“Every little swallow, every chickadee, every little bird in the tall oak tree. The wise old owl, the big black crow, flapping their wings singing go, bird, go. All the little birds on Jaybird Street love to hear the robin go tweet tweet tweet.” Rockin’ Robin was first recorded by Bobby Day in 1958 and was revived by Michael Jackson in 1972. You may remember it from the sound track to American Graffiti, the George Lucas film from 1973 that inspired the television sitcom Happy Days.
Owls are seen to be wise now, but weren’t always
In ancient Greece, Athena was the goddess of wisdom. She banished the mischievous crow and made the owl her favorite, leading to our association today of owls being the symbol of wisdom. The owl became the protector of the Greek armies. It was believed that if an owl flew over soldiers before battle, they would emerge victorious. The Greeks minted coins that had Athena’s face on one side and an owl on the other. Owlpages.com says Romans also believed that owls had a magical light from within that allowed them to see at night. They believed that if you nailed a dead owl to the door of your house it would take the evil away. When you dreamed of an owl it meant you would be robbed. Romans also thought that witches were capable of transforming themselves into owls to suck the blood from babies.
Merrie Olde England
In the days of yore, owls were associated with darkness and darkness was associated with death.
- The screech of an owl flying past the window of a sick person meant death was imminent.
- When barn owls screeched it meant bad weather was on the way. If they screeched during foul weather, it meant a change was on the way.
- Children were given raw owl eggs to eat in the belief that they would gain lifetime protection against alcoholism and drunkenness. People who weren’ given raw owl eggs as kids ate owl eggs as a hangover cure.
- When owl eggs were cooked into ashes, they became a potion thought to improve eyesight.
- Mother Nature Network says, “Though the owl’s nocturnal activity was at the root of many superstitions, the amazing ability of an owl to rotate its neck through 270 degrees was even turned into a myth. The English 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.”
American Indian culture
Apaches thought dreaming of owls signified death was on the way. Crees thought owl whistles were summons from the spirits and if a person answered with the same whistle and did not hear a reply, they would soon die. Hopis thought burrowing owls guarded the fires of underground hell. They believed the great horned owl helped their peaches grow. The Inuit believe the owl once was a young girl who magically transformed herself into an owl with a long beak, but was frightened and flew into the side of a house, flattening her beak and face. The Menominee believed day and night were created after a talking contest between a rabbit and an owl. The rabbit won and chose daylight and the second place owl was left with the night.
Owls’ eyes are immobile, which is why they have to turn their heads to shift their field of vision
Audubon.com says owls are able to pinpoint to source of sounds because their asymmetrical ears are situated at different heights. Some are cannibals that hunt and eat other owls. The world’s smallest owl is 6 inches tall and the largest is nearly three feet tall. Owls are promiscuous, especially when prey is plentiful, because the males can provide food for as many as three mates and their broods. Barn owls eat up to 1,000 mice a year – skin and bones, too.
Owls for sale
White Owl cigars were first produced in Alabama in 1887, and were one of the first machine-rolled cigars.
Kentucky Owl Bourbon, first made in 1879 by a pharmacist, calls itself The Wise Man’s Bourbon. In 1916, federal agents seized 250,000 gallons of it and shipped it up the Kentucky River for safekeeping. Soon after, all the bourbon disappeared when the warehouse mysteriously burned to the ground under suspicious circumstances.
The first Owl Drug Store was opened in San Francisco in 1892. The company was bought by Rexall in the 1920s.
Hoot Gibson, cowboy matinee idol from films of the nineteen twenties and thirties, got his nickname when as a teenager he delivered prescriptions for the Owl Drug Store in Los Angeles.
Wise potato chips first appeared in 1921.
Don’t forget Woodsy Owl, who in 1971 first said “Give a hoot! Don’t pollute!” a slogan created by American forest rangers.
In 1973, Mary Richards shopped at the Red Owl Grocery in Minneapolis. Watch the title scene of the television show and you will see Mary Tyler Moore in the meat department there.
Trip Advisor uses a stylized owl in their logo to show us how wise we are to choose them.
Did you know there is an owl hidden in the detail of a U.S. one dollar bill? The engraver never said why he did it, so his secret died with him.
Hooters is an American slang word for women’s breasts
The Hooters group opened the original ‘breastaurant” in 1983 in Clearwater, Florida with Hooters girls in short shorts and tank tops. According to their website, Hooters girls “provide the energy, charisma and engaging conversation that keeps guests coming back.” Their slogan is “Delightfully tacky, yet unrefined.”There is no mention made of wisdom.
On England, a hooter can be a horn or a very large nose
Jimmy Durante’s nose was so big, he was called Schnozzola.
“A Wise Old Owl” is a simple rhyme parents use to teach their children the value of silence
A wise old owl lived in an oak
The more he saw the less he spoke
The less he spoke the more he heard
Why can’t we all be like that wise old bird?
Owls played a regular role in the paintings of Hieronymous (rhymes with anonymous) Bosch, a tortured soul if there ever was one. According to novelist Michael Connolly, writer of the Bosch series of books and television, “Hieronymous Bosch had one of the most unconventional imaginations of his time. The majority of the critical analysis to date holds that he was a doomsayer. His work is informed with the portents of doom and hellfire, of warnings of the wages of sin. His paintings primarily carried variations on the same theme: that the folly of humankind leads us all to hell as our ultimate destiny.”
Next time you hear someone say “I don’t give a hoot,” tell them what you learned about owls today.
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