affect the aerodynamics of the aircraft, so more research must be done in order to assess how cost-effective these adaptations are.

Work is already being done to 3D print replicas of owl wings. Researchers at Iowa State University have 3D printed models of aircraft propeller blades with serrated leading edges inspired by owl wings. At the beginning, it was difficult to replicate the soft and downy nature of wings and feathers for the metallic propeller of a turbine. However, the research team managed to do so by 3D printing airfoils with a serrated leading edge, designed to resemble the fine comb-like structures on the owl’s wings. The simulations they made showed that this way the noise was reduced significantly when compared to airfoils with a flat leading edge, while the unsteady pressure on the back end of the blade surface was also diminished. Therefore, even though there is a large material difference, copying the subtle form of the owl wing has produced a comparable effect.

Other uses The ability of this coating to significantly reduce noise produced by moving objects has many possible applications. As researchers have noted (“Silent flights”, 2015), an excellent use would be on the rotating blades of wind turbines. The loud sound that early wind turbines made meant that their speed is currently restricted in order to minimise it; therefore with this coating turbines can spin faster, so generate more electricity, without significant sound pollution. The coating could also be used in other rotating blades, such as in household fans and even computer fans. It seems logical that this quietness, as well as making products more appealing to the user, would make products more efficient (as less energy is dissipated as sound), thereby having a positive effect on factors such as the battery life or electricity consumption of products. If the coating is found to be successful in these applications, it is even possible that it might be used on other forms of transport such as cars and buses. The coating has been found to have no significant effect on the aerodynamics of the object, meaning that again it could just prevent the kinetic energy of a vehicle being dissipated as sound.

Use in Aircraft In the aeronautical industry, there are many upcoming struggles such as fuel costs and increasing restrictions (such as strict noise restrictions) which could benefit from the technology influenced by the owl’s ability to fly silently. These technologies would instigate more efficient aircraft with reduced noise pollution (and by having quieter aircraft it means that airports can allow more flights in a day, thus slightly increasing revenue). Since the owls’ silent flight is due to the characteristics of their feathers, these features can be adapted for the wings of aircraft. For example, on the landing gear having a coating that would dampen noise much like the velvety plumage on the wing surface, to absorb the sound that is generated. Another possibility is similar to

References Chen, K., Liu, Q., Liao, G., Yang, Y., Ren, L., Yang, H., Chen, X., 2012. The sound suppression characteristics of wing feather of owl (Bubo bubo). J. Bionic Eng. 9, 192–199. Geyer, T., Sarradj, E., Fritzsche, C., 2009. Silent owl flight: experiments in the aeroacoustic wind tunnel. NAG/DAGA. Graham, R.R., 1934. The silent flight of owls. Aeronaut. J. 38, 837–843.


Rodríguez, A., Siverio, F., Barone, R., Rodríguez, B., Negro, J.J., 2009. An Overlooked Cost for the Velvety Plumage of Owls: Entanglement in Adhesive Vegetation. Wilson J. Ornithol. 121, 439–441. Silent flights: How owls could help make wind turbines and planes quieter [WWW Document], 2015. University of Cambridge. URL http://www.cam.ac.uk/research/news/silent-flights-how-owlscould-help-make-wind-turbines-and-planes-quieter (accessed 10.29.17). http://www.thecivilengineer.org/news-center/latestnews/item/1448-3d-printed-ultra-quiet-turbine-blades-designedafter-owl-wings https://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2004/12/1217_041217_ owl_feathers_2.html http://www.isciencetimes.com/articles/6391/20131124/owls-flightwings-noise-reduction-silent-fluid-dynamics.htm https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/owls-inspire-quieterplanes/# Sources for images https://blogs.gartner.com/pete-basiliere/2015/03/22/mesmorizing3d-printer-forms-objects-out-of-ooze-and-fast/ https://www.3ders.org/articles/20171017-iowa-state-researchersdevelop-ultra-quiet-turbine-blades-using-3d-printing-owlwings.html


"The Owl and the Pussy Cat went to sea" Is a story familiar to you and to me. But Oscar Wilde's owl is more than it seems… More than the marriage about which it dreams. He emphasizes the intellect, strength and activity Of the traditional and rigid idea of masculinity; And of course, it's the Owl that brings music to the tale, His lyricism and poetry never once fail.

OWLS IN LITERATURE – A POEM Katie Chambers, Kate Chipchase, Marianne Tambini (OHS) and Emma Ferraris, Ava Vakil (WHS)

Not forgetting, of course, Harry Potter's faithful friend A snowy white owl who met a tragic end. Hedwig showed loyalty, honest and true, Becoming a symbol of purity too. Her premature death was symbolic of the painful and raw Deaths of the innocent in the wizarding war. But Hedwig was more than a symbol, let's note, She was active in delivering the letters Harry wrote.

Through the canon of literature the Owl swoops in, From fables to myths to stories akin. Widening the eyes of the children who read, On the wings of the Owls, imaginations are freed. The Owl is a symbol of intellect and hope, Wisdom and prophets, a classical trope. A deliverer of stories, a singer of songs; Minerva’s own mascot, Goddess of the strong.

The trope of the owl remains wise and true, In childhood stories like Winnie the Pooh. Filled with memories and stories to tell, Owl hoots his tales from the trees where he dwells. Sometimes old owl can be so scatter-brained, Tweeting and tooting he cannot be tamed. But if ever his friends need some good advice They'll turn to old owl though he's never concise.

Following armies as they marched off to fight, The owls soared above, as silent as kites. The soldiers below were now set to win, Saved by the owl and the blessing within. Thought to contain a magical light, Giving it the skill to see all at night. Favoured above all by the Ancient Greeks, Who protected the owl, and the refuge it seeks.

Owls are known to come alive in the night, When the sun goes down, that’s when owls take their flight. This nocturnal activity has aroused much suspicion, Especially given their outstanding night vision. The owl can turn its head to extraordinary degrees, Craning its neck to observe you and me. In literature this means the owl acts as the seer, In times of great trouble, the owl will appear.

Though a deliverer of luck, the wisest of birds, They were also a symbol of fortune unheard. Whilst by some cultures, highly revered, By others they were… especially feared. To Ovid, owls were an omen of evil, Misery, disaster, death and upheaval. There was Roman superstition, yet more sinister, That owls themselves could be a deadly visitor.

Thus, the owl within Literature is exceedingly unique, With the wisdom it brings and the knowledge it seeks. It acts as a messenger and a story-teller to all, Its position of observer, in the trees, high and tall. It’s a favourite for children in Winnie the Pooh, Captured in by Ovid, Wilde and Harry Potter too. So when you next see the bird, do not grumble or growl, And remember instead the brilliance of the owl.

Even harbouring the spirits of witches, Entering homes with hateful wishes. Vampires, sucking the blood of infants, With a beat of their wings flying off in an instant. Be wary of an owl perched on your roof, Especially if they are beginning to hoot. For this continues the fatal trend, By bringing your life to an untimely end.


most species of owls, snowy owls have tufts around their eyes which reflect sound waves towards their ears. However, in snowy owls, these tufts are barely visible and are pure white, again helping them to be camouflaged.


Snowy owls have long, sharp claws which enable them to grab prey when they are flying and when their prey is underneath snow. As well as sharp claws, they have a sharp beak helping them to tear their prey whilst eating. Unlike most species of owl that are nocturnal, snowy owls are diurnal during the summer - they hunt and are awake in the day - and in summer are cathemeral; they will hunt at any time during the Arctic days of up to 24 hours of daylight. This flexible behaviour means that they hunt and get enough food during the summer, when nights are non-existent. Snowy owls are also silent for most of the year (except for breeding season), which means they can’t be heard by prey or predators.

Alexandra Barnes-Aldea, Mairi Franklin, Hannah Gray, Molly Hobbs (OHS) and Georgina Hagger (WHS) Owls are found on every continent excluding Antarctica. There are approximately 225 species of owl that live in various habitats. This has meant throughout time, owls inhabiting different areas have adapted anatomically and behaviourally, in order to survive in their surroundings.

As they live in such a cold climate, Snowy owls limit their activity to as little as possible to reduce the amount of energy they expend. Whilst flying, they fly for a short amount of time and they fly very close to the ground, maximising the chance of finding prey whilst minimising energy usage. They eat a lot to match their energy requirements and are opportunistic feeders, meaning they are flexible eaters and will eat whenever they find prey. Their preferred meal is lemmings, and they can eat up to 1,600 lemmings a year!

Owls in cold climates Snowy owls live in the Arctic regions of North America and Eurasia, and they are the only owl that lives and has adapted to life in the Arctic. Snowy owls have a pale plumage which camouflages them against the snow, in order to hide from predators such as foxes and wolves, and to help them approach their prey without being spotted. Their plumage is incredibly thick, and makes them the heaviest owl in North America, weighing up to 6.5lbs. This thick layer means their body heat is maintained between 35-40°C, even when the surrounding temperatures reach -50°C. At the ends of their wings, their feathers are serrated, silencing the noise made from flying, allowing them to close in on their prey.

Owls in desert/hot climates The environment in the desert is one of the most hostile in which to survive, with a barren terrain and little shelter. However, some owl species are known to be quite at home in these hot climates, including the desert owl, burrowing owl and elf owl. As a result of anatomical and behavioural adaptations, these owls can survive in this environment - the elf owl can live up to 6 years in the wild and is listed as “least concern” on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

They have exceptional hearing meaning they can detect the movement of prey in dim light, and even when their prey is under a layer of snow. As a result, they have very few problems finding prey in winter when there is heavy snow and short days. Like

As in all typical depictions of the desert, cacti cover the areas they live in - for example, the Sonoran Desert in North America - and have therefore been utilized by the elf owl. Being the smallest species at approximately 13cm tall, these owls combat the heat of the day and


of “mobbing� during the day by other birds, such as crows, which can result in death. To hunt successfully at night these birds have developed excellent hearing. Like many other owls, those in temperate climates have ears that are placed asymmetrically to better detect the position of any noise from the undergrowth. They also have ear tufts to help direct sounds, and some species, like the Tawny Owl, have many auditory neurones, meaning low frequency sounds - like prey moving in vegetation - might be heard. This has meant the tawny owl has hearing that is thought to be 10 times better than a human’s. They can solely rely on their hearing to hunt in darkness, an essential skill for this species that can die of starvation. One of the most common causes for owl death in the UK is starvation of young owls, owing to poor hunting technique.

predation by dwelling in cavities or holes left in saguaro cacti that have been abandoned by woodpeckers. The burrowing owl takes a similar approach by utilizing the burrows made by mammals. Furthermore, the elf owl has adapted to combat the challenge of the barren landscape throughout the ravines and canyons of Western America and Mexico. The desert makes camouflage hard, but this species is skilled at hiding in plain sight. Due to their grey-brown colouring, when the elf owl senses danger, it camouflages its body against a tree, acting as a broken branch. In addition, elf owls deploy a second defence mechanism - the ability to work together. Privy to the predation of larger owl species, hawks, Mexican jays and snakes, nesting elf owls will warn neighbouring elf owls with a song in order to attack as a group. This species has also been known to feign their death until the danger has passed.

When hunting, owls in these climates have been known to use fence posts or branches for prey location whilst other species utilise the ability to fly silently over open grasslands to find prey. Some owls, such as the barn owl, have developed long talons that reach through undergrowth and into burrows. They even have a claw in the middle of their foot to aid grooming and cleanliness! In fact, grooming their plumage is essential to allow for their silent flight. Whilst many species of owl have feathered legs and feet, owls living in temperate areas do not, as they have no need to conserve heat.

The elf owl is a versatile diner, feeding primarily on invertebrates, but also on small birds, lizards and young kangaroo rats. This species has adapted in such a way that scorpion stings do not affect them. The chihuahuan owl has an even broader diet, and is known to predate 8 different mammal species. To utilize such a variety of prey, the hunting adaptations of owls in such environments are finely tuned. The elf owl relies primarily upon its hearing as it does not have the complete night vision that many other owl species possess. With the soft feathers on the edge of its wings muffling its approach, the owl descends on its prey and has the creature under control before it has time to retaliate.

The breeding patterns of these owls are different as they are flexible and vary with the year. Largely, these owls have adapted to reproduce when rodent populations are at their highest, when prey is plentiful. This is due to the dependency of the young owls on the parents for food, so a large food supply nearby ensures the survival of particularly vulnerable chicks. Two in three tawny owl chicks will not survive the spring in the UK. The high mortality rate of these owls, also due to traffic incidents, causes large birth rates and means the typical two breeding seasons within the year can hope to ensure species survival.

Owls in temperate Climates Many owls inhabit temperate climates, and are adapted to life hunting in forests, grasslands and urban areas. Some of the most widely distributed owl species prefer this climate, including the common barn owl. Despite the apparent stability of a temperate climate, owls have still had to adapt to survive in a place where death is easy and life is hard.

Owls can be found all over temperate regions but are usually found in areas with large rodent populations, including cities. However, many owls have adapted not just to eat small mammals, but other birds and insects as well as frogs - with owls such as the barring owl occasionally going into streams for fish.

Owls living in these habitats have adapted in order to hunt successfully, meaning the majority of them are nocturnal. Their nocturnal behaviour is partially a result


The adaptations enabling these birds to survive in such varied environments are exceptional, but sadly, although they are able to adapt to their surroundings to a large extent, the loss of habitation caused by human interference is posing a heightened threat to their future.

Images sources https://www.snopes.com/2017/12/28/free-bird-officer-rescuessnowy-owl-prison-barbed-wire/

References Costa.G, (2012); Behavioural Adaptations of Desert Animals: Adaptations of Desert Organisms, Springer Science & Business Media (accessed 11.19.17) Elf Owl - Facts and information. URL http://www.owlworlds.com/elf-owl/ (accessed 11.19.17) How does an elf owl survive? JM Bauhaus. URL http://animals.mom.me/elf-owl-survive-10083.html (accessed 11.20.2017) 17 animals amazingly adapted to survive in deserts: Elf Owl, 2014. Jaymi Heimbuch. URL https://www.mnn.com/earthmatters/animals/photos/17-animals-amazingly-adapted-to-thrivein-deserts/elf-owl (accessed 11.19.17) Infographic: All About Snowy Owls, 2014, URL http://www.pbs.org/wnet/nature/magic-of-the-snowy-owlinfographic-all-about-snowy-owls/7962/ (accessed 11.26.17) Snowy Owl, National Geographic, URL https://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/birds/s/snowy-owl/ (accessed 11.26.17) Unquestionably Intriguing Adaptations of the Snowy Owl URL https://birdeden.com/snowy-owl-adaptations (accessed 11.26.17) Snowy Owl, The Cornell Lab of Ornithology, URL https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Snowy_Owl/id (accessed 11.26.17) Supercool Facts About the Shockingly Beautiful Snowy Owl, URL https://birdeden.com/snowy-owl-facts (accessed 11.26.17) Opportunistic Feeder, URL https://definedterm.com/opportunistic_feeder (accessed 11.26.17) Snowy Owl, Arctic Studies Centre, URL https://naturalhistory.si.edu/arctic/html/owl.html (accessed 11.26.17) The Owl Pages https://www.owlpages.com/owls/ (accessed 22/11/17) Tawny Owl, Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tawny_owl (accessed 26/11/17) Barred Owl, Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barred_owl (accessed 26/11/17) Barn Owl Trust https://www.barnowltrust.org.uk/about-the-barn-owl-trust/ (accessed 26/11/17) Reporting Dead Owls, Wild Owl http://www.wildowl.co.uk/reportingdeadowls.html (accessed 26/11/17


differences, cardiovascular disease affects a similar percentage of owls to falconiformes.

Stress responses and the adrenal gland


Corticosterone, a hormone produced in the adrenal cortex, is the main ‘stress’ hormone in owls and other birds, and is involved in the regulation of energy, immune responses, and stress reactions. In birds, corticosterone both inhibits protein synthesis and degrades protein-increased levels of corticosterone cause slower feather growth, and an increase in aggression, as well as reduced cognitive function if levels remain high for long periods of time in early life. To combat these ill-effects, studies have shown that owl chicks’ corticosterone levels drop to more normal levels around 60 minutes after the introduction of a stressor, despite the stressor (eg capture) still being present – a much faster drop than in adult birds. Studies have also shown that instead of the daily pattern of corticosterone secretions following a light/dark cycle, as is normal in non-nocturnal birds, in owls, the daily pattern of corticosterone levels corresponds to activity period. This is another way in which owls are unique. In addition, birds with already elevated levels of corticosterone do not show an increase in responsiveness when exposed to further stressors.

Grace Bagnall-Oakeley and Emma Vincent (OHS) Ask anyone if they think owls are cute, and the answer is almost guaranteed to be “yes”. These creatures are almost universally adored, especially after the Harry Potter craze (“Pottermania”) began in the late 1990s. However, few people actually know much about owls, despite them being in many ways interesting anomalies, differing from other birds in several fascinating ways. Owls’ behaviour and endocrine responses are also fascinating to study.

Pineal gland One of the strangest things about owls is related to their endocrine system. The pineal gland of most birds produces the hormone melatonin; this is responsible for controlling their circadian rhythms and is affected by temperature and light. However, the pineal glands of owls are extremely small and underdeveloped, with a poor vascular network; therefore, they produce very little melatonin. Consequently, melatonin does not affect the circadian clock mechanism of owls. The only other organism whose circadian rhythm is also not melatonin-dependent is the crocodile (which has no pineal gland whatsoever).

Other differences between owls and other birds/unusual owl facts The fact that most owls are nocturnal has forced them to adapt to unusual circumstances, and as a result they are physiologically different from other bird species. For example, because they must hunt at night in near or total darkness, owls have a highly developed auditory system. They can hear a similar range of sounds to humans, but at certain frequencies their hearing is far more acute than ours. This enables them to hear the slightest movement of their prey, or rustle in the undergrowth. Some owls also have asymmetrically set ear openings. Consequently, these species can tell exactly where a noise has come from, based on the time difference between hearing the sound in their left ear (for example) and hearing it in their right ear. This time difference can be as slight as 30 millionths of a second. They can deduce whether the prey is higher up or lower down, depending on how loud the sound is in one ear compared to the other. All of this is part of a triangulation process, and owls adjust the position of their heads as they fly until the sound is at equal

Disease There are many ways in which the diseases that afflict owls differ from how and the magnitude of which they affect other birds of prey such as falcons. For example, staphylococcal arthritis, while common in diurnal (nonnocturnal) birds, is rare in owls, as is lice. In contrast to birds of prey, trichomoniasis of the crop (a parasitic infection best known as an STD in humans) is virtually non-existent in owls, However helminths (parasitic worms) infect them with higher incidence than falconiformes (birds of prey), as do haemoproteus and leucocytozoon infections of the blood. Despite their


amplitude in both ears. This indicates that the prey is directly in front of them. Additionally, the medulla, an area of the brain associated with hearing and spatial mapping, is much more developed in owls compared to different bird species. For example, the medulla of a barn owl is estimated to have 95,000 neurons; crows have only a third of these. Finally, owls’ facial features are adapted to optimise hearing. Owls have round, broad faces, and an outer ring of feathers around their faces called a facial ruff. The feathers work as sound reflectors, channelling and focusing sound to the ears; the shape of the face gives the owl a large surface area over which to collect sound.

NIGHT OWLS & EARLY BIRDS Aisling Hanrahan, Sanaa Sarfraz (OHS) and Kira Gerard, Rahi Patel (WHS) Owls are generally nocturnal animals: while during the day they are asleep and can seldom be seen, at night they become far more active, using their highly developed and adapted senses to hunt prey. For this reason, we have derived the term "night owl" to refer to somebody who tends to stay awake past midnight, or even until dawn. People who are night owls feel more energetic at night, so have a habit of staying up late - while people who are considered to sleep and wake early are termed "early birds".

References Corticosterone and the Stress Response in Young Western Screech Owls: Effects of Captivity, Gender, and Activity Period Dufty, Alfred M. Jr.& Belthoff, James R. Owls - Department of Biology, Boise State University, Boise, Idaho 83725. Accepted by G.K.S. 8/12/96 https://www.owlpages.com/owls/articles.php?a=6 (accessed on 07/10/17 at 14:00) https://www.forbes.com/sites/quora/2017/05/02/what-makes-owlsso-different-from-other-bird-species/#4e6d239e707c (accessed on 07/10/17 at 14:00) http://hearinghealthmatters.org/hearinginternational/2012/direction al-hearing-in-owls-robert-m-traynor-ed-d/ (accessed on 07/10/17 at 14:00) http://infinitespider.com/how-an-owl-hears/ (accessed on 07/10/17 at 14:00) http://www.barnowltrust.org.uk/owl-facts-for-kids/barn-owlhearing/ (accessed on 07/10/17 at 14:15) https://www.mnn.com/earth-matters/animals/blogs/how-owls-usetheir-whole-face-to-hunt (accessed on 07/10/17 at 14:15) http://phthiraptera.info/sites/phthiraptera.info/files/61262.pdf (accessed on 8/10/17 at 15:30)

Researchers have found that it is differences in circadian rhythms that are the basis for the divide between night owls and early birds. Circadian rhythms are physical, mental and behavioural changes during a 24 hour period. They are created by the interaction between several biological clocks. Therefore, sleep cycles are heavily influenced by our circadian rhythm, as the biological clock controls the production of melatonin, which is known as the sleep hormone. Our sleep cycles last for approximately 90 minutes; it comprises of NREM (non-rapid eye movement) and REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. During these cycles the brain goes into a deep slow almost chanting stage, with thousands of neurons harmoniously working in the factory of memory processing. However, in REM sleep the brain activity is identical to when we are awake. When we delve deeper into the molecular biology of circadian cycles we can see that at the beginning of a circadian cycle cells build up proteins know as activators. Then during the 24 hour cycle these activators produce inhibitors. Once all of the inhibitors degrade, the cycle recommences. There are many factors affecting circadian rhythms, most of which are relatively short term and do not closely correlate with when people like to go to sleep. One of these factors is body temperature. We sleep just before body temperature reaches its minimum and in


order to initiate sleep the body temperature must decrease by 1 degree. As well as this, ageing leads to a reduction of REM sleeping and the prevalence of sleep disorders significantly increases as the body begins to age, due to the overall slowing down of bodily functions. This has been shown in several experiments: in young mice circadian rhythms have been seen to regulate cell process, such as DNA replication; whereas in older mice circadian rhythms control cell mechanisms for coping with stress and inflammation. Furthermore, changes in light also affect our circadian rhythms: when there is less light the biological clock instructs the brain to make more melatonin, thus causing drowsiness. Therefore, light is a significant degrader of our sleep, especially LED - emitting devices, as they have the same effect on melatonin production as natural light. Caffeine is also a potent stimulant whose effects last for several hours after consumption, thus altering the natural feeling of drowsiness in the body, which in turn disrupts circadian rhythms. Genetic mutations can be a reason for more long-term changes in circadian rhythms: ‘Night owls’ - often diagnosed with Delayed Sleep Phase Disorder - struggle to wake up early in the morning but are able to stay awake late into the night. A genetic mutation on the CRY1 gene can lead to the omission of a large part of the protein, thus making the inhibitors hyperactive, which in turn extends the circadian rhythm, possibly becoming one of the reasons why some people prefer late nights while others prefer early mornings.

time. The presence of sunlight when the body would typically expect a dark night further complicates the circadian rhythms, resulting in symptoms of sleep deprivation that can take up to a week to wear off, such as sleepiness, irritability, impaired performance and reduced memory. However, long-term sleep deprivation can have many other effects; it increases the risk of type 2 diabetes, heart complications and reduced growth, while having long-lasting effects on the immune system. It can also increase risk of mental health problems such as anxiety, depression or hallucinatory conditions such as schizophrenia, and is the cause of many vehicle accidents worldwide. Ultimately, circadian rhythms have massive control over not only sleep but the body as a whole, and by better understanding them many fields of medicine can be developed and improved. While some people may be coined ‘night owls’: sleeping late and similarly waking up late, this is not necessarily unhealthy, as long as the individual is still sleeping for long enough every night. Humans, being diurnal (not nocturnal), are on average significantly healthier if they keep to a regular, healthy amount of sleep every night, although this does vary from person to person.

References Night Owls and Early Risers Have Different Brain Structures, January 2014. Dr Michael J. Breus. URL www.huffingtonpost.com/dr-michael-j-breus/night-owlsleep_b_4276411.html (accessed 26.11.17)

There can be many negative effects of having abnormal circadian rhythms: although there is some dispute among scientists, the average adult seems to need approximately 7-9 hours of sleep every night, with preteens and adolescents needing between 8.5-11 hours. Circadian rhythms greatly affect how well rested a person is – for example, research suggests that daytime naps rest the body significantly than typical night-time sleep, due to our natural internal ‘clock’ meaning that an adult will generally feel most awake at around 10 am, while naturally growing increasingly tired as the night progresses. Thus, when the circadian rhythm is disturbed, various physical and mental side-effects can occur. One of the most common forms of acute sleep deprivation is jet-lag, which can be defined as ‘extreme tiredness and other physical effects felt by a person after a long flight across different time zones’. This occurs because by travelling across time zones, the body’s circadian rhythms are put out of sync with the local

What is Circadian Rhythm. URL https://sleepfoundation.org/sleep-topics/whatcircadian-rhythm (accessed 11.26.17) Night Owl (person). URL https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Night_owl_%28person%2 9#Origins_of_term (accessed 26.11.17) Circadian Rhythms. URL https://www.nigms.nih.gov/education/pages/Factsheet_Circa dianRhythms.aspx (accessed 27.11.17) Circadian Rhythms and Sleep. URL http://serendip.brynmawr.edu/exchange/serendipupdate/cir cadian-rhythms-and-sleep (accessed 28.11.17) Circadian Rhythms. URL http://sleepcenter.ucla.edu/circadian-rhythms (accessed 28.11.17)


it. The aperture ranges from being small and round to a large oblong slit. All owls of the family Tytonidae have rounded openings with large opercula, while in Strigidae, there is more variety in the shape of the outer ear. The range of hearing of an owl is similar to humans, however is more acute at certain frequencies which makes it possible for the owl to hear the slightest movements of their prey. In nocturnal species, it is common for the ear openings to be positioned asymmetrically, for example the barn owl or Tengmalm's (boreal) owl. These species have a very pronounced facial disc, which directs sounds into the ear openings. The shape of these disks can be manually altered by the owl using specialised facial muscles. In addition to this mechanism, the bill of an owl is pointed downward which increased the surface area over which the sound waves are collected by the facial disk. These adaptations mean the owl is able to tell the exact position of its prey because of the minute time difference in which the sound is perceived in the left and right ear. The owl then turns its head so the sound arrives at both ears simultaneously which means its prey is directly in front of it.

ADAPTATIONS OF OWLS Misha Iyer, Tasha Milliken, Maryam Mumtaz, Gabby Sherwood, Mara Smith (OHS) and Louisa Clogston (WHS)

Owls have adapted to live in their environment in a number of different ways. These various adaptations allow them to thrive in their natural habitat. One way which owls have adapted is specialised feathers. To ensure they catch prey as effectively as possible, owls have very soft feathers for quiet flight. Furthermore, the foremost wing feather has a tiny row of hooks to help deaden the sound of air hitting the wings’ leading edge, this enables the owls to hear small noises made by their prey whilst remaining practically undetectable. Flight feathers are also covered in thin hair-like structures that trap air within the feather surface. This prevents the owls from stalling at low flight speeds.

Not only do owls have highly adapted ears, they also have specifically designed eyes. Indeed, possibly the most striking feature of an owl is its eyes. These large and tube-like structures can be held accountable for 5% of an owl’s body weight depending on the species and are well adapted to be incredibly efficient, making them more capable in low-light conditions.

Some owls also have tufts of feathers which they use to help disguise themselves. When raised, these tufts resemble twigs or branches so owls can blend in with their surroundings to prevent them from being noticed by predators.

An owl’s eyes are held in place by structures in the skull known as Sclerotic rings and because of these fixed structures an owl cannot move or roll its eyes. Owls’ eyes are extremely good at collecting and processing light. They have large corneas and pupils to allow the maximum amount of light into the eye and to process it efficiently. Most of the cells in their retina are rod cells to process this light and are very sensitive to even slight movement, allowing them to become skilled hunters. However, due to their lack of cone cells they cannot see much colour if at all. In general, most owls have monochrome vision.

Many owls appear much larger than they really are because they’re heavily covered by feathers which are replaced every year by adult owls. The colours of the feathers help the owl blend into their natural environment and keep it warm. For example, snowy owls are white to blend in with their snowy habitat. Another way in which owls have adapted to their environment is their auditory system, Owls have a highly developed auditory system which is essential as they normally operate at night. The ears are located at the sides of the head, behind the eyes, and are covered by the feathers of the facial disc. The structure of the ear varies between species of owl, more specifically the structure of ear aperture and operculum valve covering

Owls also have a wide range “binocular” vision (seeing an object with both eyes at the same time). Therefore, owls can see in 3D and so their distance perception is not unlike a human’s. The view for an owl is about 110 degrees with about 70 degrees being binocular vision,


while a human’s covers 180 degrees, with 140 degrees being binocular. Due to their limited binocular and peripheral vision, owls have adapted accordingly and so can rotate their heads to incredible angles.

References Barn Owl adaptations, 2015, Barn Owl Trust, https://www.barnowltrust.org.uk/barn-owl-facts/barn-owladaptations/ (accessed 17/11/2017) Hearing capabilities, (www.barnowl.co.uk), Barn Owl Trust https://www.barnowl.co.uk/uprload/docs/593/hearing_capabilities. pdf (accessed 27/11/2017) Barn Owl Science, https://www.barnowltrust.org.uk/wpcontent/uploads/Science-Barn-Owl-adaptations.pdf (accessed 27/11/2017) Alice Springs http://www.alicespringsdesertpark.com.au/kids/nature/birds/owl.sh tml