The owl, the beautiful bird of prey too often associated with bad luck and misfortune, is actually a very useful predator, deified by the ancient Greeks and associated with the cult of the goddess Athena.
Athene noctua bactriana
Athene noctua orientalis
Athene noctua glaux
Athene noctua plumipes
Athene noctua kneading
Athene noctua saharae
Athene noctua indigenous
Athene noctua somaliensis
Athene noctua lilith
Athene noctua spilogastra
Athene noctua ludlowi
Athene noctua vidalii
Athene noctua noctua
Common name: owl
HABITAT AND GEOGRAPHICAL DISTRIBUTION
The owl, scientific name Athene noctua belonging to the Strigidae family and is a bird that is part of the large group of NIGHT RAPACI.
It is widespread in all areas with a warm temperate climate of Europe, Asia and North Africa. In Italy the owl is the most widespread nocturnal bird of prey (including in many smaller islands) with a surprisingly high spreading and nesting capacity compared to other European countries. It is not widespread in the Alpine areas, in fact, generally its range goes from sea level up to 600 m of altitude (with some rare exceptions). It has also been successfully introduced in Great Britain and distant New Zealand.
The original habitat of the owl was the sandy and rocky desert areas, the steppes and the cliffs. Civilization has significantly reduced these areas causing these spaces to become increasingly rare. Despite this, it has been able to adapt and colonize what are defined secondary environments, that is to say those places or ecosystems forged by man such as niches in both urban and rural buildings, ruins, cavities of industrial warehouses, etc. . something that does not happen for example in the Middle East where the owl continues to nest in primary environments, not contaminated by man such as the ground in stony places, its ideal habitat as still happens in some areas of France, Spain, Portugal and Greece and in some areas of Italy (in Sardinia, in some areas of Lazio, in Basilicata, Puglia and Sicily) where it still nests on the ground among piles of stones.
owl has a massive body, covered with brown-greyish-brown feathers. Generally the chest and belly are light with brownish streaks. The undertail is whitish.
The juveniles are easily distinguished from the adults as well as by the plumage of a much more uniform color also because the feathers on the forehead are poorly developed and short, as if they had "brush hair" which gives the head an almost rectangular shape while in adults the feathers are uniformly developed giving a much more rounded appearance to the head.
The owl has no sexual dimorphism even if the female is slightly larger than the male.
The head is broad and flat and the ear tufts present in the real owl are absent, as is the facial disc typical of nocturnal birds of prey, with eyes placed anteriorly, circled in black, large and with yellow iris and black pupils. The beak is yellow - greyish - olive green, robust and curved.
The wings are short and rounded.
The tarsi of the owl are covered with whitish feathers with bare fingers provided with dark-colored and curved claws and positioned two in front and two behind (in diurnal birds of prey, for example in the eagle, there is a finger in front and three fingers behind) and one of the rear fingers can move forward if necessary, for example to better grab a prey.
COMMUNICATION AND PERCEPTION
The owl is a very vociferous species that emits a series of very different sounds that vary from individual to individual and from situation to situation. For example, the typical, shrill and shrill singing repeated and regular is emitted to highlight the territoriality of an individual; a ringing and very nervous sound is a sound of danger. Young people sometimes make meow-like sounds during the night.
The emission of sounds is maximum during the reproductive period.
The auditory system is very developed and shaped for hunting.In fact, the owl, like all members of the Strigidae family, does not have external auricles but has the ear cavities arranged in an asymmetrical and very large way that ensure that the sounds are perceived. in moments slightly deferred from each other and this favors the evaluation of the movements of the prey even in the dark, thus favoring the localization of the prey.
The sight in the owl is very acute at night (although less than that of the cat). Their field of view is 110 ° with binocular vision which they remedy by rotating their head up to 270 °.
He has very acute eyesight both day and night and this is thanks to the large eyes that have very developed cornea and crystalline and are able to collect and concentrate all the light possible, thus projecting a very bright image into the retina. In addition, they have a completely dilated retina at night; a retina with more rods than cones (which are also stimulated by low light intensities but with the disadvantage of hardly distinguishing the colors and details of the images).
CHARACTER, BEHAVIOR AND SOCIAL LIFE
The owl is a sedentary species and as we have seen it is perfectly at ease in both rural and urban environments. It is a crepuscular and nocturnal bird and during the hours of darkness it hunts, it defends its territory, courting its partner, in short, it carries out all the activities that are normally carried out during the day.
Today it is defined as a synanthropic animal as it lives in the same environment occupied by man, colonizing many city areas where it has found food and suitable places for reproduction.
The owl generally tends to ambush its prey which it captures on the ground after a short flight.
Its diet is made up of vertebrates, such as mammals, birds and reptiles but the most considerable part of its diet is made up of invertebrates, especially insects such as beetles and orthoptera (grasshoppers).
The prey is caught on the ground and prefers to hunt in open places rather than in dense forests.
For the study of its eating habits, ornithologists help themselves by studying balls (wads) which are regurgitated by the owl and which contain feathers, bones and hair of the animals eaten as these parts are not digested. Piles of wad are often found in places where an owl has perched or near the nest or where it has eaten.
REPRODUCTION AND GROWTH OF THE SMALL
The reproductive period is spring. After mating, from 1 to 7 eggs are laid and deposited asynchronously, i.e. at a distance of one day from each other.
The eggs are hatched only by the female for a period of 27-28 days at the end of which the chicks are born that are fed only by the mother for about 2-3 weeks.
The pullets are born with a soft and white plumage which after a week begins to be replaced by gray feathers and is completed within twenty days.
After 35 days of birth they are able to fly.
STATE OF THE POPULATION
It is classified in the IUNC Red list 2009.2 among animals at low risk of extinction, LEAST CONCERN (LC) in consideration of the fact that the natural habitat of the owl is so vast as to avoid the danger of extinction.
In Europe the breeding population is estimated at 560.000-1.300.000 breeding pairs, equal to 16.80.000-3.900.000 individuals (BirdLife International 2004). In consideration of the fact that in Europe the population of this animal is present for a 25-49% of the world population, the estimate of the individuals present in the world is estimated at 5,000,000-15,000,000.
SOCIAL, ECONOMIC AND ECOSYSTEM IMPORTANCE
It is a very useful bird for agriculture as it feeds on small mammals (especially rodents) and insects, thus containing the number of these potentially harmful animals.
In Greece it is represented in the 1 euro coin. It is not surprising that a land like Greece with a millenary culture has chosen to imprint this animal in certainly the most used currency. In fact, since ancient times the ancient Greeks had deified it by identifying it with Athena (hence the scientific name Athene noctua) the goddess of wisdom so much so that even in the coins of the time, the effigy of this nice nocturnal bird of prey was found.
In many other countries, however, this small bird has long been considered a symbol of bad luck.
The term "do the owl" to indicate a person who does everything to attract the attention of admirers derives from the fact that in the past this bird was used by hunters as a lure to catch other birds such as larks, which were attracted precisely with an owl.
Phaedrus tells us the story The cicada and the owl (Third Book - XVI Cicada et noctua) which tells the story of a cicada that never stopped singing annoying an owl that used to rest during the day. One day the owl asked the cicada to stop singing but the cicada gave no weight to her words and continued with her song.
«Then the owl said to the cicada: -Your songs do not make me sleep and it seems that they derive from a sound of Apollonian zither, for this reason, I wish to drink with you the nectar that Pallas recently gave me; come if you care so much, let's toast! -. The cicada, proud of these words, approached the owl who in a moment ate it like this, what it did not allow in life, it agreed when it was dead. The moral of the story was that he who did not shine with kindness met the pain of his arrogance. "
(1) Courtesy of Paul Bunyard, Wild About images