Owl Symbolism: What Does It Mean When You See an Owl?
The mysterious, beautiful owl is a bird worth studying. It flies by night and has an uncanny ability to capture prey. But because these birds are night-fliers, humans have often feared them. Many societies and cultures associate them with darkness, negativity, and mystery while others associate them with wisdom and prophecy.
What Does It Mean When You See or Hear an Owl?
- Owl sightings and calls can be either a blessing or a bad omen. Pay attention to what happens immediately after you see or hear the owl. If something good happens, then the sighting portends good fortune. If something negative happens, then the sighting presages bad news, including illness.
- The ancient Welsh associated owls with fertility. If a pregnant woman heard an owl hoot, then it was believed that she would have an easy labor.
- Ancient Greeks, and the Romans for that matter, associated owls with the goddess Athena, wisdom, and prophecy.
- Ancient Christians saw owls as a sign of evil and linked them with Lilith, Adam's first, disobedient wife.
Owls are most often seen and heard during the night because they are nocturnal. However, some owls, such as the pygmy owl, are active at twilight. And if you see or hear an owl during the day, it means that you are likely encountering a diurnal owl that sleeps at night just like we do; two such owls are the burrowing owl and the short-eared owl.
Greek and Roman Owl Lore
Owls are birds of the night—generally speaking. Because of this fact, they have been associated with the moon, the night, and even the feminine.
- The ancient Greeks revered the goddess Athena, who was supposed to be the goddess of wisdom and guardian of the Acropolis. Her symbol was the owl, so the bird became a symbol of higher wisdom. The owl was a bird of prophecy and wisdom in many ancient cultures.
- The ancient Romans thought that a feather from an owl would help you find out the secrets of a sleeping person.
Owl Symbolism in Native American Culture
According to some Native American cultures, every person has an animal designation, which is determined by the time of year that you were born. In this tradition, the owl is the animal symbol for people born between November 23 and December 21.
Ted Andrews, the author of Animal Speak, says that Native American groups have differing views of the owl. While the Pawnee thought of the owl as a symbol of protection, the Ojibwa saw it as an omen of death or evil. He goes on to say that in Pueblo culture, there was a god called the Skeleton Man. He was a god of death but, conversely, also a spirit of fertility. The owl was associated with this god.
Indeed, you will find that different Native American cultures regard the owl with negative, neutral, and positive associations. Some see the owl as one who is allied with bad spirits and bad people. Its presence can help a person to develop negative psychic powers to use against others for selfish reasons. Some people can even use those psychic powers to control others. We all know those "controlling" people. They might have an owl in their totem!
What Does It Mean to Have an Owl in Your Totem?
According to Native American tradition, people with an owl in their totem are also said to be adaptable and approach life in an easy-going manner. They are often artistic and adventurous. Witty and flexible, sensitive and with a zest for life, these folks can accomplish great things. Conversely, they can get a bit self-absorbed and can hold grudges.
Do you think you have an owl in your totem? Ask yourself whether the owl has special meaning to you. Are you especially attracted to or afraid of them? Do you see them more often than other people who live nearby? If so, then owls might among your spirit guides.
Facts About Owls You Don't Already Know
- Owls have large eyes to facilitate navigation in complete darkness. Their eyes are specially adapted to easily detect movement and see any changes in light levels.
- They blink like humans do, but they also have a "third eyelid." This third eyelid sweeps from side to side to help clean and lubricate their eyes, which can’t move. Instead of looking around by changing the direction of their gazes, like we can, they must use their necks to move their entire heads to face the direction they want to see. While they can’t turn their heads 360°, they can turn them quite far in search of a sound or object.
- Their ears don’t sit evenly on their heads. In fact, one is often noticeably larger than the other. This is so each ear can hear a different area and thus help owls sort and identify sounds more easily.
- There are over 100 species of owls, and many live near human settlements. This is due to the fact that rodents, a key part of owls' diets, also take up residence near human activity.
- Some species of owls are endangered. This is because they are suffering a loss of habitat. People also hunt and kill them in the mistaken belief that they are “pests.” However, the hunting ability of owls actually helps exterminate rodents. Barn owls can catch 10 times as many rodents as a cat can in a single night. And owls feeding young owlets can catch significantly more than that. Owls definitely have a place and an important role to play in the ecosystem.
Owl Nesting Habits
- Owls have mating habits similar to other birds. They generally live alone, but will seek each other out when it’s time to breed. The female will only mate with a male she truly trusts.
- Barn owls will form a bond with a mate for life. Other owls will stay together long enough to see the owlets leave the "nest."
- Owls don’t make their own nests. They find nests made by other birds or other safe havens like forks in trees.
- Males are typically charged with hunting prey for their young. Generally, the female will stay with the eggs and owlets while the male bird will hunt for food and bring it back. An owl that’s helping to feed young will kill dozens of mice, rodents, and other prey in just one night. Talk about efficient predators!
Why Are Owls So Quiet?
Owls can fly in complete silence, capturing and eating their prey before the prey has any idea of what’s happened. This silent flight is made possible by their soft and fringe-like wings and the fact that their wings are quite large relative to their bodies. Once an owl captures its prey, it swallows it headfirst and whole. The owl's body digests and uses everything except the bones, fur, and teeth of the prey. Then, the owl eliminates the unusable parts as pellets.
Have you ever seen an owl up close?
Animal Speak. Andrews, Ted. Llewellyn Publications: MN. 2002.
Spirits of the Earth. Lake-Thom, Bobby. Penguin Group: NY. 1997.
Native American Animal Symbols, retrieved 8/5/2012.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2012 Cynthia Calhoun