Owls and superstition

posted in: Miscellaneous, Owls, Videography | 1

WoodOwlSp [JLoei]

Have you ever seen an owl in its natural environment? I bet many have not. Yet many have heard of owls. I did, even when I was a small boy. I was told that owls brought bad luck, especially when one was found on the roof of your house. This meant that one of the occupants would soon die. For owls was believed by the superstitious Chinese to herald death. I only saw my first owl some few years ago. And only when I went out of my way to seek it out in the middle of the night.

The image at the top shows a Spotted Wood-owl (Strix seloputo) while the video below of a Barn Owl (Tyto alba) that was documented recently at Satay by the Bay in Singapore.

Now why do owls evoke fear and superstition not only among the Chinese but other cultures as well? For one it has human-like appearance, specifically in the face of the Spotted Wood-owl (top). The two large eyes are placed at the front of the somewhat rounded face and in between the eyes is what looks like the nose. This, together with its nocturnal habits and somewhat haunting calls, understandably strike fear among the superstitious.

The family name Strigidae and the generic Strix come from the Greek word strix, meaning witch. And Mark et al. (1999) mention that in Sicily, legend has it that, if an Eurasian Scops-owl called near the house of a sick man, he would be dead in three days’ time.

Nowadays birders as well as non-birders encounter owls every now and then – even during the day. You need not go to the rural and forested areas as an owl was spotted even in Chinatown some years ago. Can this be because there are more owls now than before? That the government’s Garden City Campaign has seen to an increased in bird population?

Jeremiah Loei
27th April 2016

Marks, J. S., R. J. Cannings & H. Mikkola, 1999. Family Strigidae (Typical Owls). In: del Hoyo, J., A. Elliott & J. Sargatal (eds.), Handbook of the birds of the world. Vol. 5. Barn-owls to hummingbirds. Lynx Editions, Barcelona. Pp. 76-242.
2. Bruce, M. D., 1999. Family Tytonidae (Barn-owls). In: del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A. & Sargatal, J. eds. Handbook of the birds of the world. Vol. 5. Barn-owls to hummingbirds. Lynx Editions, Barcelona. Pp. 34-75.

This post is a cooperative effort between Birds, Insects N Creatures Of Asia and BESG to bring the study of birds and their behavior through photography and videography to a wider audience.

  1. Andrew Lourdes

    Very true indeed ! An owl was reportedly spotted outside the Istana compound shortly before LKY kicked the bucket last year !

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