Part 1 – The Owl
Across the world, few birds are as culturally symbolic – and contradictory – as owls. ‘It was the owl that shrieked, the fatal bellman,’ cried Lady Macbeth as her husband slew Duncan, King of Scotland, in Shakespeare’s tragedy Macbeth. These mysterious night predators have long been thought of as evil omens. The sight or sound of an owl was linked to death in ancient Egypt and desolation in the Bible. Babylon, predicts the Book of Isaiah, ‘. . .shall be as when God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah. . . owls shall dwell there, and satyrs shall dance there.’ . . .Fear and dread of the birds is similarly deep-rooted in Native American, African and many Asian cultures. . .Yet in Ancient Greece, subverting this sinister trend, the Little Owl (Athene noctua) represented or accompanied Athene, the much-loved goddess of wisdom.
—Owl (Strigidae, Tytonidae, Birds: Myth, Lore & Legend, Rachel Warren Chadd & Marianne Taylor
The owl first appeared in the garden in September of 2015, taking up a position on a high branch of a pine tree. It was a grey, rainy day and in the low light the owl was well camouflaged against the branches of the tree.
[click on any photo to enlarge]
Not that the owl needed camouflage. I’m pretty sure this is a Barred owl (please correct me if I’m wrong) and they are aggressive predators, preying upon meadow voles, mice and shrews of various species, rats, squirrels, rabbits, bats, moles, opossums, mink, and weasels. Apparently, these owls can hear the squeak of a mouse from 150 feet away. A barred owl was photographed in Minnesota in 2012 grabbing and flying off with a full-grown domestic cat [Wikipedia]. Here in British Columbia, the government has approved the shooting of Barred owls because they have invaded the territory of Northern spotted owls, which are in danger of extinction.
In spite of this fearsome reputation, our resident squirrels didn’t seem too alarmed by the owl; in fact, one squirrel in particular seemed to be taunting the owl (see photo).
The Barred owl (Stryx varia) is known as the hoot owl for its distinctive call, but it goes by many other names, including eight hooter, rain owl, wood owl, and striped owl.
This year, the owl showed up a little over a week ago, just before our weather turned cold (below zero C) and snow began falling. He (or she) took up a perch on the same branch as last year. I haven’t seen the owl in a few days now, but I hope he (or she) will return next year, like a migrating butterfly.
Strix (pl. striges or strixes), in the Ancient Roman and Greek legends was a bird of ill omen, product of metamorphosis, that fed on human flesh and blood. The name, in Greek, means “owl”. [Wikipedia]
 Unless this owl is a cat-eating owl. In that case, he (or she) can just go perch in someone else’s pine tree.
[Next post: Part 2 – The Flower]