Owls may be one of the most mysterious and illustrious birds of prey. Their distinct, forward-facing eyes, usually surrounded by a conspicuous plate of feathers, give them a piercing, regal quality. Their ability to traverse the night sky almost silently adds to their dangerous mystique.

Downtown Benicia Owls Ready to Fledge

Northern California is home to some 15-20 owl species. Great Horned Owls and Western Screech Owls are both common in the suburbs and can often be heard screeching around town after dark. Benicia Magazine’s Graphic Designer, Margaret Bowles, has been photographing a family of common Barn Owls nested in a palm tree downtown. Barn Owls, favored by farmers for keeping rodent populations down, can detect sound arrival intervals at up to ten millionths of a second, allowing them to locate mice with almost exact precision in the dark.

Barn Owl in Flight

Barn Owl in Flight

Barn Owls nest in the spring, eggs are laid then incubated for close to a month, and young ones are fledged (taught to fly and fend for themselves) in about two months. Of the owls downtown, Bowles says, “They look down at you and their heads follow you as you walk below. Adorable!” Humans should always be careful not to get too close to an owl nest, as they have been known to attack when under threat.

Owl Facts

  • Owl feathers are covered with a velvety structure that aid in quiet flight.
  • Owls have binocular vision (they can focus on a single point with both eyes), but their eyes are also fixed in their sockets, which means they must turn their heads to find peripheral focus.
  • Most owls can rotate their heads up to 270 degrees, a talent that’s facilitated by the 14 vertebrae in their necks (twice as much as human necks).  
  • Of close to 200 owl species throughout the world, most are nocturnal, solitary birds that are most active just after dusk and before dawn.
  • Many owl species mate for life and return to the same nesting area year after year.
  • Owl diets include small rodents and insects, and a few species are adapted to hunting fish.

Owl Lore

In a mythological sense, owls have been perceived as governing the realms of darkness, the unseen, the supernatural and the mysterious. Mystery inspires both fear and reverence, depending on cultural context.

  • In Ancient Greece, owls were beloved by the goddess Athena. They inhabited the Acropolis in great numbers and were believed to have an “inner light” that imparted their night vision. They were seen as omens of victory in battle.
  • Native American nations hold diverse beliefs about owls. Some tribes have owl clans, and some call owl the “night eagle.” Because of its association with other realms, “owl medicine” may be left to the expertise of medicine people and seers.
  • In Celtic mythology, the owl was connected with the goddess in her “crone,” or old woman aspect, and called “crone of the night.”
  • Owls have been associated with wisdom, foresight, messages, death, protection, intelligence, good and bad luck, secrets and dreams.