What An Owl Knows

Jennifer Szalia at the New York Times:

While reading “What an Owl Knows,” by the science writer Jennifer Ackerman, I was reminded that my daughter once received a gift of a winter jacket festooned with colorful owls. At the time I thought of the coat as merely cute, but it turns out that the very existence of such merchandise reflects certain cultural assumptions about the birds: namely, that they are salutary and good.

Owls can also carry more negative connotations, depending on the context. In some places they are associated with wisdom and prophecy (the goddess Athena and her owl); in others they are considered portents of bad luck, illness and even death. As it happens, the existence of owl-inspired merchandise is a useful indicator of human-owl relations in a given society. Ackerman, who has written several other books about birds, recounts a surprising story of rapid cultural transformation in the Serbian town of Kikinda, where owls were at one time considered such an ominous sign that people would harass or shoot them.

more here.