Owls: In Idaho and Beyond

By Sarah Cubells

A few weeks ago, I was walking my dog and noticed an owl perched atop the roof of my apartment. I stopped and admired it quietly for a few minutes before continuing on my walk. The next night, I looked up and spotted two in almost exactly the same spot. A few nights later, there were three! One was eating a small animal; Maybe a mouse or a vole. I asked some neighbors if they had seen these owls, and they said there are four that live there. Now it has become a nightly routine to look for them and listen for their screeches.

Owls have been depicted in cave drawings dating back to roughly 2.5 million years ago. Owl fossils have been identified in deposits more than 50 million years old. The Hagerman fossil beds in South-Central Idaho are home to owl fossils dating back roughly 3.5 million years! According to Idaho Fish & Game, these owl fossils are related to the modern screech-owl, long-eared owl, and burrowing owl.Long before the modern study of ornithology, owls were regarded with curiosity and fascination. They are prominent symbols in countless cultures around the world. In western cultures, many associate owls with wisdom and knowledge. But, throughout history and across cultures, owls have symbolized death, misfortune, charm, power, luck, vigilance, victory, and more.In Greek mythology, owls are associated with Athena, the goddess of wisdom. Their hoots, screeches, and silent flight have also earned them a spooky image in many cultures. To the Aztecs and Mayans, owls symbolized death and destruction. In Japan, owl décor has been used to protect against famine and plague. In Wales, an owl hoot can mean a blessing to a pregnant woman’s child, but in France, an owl hoot can serve as an omen that a woman’s child will be a girl.Although their symbolism varies significantly, owls have historically attracted more cultural fascination than any other bird. Observing these creatures on my nightly walks, I think I can understand why. They are beautiful, haunting, and mysterious. I believe the respect and admiration this raptor draws from an endlessly diverse spectrum of cultures and civilizations makes it an exceptionally uniting symbol for modern and future conservation.