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The Owl

This solemn looking bird is seldom to be seen by day. It is strictly a

night bird. Its eyes are unable to endure the glare of sunshine, but are

formed for seeing in the dim twilight, or in the soft radiance of the

moon. There are at least eighty different species of owls. This picture

resembles most nearly the Virginian Eagle Owl, an American bird. Our

common barn-door owl has no tufts on its head. Some people are foolish

/> and cruel enough to persecute owls, under the plea that they do

mischief, destroy pigeon's eggs, etc. But this is a false charge. On the

contrary they are very actively useful creatures, and the humane

naturalist, Mr. Waterton, says that "if this useful bird caught his

food by day instead of hunting it by night, mankind would have ocular

demonstration of its utility in thinning the country of mice, and it

would be protected and encouraged everywhere. It would be with us what

the ibis was with the Egyptians." The ibis is a bird that was found so

useful in destroying locusts and serpents in Egypt, that in olden times

it was made a capital crime for any one to destroy it. Nay, the

idolatrous Egyptians went further, and not only paid divine honours to

this bird, worshipping it as a deity whilst alive, but embalmed its body

after death, and preserved it in the form of a mummy. You may see many

ibis mummies in the Egyptian rooms of the British Museum. Through God's

goodness there is no danger of our going quite so far as the Egyptians

even if we did do justice to the poor abused owl, and it is very much

to be wished that people would learn to see its valuable qualities.

There is no doubt owls are amongst the creatures given to us by God to

do us real service in keeping down the increase of smaller animals, that

would otherwise soon over-run and destroy our food. But as Mr. Waterton

elsewhere says, prejudices are hard to overcome, and I suppose the poor

owl will be hunted and killed, whenever he is to be found by the

ignorant, to the end of the chapter. Some idea may be formed of the

rapid clearance an owl would make of vermin from a barn, from the fact

that, when he has young, he will bring a mouse to the nest every twelve

or fifteen minutes. Mr. Waterton saw his barn owl fly off with a rat he

had just shot. And at another time she plunged into the water and

brought up in her claws a fish, which she carried away to her nest. The

Barn Owl is white, and does not hoot, at least by many this is thought

to be the case. The Brown Owl is the hooting or screech owl, and makes a

very dismal noise.

The owl can do without drinking for a very long time. Mr. White, of

Selborne, says he knew a Brown Owl to live a whole year without water.

The owl swallows its prey whole when small, and afterwards brings up

from its crop the fur, bones, and other parts that cannot easily be

digested, in the form of a round cake. Hawks are said to do the same


The great Virginian Owl is of an immense size, and its cry is said to be

very terrible when heard in the lonely American forests, resembling at

times the last struggling scream of a person being throttled. Owls will

eat raw meat, but their favourite food consists in young mice, and they

may often be seen at twilight, hunting like sporting dogs round the

meadow paths for field-mice which come out at that hour, and going back

every five minutes or so to their nests, to see that all is well at


If by chance an owl appears in daylight, he is immediately attacked by

all the smaller birds, who know their enemy, and feel pleasure in

insulting him when he cannot revenge himself. For the owl grows so

confused if he lingers abroad till the sun has risen, that he cannot

find his way back to his nest, nor make head against his pursuers, as he

would soon do in the dim twilight. Bird fanciers have been known to take

advantage of this circumstance in Italy, and tying an owl to a tree in

daylight, they lime all the surrounding branches. Troops of little birds

soon find out their helpless foe, and hurrying to attack him with their

little beaks and claws, they perch on the limed twigs, and are taken by


The Snowy Owl inhabits the north of Europe, but is sometimes seen in

more southern regions. It pursues hares, of which it is particularly

fond, and often snatches fish from the water, over which it slowly

sails, with a sudden grasp of its foot. It often also accompanies

sportsmen, that it may share in the sport. In winter, when this owl is

fat, the Indians esteem the Snowy owl to be good eating. Its flesh is

delicately white.