October Is a Hoot

In October, the black of night is deep and dark. Chill winds blow away the veil of clouds shrouding the crescent moon so that it casts faint shadows in the forest. A deep hoot echoes, sending a shiver down your spine. October is considered Owl Month for good reason. This is the time of year that many great horned owls are active. They begin
to set up territory and look for a mate. Hooting, screeching, and other vocalizations are integral to these rituals. For this reason, October is sometimes called the hooting season.

For millennia, human kind has shared myths that depict owls as emissaries of doom, death, and evil magic. The ancient Greeks and Romans believed that witches could transform themselves into owls. The Hopis of North America believe that burrowing owls, which nest and roost underground, are associated with Maasaw, the god of the dead and the night. During the Gaelic festival of Samhain, which takes place on the night of October 31, the barrier between the living and the dead thins so that the spirits of deceased relatives can find their way home. Owls, it was believed, could snatch those wandering souls and eat them. Is it any wonder then that owls, with their midnight hooting and hunting on silent wings, are associated with Halloween? As creatures of the night, they are the perfect symbols for a festival that reveres all things spooky.

Not all cultures have feared the owl. The Greek goddess Athena, fed up with the trickster crow, adopted the owl as her companion animal thanks to its perceived wisdom and seriousness. Some Australian aboriginal groups believe that owls are the sacred spirits of women and are revered. In Afghanistan, it is said that the owl brought humans the gifts of flint and iron, tools to make fire. In return, humans gave owls their feathers. Owls are unique amongst birds. Their unusual characteristics—nocturnal nature, hooting calls, large eyes, and their uncanny ability to rotate their necks—all have captured our imaginations and, in many ways, let our fears get the better of us. Thankfully, most cultures have learned to share these myths while preserving the species, ensuring the survival of these magnificent animals for generations to come.