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tivity during the diminished light of the dusk or night. They have the head very large, with great, dilated, and projecting eyes, looking forwards, each surrounded by a concave disk formed of singular diverging feathers. Behind these diskfeathers is the opening of the ear, which in these birds is of immense size, and of elaborate construction. If we separate the feathers that form the hinder part of the disk, we shall expose the great ear enclosed between two valves of thin skin, from whose edges these feathers grow, and which are capable of being widely opened at the will of the bird, to catch every sound that may give notice of its prey amidst the silence and darkness. The plumage is lax and downy, a character that extends even to the wing-quills; whence the flight of the Owls is unattended with any sound produced by the striking of the air. Even the outer primary has the barbs of its edge separated like the teeth of a saw, allowing a passage to the air. The colours of the plumage are, for the most part, sombre, consisting of various tints of dull yellow, and brown, or white; often spotted, or minutely and most delicately pencilled: a peculiarity of coloration that we find in most nocturnal birds, and, by a beautiful analogy, in the moths and sphinges among Insects.
Mr. Yarrell observes, that from the loose and soft nature of the plumage in these birds, as well as their deficiency in muscle and bone, rapid flight is denied them as useless, if not dangerous, from the state of the atmosphere at the time they are destined to seek their food; but that they are recompensed for this loss, partly by their acute sense of hearing, from the structure of the ear and the size of its orifice, and partly by the beautifully serrated outer edge of the wing-primaries; which, allowing them to range without noise through the air, enables them to approach unheard their unsuspecting victim, which falls a prey to the silent flight and piercing eye of an inveterate enemy.
Some of the species are distinguished by having a series of feathers more or less lengthened, on each side of the top of the head, which can be erected at pleasure; when raised they have a very distant resemblance to horns, or to the erect ears of a cat, and hence these species are familiarly spoken of as horned or eared Owls.
Owls are dispersed over all parts of the globe ; and several of the species enjoy a wide geographical range.
Genus Strix. (Linn.) This genus, which is considered as exhibiting the peculiarities of the nocturnal birds of prey in the highest degree of development, is well illustrated by the most common British species of the Family, the White, or Screech Owl. Several species, very slightly differing from this, are found in various parts of the world, which may be characterized as having the head very large, without any tufts of erectile feathers, but with the facedisks very complete, and of great width; their extent is marked by dense semicircles of rigid narrow feathers, forming a sort of collar, with turned ends, lying close upon each other in the manner of scales. The orifice of the ear, which is within this collar, is also large, as is the earflap (operculum). The beak is lengthened and curved only towards the point. The tarsi (or that part of the foot which is raised, commonly, but erroneously, called the leg) are rather long, and feathered; the toes are clothed with hairs.
* Zool. Journ. vol. iii.
The Owls of this genus are eminently nocturnal; their enormous facial disks, and great black eyes with dilated pupils, give them a very peculiar appearance; their colours are generally white and pale buff, marked and speckled with bluishgrey. Their voices are loud and discordant.
British islands, and is spread over Europe, with the exception of the extreme northern regions. Though viewed with some prejudice, it is a very useful bird, preying nearly, if not quite, exclusively, on the small quadrupeds, rats, mice, and voles, that are so annoying and injurious by their depredations. Its habit of retiring into holes and crevices by day occasionally leads it to resort to the pigeon-house, the little caverns of which must present an inviting appearance to this darknessIoving bird; hence it is often accused of preying upon the young pigeons, and crimes are laid to its charge which have been really committed by other birds, or by rats. Mr. Waterton observes, that “if this useful bird caught its food by day, instead of hunting for it by night, mankind would have ocular demonstration of its utility in thinning the country of mice, and it would be protected and encouraged everywhere. When it has young it will bring a mouse to the nest every twelve or fifteen minutes ;
formerly I could get very few young pigeons till the rats were excluded from the dove-cot; since that took place it has produced a great abundance every year, though the Barn Owls frequent it, and are encouraged all round it;" and he adds, that the pigeons do not regard it “as a bad or suspicious character.”
Mr. Thompson, in a pleasing account of a Barn Owl that had built in a dove-cot, confirms this view of its innocence and usefulness. White Owl," he observes, “is a well-known visitor to the dove-cot, ... and in such a place, or rather a loft appropriated to pigeons, in the town of Belfast, a pair once had their pest. This contained four young, which were brought up at the same time with many pigeons. The nests containing the latter were on every side, but the Owls never attempted to molest either the parents or their young. As may be conjectured, the Owl's nest was frequently inspected during the progress of the young birds; on the shelf beside them, never less than six, and often fifteen mice and young rats (no birds were ever seen;) have been observed; and this was the number they had left after the night's repast. The parent Owls, when undisturbed, remained all day in the pigeon loft.” *
The food of the Owl is generally swallowed whole; and the bones and hair, and other indigestible parts are afterwards rejected through the throat, pressed into hard and dry pellets. In places where a pair of Owls have long been accustomed to resort, these castings accumulate in vast heaps.
Like others of this Family, the White Owl is remarkable for the harshness of its voice. During flight it will occasionally utter frightful screams. Mr. Yarrell says that it does not generally hoot; but Sir William Jardine, who shot one in the act of hooting, asserts, that at night, when not alarmed, hooting is its general cry. It also snores and hisses, and when annoyed, snaps its beak loudly.
The White Owl lays five or six eggs, but not all at once, for she lays after some young are already hatched; so that young birds, advanced
and fresh-laid eggs may be frequently found in the same nest. The eggs are as large as those of a hen, of a rounded form and pure white.
Mag. Zool. and Bot. ii. 178.