5 myths and superstitions about owls

May 8, 2015, 1 p.m.
cuban owl

Many birds are steeped in lore but the owl is a raptor with no shortage of superstitions. Here are five of our favorites:

Owls are famous for their exceptional eyesight and it was thought that you could gain better eyesight from them. In England, the method was to cook owl eggs until they were ash, then incorporate them into a potion. Folklore from India had a more direct method: just eat owl eyes.

Owls are a sign of death in many cultures, including some Native American tribes. For instance, dreaming of an owl signified approaching death for Apache people. Boreal owl calls were a call from spirits to the Cree people, and if you answered back to the owl with a whistle and didn't get a response, it was a sign that your death was imminent. On the other hand, Dakota Hidatsa people believed that burrowing owls acted as protective spirits for warriors, so not all owls were bad.

For some cultures, the owl was sacred. Among Australian Aborigines, owls are the spirits of women and so are sacred. The Kwakiutl people also thought owls were the souls of people and shouldn't be harmed because if the owl was killed, the person whose soul the owl carried would also die. In fact, many different cultures believed that a person became an owl after death.

Owls are of course associate with witchcraft. Greeks and Romans believed witches could turn themselves into owls, and in this form would come suck the blood of babies. In other cultures, owls were simply the messengers of witches, or hooted to warn of the approach of a witch.

Though the owl's nocturnal activity was at the root of many superstitions, the amazing ability of an owl to rotate its neck to extraordinary degrees was even turned into a myth. In England it was believed that if you walked around a tree that an owl was perched in, it would follow you with its eyes, around and around until it wrung its own neck.

Want to make sure you know truths and facts about owls? Test your trivia knowledge with this owl quiz.

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