Posts Tagged 'owls'

Owlet

Tyto albaA Barn Owl (Tyto alba) toddler, looking rather alien, can just be glimpsed inside this nest box via long focus. Rather unique looking, Barn Owls are found all over the world, with some 46 recognized subspecies (!), including one on the Galapagos that is half the size of the North American version. Island dwarfism in action.

I met a birder there from western New York, who lived in NYC 40 years ago, who said they don’t find Barn Owls much out there any more on Christmas counts. Habitat loss, rodenticide, and cars have contributed to their declines in some parts of their range. Nest boxes can help. To the best of my knowledge, there hasn’t been one recorded in Brooklyn for decades; it’s one of the borough’s holy grails, along with that damned Raven nest. [Snowy, Great Horned, Screech, and Saw-whet have all been found in Brooklyn.]

Update: my knowledge is suspect. There was a Barn at Floyd Bennett Field last October. Prospect hasn’t had one reported since 1946. Maybe I mean a Barn Owl nest…

Just Another Urban Great Horned Owl

Bubo virginianusBubo virginianus trying to look like a branch, but also occasionally vocalizing in the middle of the day. This is the owl who makes the classic hop-hoo-hoo.

Owls In Culture

athenaDid you know Florence Nightingale had a pet Little Owl? She rescued it and named it Athena, after the Greek goddess, who was ssociated with owls (so much so that the binomial for this European species is Athene noctua). When Nightingale — the first person named after the English version of Firenza, by the way, where she was born; her sister’s middle name was the less fortunate Parthenope — had to go off to become famous during the Crimean War, she left Athena to fend for herself (?) in the family attic. Florence and others thought the bird would feast on the mice infestation there. But it was so tame it starved to death, knowing only that spindly pale creatures entirely overdressed in non-feathers fed it regularly by hand. A moral for keeping wild things wild, even if they would otherwise die?

I gleaned this anecdote (but added the moral) from Desmond Morris’s Owl, one of the Animal series by Reaktion Books (distributed by the University of Chicago Press in the U.S.), which I found recently at the Strand. The picture above is from the book: Athena was stuffed and is on display at the Nightingale Museum in London. I enjoyed reading this book on Superb Owl Sunday.

I’ve read about half a dozen of the Animal series. Each book concerns itself with a different species. They’re more about the human culture of animals, in art, mythology, medical quackery (eating owl eggs to cure drunkeness, for instance) and so on, not so much the natural history of the animals themselves. Owl has, however, a quite good summery of natural history at the later end of the book. With a different writer for each book, they’re uneven productions, but certainly worth a look. The illustrations are small but give a good sense of being curated in the best sense. There’s a Botanical series now as well, but I haven’t seen any of them.Chauvet Morris, who came to fame with the The Naked Ape in the late 1960s, starts his short survey with the typically large-eyed oval face of owls, which look surprising human-like, at least for birds. The owl scraped into the wall in France’s Chauvet cave 30,000 years ago, pictured above, is his first example of a prehistoric owl.

Because they’re nocturnal and make some wonderfully strange sounds, owls have long been assigned ambivalent meanings: they are witchy, harbingers or messengers of death or bad luck, but sometimes also good guys, the wise old owl. (In fact, while owls are excellent nocturnal hunters, and have amazing hearing, with a big chunk of brain power devoted to it, corvids are wiser if you consider smarts to be about problem-solving.) Reading a litany of these associations from around the world, and the quack uses of owls, it’s a wonder that any owls have survived our narcissism. Ah, well, another species to escape, somewhat, our primitive grasping for significance and meaning. elk owlThis is a tee-shirt of mine, btw, a gift. I call it the Elk Owl.

Great Horned

Bubo virginianusBubo virginianus, bold as daylight.

Turf and Owl

I’ve been reading Neil MacGregor’s Germany: Memories of a Nation, a deeply thought-provocking work even with its sprawling and superficial, in the best sense, scope. I wanted to make a note of Dürer’s famous rhinoceros, highlighted in a chapter on the master, in these pages of blog, but a pebble dropped into the mines of memory made me wonder if I’d done so before. I had, on the occasion of reading MacGregor’s earlier History of the World in 100 Objects.

In this new book, MacGregor writes that so powerful was Dürer’s image that 215 years later, the makers of Dresden’s porcelain menagerie modeled their rhinoceros on it, even though Europeans had a pretty good idea what rhinos actually looked like by then.

So instead of Dürer’s rhino again, I present his Das große Rasenstück, the Large Piece of Turf, a 1503 watercolor. Although he never saw a rhino, you can imagine what a fine job he would have done with a representation of the actual animal, instead of just a written description. He was a very close observer of nature.800px-Albrecht_Dürer_-_The_Large_Piece_of_Turf,_1503_-_Google_Art_ProjectAt least nine plants have been identified here.

Of course, one can easily go on and on with AD. I also favor his Klein Eule, Little Owl, another watercolor (for someone so well known for his copper plate work) of 1508.the-little-owl-1506.jpg!Blog

UPDATE: It turns out that the authorship of the owl painting is quite contested. It is certainly attributed to AD, but controversially so. Fritz Koreny’s Albrect Dürer and the Animal and Plant Studies of the Renaissance, the catalog of a 1985 exhibition, is quite sure it isn’t. The monogram and the date being added later, the brush strokes different, etc. Still, a lovely piece. Let me know if you have further information.

Who Wow!

Bubo virginianusThree Great Horned Owls (Bubo virginianus) were recorded in Brooklyn (Kings Co.) during the Christmas bird count. Wow! Yes, this is one of the most common owl species in North America, found from backyards to deserts, but three of these big birds in the borough seems pretty good (I know of three others elsewhere in the city). A fearsome predator, they will go after prey larger than themselves, but like a lot of raptors will eat anything they can catch, no matter how small.

This picture is from some distance, through the branches of another tree (and yet it still sees me). It’s good to keep your distance and be respectful of roosting owls, who are resting during the day. The birds are more important than the photograph. The American Birding Association has a code of ethics that all good nature-watchers should follow.

Quite a few owls real and imaginary are found in these pages of blog.

2016

owlA wise old owl faces the future unblemished by the ravages of time.


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