"I hope you love birds too. It is economical. It saves going to heaven."
Emily Dickinson

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

The Enigma of the Owl

Yale University Press

          If you're an owlaholic like me, you might enjoy my next column scheduled to run in the Orange County Register on Saturday, Oct. 28.   

             Since ancient times owls have been mired in myth and superstition. Some indigenous people of North America considered owls to be the embodiment of ghosts and their nocturnal hoots an omen of evil. Others believed that owls transported the souls of the dead to the afterlife. 
It’s no wonder this nocturnal hunter has become associated with Halloween.
            The recently released book titled “The Enigma of the Owl,” (Yale University Press) by Mike Unwin and David Tipling captures the allure of owls.
            According to the authors, “Something about these enigmatic birds commands attention and fires the imagination, which is why owls have loomed large in human culture across the ages.”
            The authors explain this “something” may have to do with owls’ nocturnal, elusive nature “moving unseen in the darkness, betrayed only by their unearthly calls.” Other explanations could be that owls’ forward-facing eyes give these birds a human facial quality or that owls deploy their hunting skills in darkness with amazing stealth and precision.
The book is divided geographically into six bioregions, showcasing 53 species of owls from the smallest elf owl to the most powerful Eurasian eagle owl, along with a description of the appearance, distribution, behavior and cultural associations of each.  The more than 200 dramatic photographs, which were taken or selected by David Tipling, capture the essence of each species.  
Fascinating details can be found throughout the book. For example, larger owls have frighteningly powerful feet. The talons of the great-horned owl, a common species found in Orange County, can exert a pressure similar to a Rottweiler’s jaws and at least eight times stronger than a human hand.
Only a few species of North American owls can be found regularly in Southern California including barn owls, great-horned owls and Western screech owls. Ground-dwelling burrowing owls were once plentiful until development destroyed their nesting areas. Only a few burrowing owl sightings have been documented at the Bolsa Chica Ecological Preserve in Orange County and near Joshua Tree National Park in Riverside County over the past five years. A few isolated sightings of Northern Saw-whet owls and long-eared owls have also been recorded in Orange County in recent years.
Rare sightings of the elusive spotted owl were recorded within the past 10 years in a remote canyon along Orange County’s eastern border and in the San Jacinto Mountains in Riverside County, according to data on ebird.org.

Secret information for blog readers:  Did you know that Sea & Sage Audubon Society offers owl prowls at the Audubon Starr Ranch Sanctuary in March when owls are nesting? Check the organization's website at Sea & Sage Audubon this winter to sign up. Spots fill up fast!

Happy birding!!

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