Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Owl Prowls!

Owls have captured human imagination for thousands of years. They are often depicted in myth and legend, playing both positive and negative roles depending on the originating culture. Athena, the ancient Greek goddess of wisdom, is often described with an owl in attendance; the Greeks considered owls (particularly the Little Owl, who gains its latin name, Athene noctua, from the goddess) to be sacred. But while owls have been considered symbols of wisdom and intelligence in some areas, they have also been considered stupid, foolish, or symbols of madness. In many cultures, owls are traditionally considered an ill omen, or even a sign of impending death.

How can one creature inspire so many-- and such paradoxical-- interpretations? Perhaps it is due to their nocturnal nature, their excellent camouflage, their haunting calls. Maybe it is because of their silent flight, their fixed wide-eyed stare, or their measured movements. All of these characteristics, and likely many more, may contribute to the feelings of fascination and curiousity which owls inspire.

Learning about these fascinating creatures is easier than you may think! There are over two hundred species of owls living world-wide, with an incredible variety of shapes, sizes, and features. The smallest owl on the planet, the Elf Owl is not much larger than a house sparrow-- but the largest, the Eurasian Eagle-owl can weigh up to 10 lbs and is able to prey on young deer and sheep!

Ontario has eleven native owl species, ranging in size from the tiny Northern Saw-whet Owl to the powerful Snowy Owl. The Mountsberg Raptor Centre currently provides a home for representatives of six of our native species-- including the Barn Owl, one of Ontario's Species at Risk.

Late winter is one of the best times of the year to seek out owls in the wild, and it's also the best time of year to take part in an Owl Prowl! The Mountsberg Raptor Centre is proud to host our upcoming Owl Prowl programs at the park. These programs are a wonderful opportunity to learn more about Ontario's native owl species-- including habitats, calls, and behaviour-- as well as meet some of our resident owls up close and 'nose-to-beak'! The adult program takes place on Friday, January 29th, while family night is Saturday, January 30th. Please call the park for program details and registration. It'll be a 'hoot'!

(Photos © 2010 B. R. Murphy - used with permission)