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"If you were an alien abductee, you might have memories of seeing owls in the city, or owls on the subway, or owls sitting outside your apartment window, or owls sitting INSIDE your apartment window, wearing space clothes and preparing a rectal probe."
The Owls Are Not What They Seem

Owls are, to put it bluntly, creepy. They just are. Perhaps it's because most of them are nocturnal or that they eat cute little mice or that they can spin their heads all the way around. It could be those (relatively) gigantic, piercing eyes. Or perhaps it's the sounds they make at night (except for the beating of their wings which are so soft and fluffy you'll never hear a thing. Bad news for rodents), in the dark, when you're in The Lost Woods.

It doesn't really matter why they are creepy, they just are. Owls have long been viewed as harbingers of disease, death, destruction, and bad luck. To the Hopi, they were a symbol of evil sorcery; to the Romans, they were funerary birds, signaling ill will in the daytime (unless you were collecting their eggs, in which case they signaled a Hideous Hangover Cure); and the Aztec god of death, Mictlantecuhtli, was often portrayed with owls. Geoffrey Chaucer also had a thing for them.

So remember: if you ever see an owl, clutch your Tootsie Roll Pops tightly and run in the other direction.

Owls are, of course, also assholes.

On the other hand, owl was a symbol of Athena, Greek goddess of wisdom, and generally one of the most human-friendly of the Olympians. Thus as long as it's not just there to scare you, the owl can be a symbol of wisdom. This of course may lead to the softer version of the trope that owls tend to be pompously intellectual and annoying.

To many, owls seem like cats as birds. Whether this makes them better or worse is up to you.

Also, everyone is fond of owls, as the hit count and comments on Lovely Owl Molla demonstrate. Possibly because an owl's face superficially resembles a human face, with the beak where a human nose would be. How this is relevant, God only knows.

See also Feathered Fiend for other types of creepy, creepy birds. Contrast The Owl-Knowing One.

Examples of Owl Be Damned include:


Anime & Manga

  • In One Piece, every member of CP 9 has an animal motif, and the creepiest one is definitely Fukurou who has a similar appearance to an owl. Among other things, his mouth has a zipper on it that he has to unzip if he wants to talk.
  • There is yet another Fukurou among the assassin group Trinity Raven in Fairy Tail, who is also noticeably creepy. He has a man's body but an owl's head (also two missiles on his back with the word "JUSTICE" printed on it), and one of his abilities is to swallow his opponents whole and use their magic until they digest fully.
    • Worth noting in both cases is that "Fukurou" is Japanese for "owl."
  • The Wolf's Rain anime series had a creepy owl that made appearances at times, most likely as a symbol for death.
  • In the zoo chapter of Yotsubato, Yotsuba is utterly terrified of the owl. She ends up trying to scare it (so that it stops staring at her)... and then it spreads its wings and hoots. Cut to her hiding behind her dad's legs.
  • In Cyborg 009, a mother owl and her babies actually live in an abandoned castle in Germany where Albert/004 fights a robot with his same looks and powers. During the fight, the nest gets knocked off its site and out of reflex 004 shields the owls with his own body... which saves his life, as the robot couldn't predict his human reaction and its programmed strategies are all screwed.
  • In Sora no Woto, an owl is both the unit's pet, Shuko, and their insignia. Shuko is a Northern White-faced Owl, the "evil transformer owl" with its own entry in the Real Life folder below.
  • Kouichi from Nabari no Ou is actually an owl with a human heart. His partially transformed form after being shot in the heart is more than a little creepy.
  • Mukuro from Katekyo Hitman Reborn has a Snowy Owl as his box animal. Not so creepy until you see it with his red/blue heterochromia. Unsurprisingly, (and unoriginally, in some people's opinion) the owl is named Mukurou.
    • Though the name might come from the fact that the Owl was the body Mukurou used for an extended period of time (and thus, was in fact Mukurou) before he got his own body back. That and the box technically belongs to Chrome, not Mukuro.
  • A recurring motif in Lupin III the Woman Called Fujiko Mine, with normal ones appearing in the opening, as well as more nightmarish humanoid ones appearing in a flashback of Fujiko's.


Art


Card Games

  • In the Alara block of Magic: The Gathering, strixes are kept as pets in the bio-mechanical realm of Esper. As the name might suggest to any Latin scholars, they're venomous or parasitic evil clockwork owls.
  • Winnie the Pooh 's Owl appears in the Kingdom Hearts Collectible Card Game. Seeing how the game focuses a lot on Magic/Friends(Summons, in the first game, which ran on magic), such as Simba, Tinkerbell, Bambi, etc, playing an Owl card can cause a lot of grief, as he prevents them from being played. He can also be played at any time, and is a pain to get rid of.


Comic Books

  • A recent horror comic (I forgot the title) had a short story called "Hooters" where evil owls killed buxom women on a camping trip.
  • In Usagi Yojimbo, the comic reflects the Japanese idea that the Owl is a symbol of death. In one story, Usagi and Gen spot one perched near a hut. When they looked inside and found their old friend, Zato-Ino, in a hut and gravely wounded, that bird was a bad omen. However, they are able to successfully treat the pig and Gen spitefully goes out to taunt the bird and drive it away. Later the Owl is diving for a cute little lizard, but the little guy is saved by an attacking Tokage who tackles the Owl and eats it.
  • In Hellboy: The Corpse, when the Fairy King makes his first appearance, he has an owl perched on his arm.
    • BPRD 1946 and 1947 feature a vampire count who shapeshifts into an owl. Sometimes he does it to make murdering Nazis easier and sometimes he does it to get around faster. It's just his thing.
  • In the Marvel Universe, there's a villain named The Owl, who's primarily a member of Daredevil's Rogues Gallery.
    • In the DC Universe, Owlman is the Evil Counterpart of Batman in the Crime Syndicate's Mirror Universe.
      • The reason why he was so named is because owls prey on bats.
      • Another Batman example is the vilainous organisation The Court of Owls introduced in Scott Snyder's run on Batman Volume 2. They're a clandestine society who have apparently secretly controlled Gotham for centuries, and the "owls prey on bats" imagery has been played up for all it's worth.
  • Macduff, a wooden doll in form of an owl that formerly was the pet of Gepetto, recently joined Jack Frost in his adventures.
  • This cover from Mouse Guard. The scene itself is even more brutal and awsome.
  • Averted thoroughly in the comic Owly: the title owl is a Friend to All Living Things and the comic is sweet as can be.


Film

  • The appearance of Jareth, the goblin king, in Labyrinth (and his departure at the end) involved his becoming an owl... actually, Labyrinth's entire opening shot is a (for the time) impressive CG sequence of said owl flying around the opening credit shots and eventually becoming a real owl with a carefully executed editing sweep shot into the first scene.
  • The movie The Adventures of Milo and Otis, a story about a lost kitten and a puppy, has a scene in the treetops at nighttime where the kitten talks with a horned owl with glowing eyes who pops out of nowhere. Though he is friendly, he is, needless to say, quite terrifying for younger children.
  • The Grand Duke of Owls and his henchmen from Rock-a-Doodle. voiced by Christopher Plummer
  • The Owls in I Know Who Killed Me. They don't mean anything, nor are they particularly foreboding. They're just there.
  • Disney's Alice in Wonderland. While traveling through a spooky forest Alice encounters an owl with a neck like an accordion that makes music as it flies.
  • The rather intense Owl-to-human Transformation Trauma in the Russian film version of Night Watch.
  • Although he's ultimately friendly, the ancient owl in The Secret of NIMH is intensely scary.
  • Let's not forget The Fourth Kind where the owls are actually Aliens coming to abduct you
  • Blade Runner features an owl in relation to Tyrell.


Literature

  • Subverted with the owl from the Winnie the Pooh books.
  • In Mervyn Peake's Titus Groan, Lord Sepulchrave is driven mad by the destruction of his library, starts believing he is 'The Death Owl' and eventually commits suicide by allowing himself to be eaten by owls. Nightmare Fuel, much?
  • Henry David Thoreau wrote in Walden: "I rejoice that there are owls. Let them do the idiotic and maniacal hooting for men. It is a sound admirably suited to swamps and twilight woods which no day illustrates, suggesting a vast and underdeveloped nature which men have not recognized. They represent the stark twilight and unsatisfied thoughts which all [men] have."
  • Neil Gaiman: "Daughter of Owls," wherein a baby girl foundling is superstitiously thought to be, yes, born of owls and thus the townfolk will not raise her, only giving her food.
  • In Bless Me Ultima, owls are a sign that a bruja (or evil witch) is around. It seems to be the same concept as Western witches' familiars, but I'm not terribly familiar with the mythology surrounding brujeria.
    • Of course, it's also a subversion, as the main owl in the story is connected to Ultima herself, who is a curandera rather than a bruja (playing on the Latino Catholic stereotype of indigenous healers being witches). In fact, when the owl is killed, Ultima dies not long after as a consequence.
  • As explained in the above quote, owls are symbols that you've been abducted by aliens in More Information Than You Require.
    • The book also contains instructions on how to cook an owl. One of the steps is to remove their clockwork innards.
  • In The Chronicles of Ancient Darkness, Big Bad Eostra was once the mage of the Eagle Owl clan, so eagle owls are considered creepy bad omens. Other kinds of owls are cool, though.
  • Owls are pretty nasty in Kenneth Oppel's Silverwing series, where their job is to keep bats from seeing the sun, and kill those that do - even going so far as to burn down an entire colony of females and children to take their revenge. Nothing compared to the real villains of the series: giant cannibal bats that worship an evil human-sacrifice-accepting god. In the later books, the owls get increasingly sympathetic.
  • Stephen Bauer's fantasy novel Satyrday centers on the attempts of the protagonists - an orphaned boy, the satyr who raised him, a fox-spirit, and a sympathetic raven - to combat a malevolent owl and his plot to kidnap the Moon (who is a character in her own right). The owl is tyrannical and very cruel, a prime example of this trope.
  • At one point in The Bible, Job complains that in the extremity of his misfortune, he has become "a brother to dragons and a companion to owls." Though some translations render it as "a companion to ostriches," which somehow reads as slightly less eerie.
  • In Jincy Willet's short story "Justine Laughs at Death," an extended parallel is drawn between the Serial Killer (and rapist and torturer) Ripley and an owl he sees outside his window, with the owl's menace and predatory nature initially reminding Ripley comfortingly of himself (once the metaphor is extended, it gets... less comforting).
  • Parodied in James Thurber's comic essay "There's An Owl In My Room", which is mostly about pigeons and how un-sinister (or poignant, for that matter) they are, but it does refer to the sinister nature of owls as a contrast:

 You could dress up a pigeon in a tiny suit of evening clothes and put a tiny silk hat on his head and a tiny gold-headed cane under his wing and send him walking into my room at night. It would make no impression on me. I would not shout, "Good God Almighty, the birds are in charge!" But you could send an owl into my room, dressed only in the feathers it was born with, and no monkey business, and I would pull the covers over my head and scream.

  • In the story "The Ghost Car" in Chris Woodyard's book Haunted Ohio II, the deaths of a certain family's members are heralded by a number of owls that fly away one by one until none are left. This occurs after a man muffled in a coat knocks on the family's door before vanishing. This happens on winter nights for two years in a row. When the knock comes on the third year, the family does not open the door, at which the knocker chuckles and says, "Soon no one will occupy this farm but the owls."
  • George Eliot complains about a clumsy attempt to invoke this in Silly Novels by Lady Novelists:

 she falls into this mediaeval vein of description (the italics are ours): "The banner unfurled it at the sound, and shook its guardian wing above, while the startled owl flapped her in the ivy; the firmament looking down through her 'argus eyes,'-

  • Discworld makes fun of this trope (As it does virtually every trope in existence). The Epebian goddess of wisdom was supposed to have an owl as her signature animal. Unfortunately, due to her church hiring a sculptor who wasn't very good at doing birds for her statue, she ended up with a penguin.
  • Subverted in the Young Adult novel Hoot. While burrowing owls are tiny and adorable, their existence on a construction site spells doom for the pancake house that is supposed to be built on it.
  • Completely averted in Katherine Lasky's The Guardians of Ga'Hoole, where the cast consists almost entirely of owls, the odd snake and seagull aside. That is, averted as long as you're talking about the protagonists; their enemies, The Pure Ones, can be a pretty nasty bunch.
  • Justified in Poppy, since most of the cast are mice. However the mice and the owl, Mr. Ocax, have an odd relationship in which the mice are forced to pretend that Mr. Ocax is their kindly ruler/landlord.
  • Spooky owls crop up a lot in Paul Cornell's Virgin New Adventures.
  • In the Warrior Cats series, owls are often thought of as ill omens. Justified, since an owl seems quite large to a cat, and owls have been known to carry off kits. However, ThunderClan does occasionally look for owls at night, because if it's windy and they're having trouble scenting prey, they can follow an owl and find prey that way.
  • Coyote Blue by Christopher Moore has an owl. Not a major plot point, but a running sidearc.
  • Subverted by Harry Potter's Hedwig.
  • In Gene Stratton Porter's Freckles, one trial facing Freckles in his job is being caught on the train and hearing the unnerving hooting.

 Night closed in. The Limberlost stirred gently, then shook herself, growled, and awoke around him.

There seemed to be a great owl hooting from every hollow tree, and a little one screeching from every knothole.


Live Action TV

  • Owls in Twin Peaks are supposed to be the eyes of BOB and/or the Black Lodge, but their significance is never really explained. Then again, neither is anything else of consequence to the series' overall plot.
  • John Oliver once noted on Mock the Week that owls can kill tigers, because they have the high ground.
  • Owls are on notice. Colbert refuses to talk about it, saying "they know what they did". Possibly something to do with Owlbears?
  • WITH AN OWL!
  • Tales from the Crypt had an episode with a man who gets the auditory system of an owl.


Music Videos

  • Watch the video for Outkast's "Ms. Jackson" and you may remember that owl forever.
  • "The Owl" by I Love You But I've Chosen Darkness.
  • This parody of the Black Eyed Peas' "I Gotta Feeling."


Mythology

  • Original references to vampires turning into flying creatures had them become owls, not bats.
  • The Cahuilla Indian god of death, Muut, was represented by an owl.
  • The demon Andras, is a man with the head and wings of an owl.
  • There's the saying Cuando el tecolote canta, el indio muere (when owl hoots, an American Indian dies).
    • Most Native cultures in Mexico and the American Southwest consider owls ill-omened -- many of them believed hearing an owl hoot is an omen of death. Though Old Man Owl occasionally does some good in Navajo legends, most owls one might meet are probably shape-shifted ghosts”the related Apache tribe wear owl feathers to keep ghosts away. Even when Old Man Owl does his good deed, it's creepy, considering what he says when given a deer-liver as thanks: "Turn your back, my grandchild, I allow nobody to see me feed."
    • Owls also were the symbol of Mictlantehuatl, god of death and ruler of the Underworld in Aztec Mythology.
  • In some parts of Medieval Europe, it's thought only owls could abide the presence of ghosts, so an owl nesting near a house is a sign that it's haunted.
  • On the one hand, owls are considered a death omen in Japanese mythology. On the other, they're also considered to be really stupid.
  • Stolas/Stolos, a demon and prince of hell in the Ars Goetia, is represented as an owl. Also an example of The Owl-Knowing One since he is presented as a tutor, albeit one who teaches poisons and other demonic knowledge.

Tabletop Games

  • There is a creature in Dungeons and Dragons called a spellweaver, which is a humanoid with six arms and the head of a barn owl. It's generally benevolent, but it doesn't talk, and it looks kind of creepy.
    • 3.5 Monster Manual also describes a giant owl, which is a subversion as it is usually Neutral Good. The evergreen Owlbear on the other hand...
    • Subverted with the grim, a 2nd Edition good-aligned monster that often took the form of an owl. It hung around cursed graveyards and other creepy locales, but did so to help keep evil forces from escaping such places.
  • Vampire: The Requiem (and its historical setting, "Requiem for Rome") has the Strix: strange, ghostly owl-like beings who may be responsible for, among other things, the fall of the Roman Empire, and the creation, followed by subsequent destruction, of an entire Clan of vampires. They possess corpses, and sleeping vampires, and walk about causing mischief. Needless to say, they're the bad guys and the boogeymen. They're also based on an actual Roman myth.
    • They also appear in the Hunter: The Vigil sourcebook on taking on vampires. They make a guy murder his girlfriend so they can ride the corpse.
  • From Exalted, Meticulous Owl, Endless-Faced Spite. He gets bonuses for hiding in plain sight.
    • Also Lilith, a traumatized, horrifically powerful owl-totemed Lunar martial-arts master.
  • In Bunnies and Burrows, owls are seen as something along the lines of dragons for their formidable wisdom and awesome rabbit-killing abilities.
  • The owl-like Goetic demon Stolas appears in Age of Aquarius Second Edition, in a piece of narrative text about the Utopists. Played for Laughs in that they summon him only to pick a feather from his tail, turning him comically angry.


Theatre


Video Games

  • The owl (Kaepora Gaebora) in The Legend of Zelda series is a good guy, but still quite creepy in some portrayals. He is seen as being "evil", with "evil" being used as a synonym for annoying, even in his more tame appearances, due to his tendency to be a trifle... long winded. You see, he usually says things that are blatantly obvious and take quite some time to scroll past, and you can't skip them. In fact, trying to skip his speeches can make it take longer. Hoot! Do you want me to repeat this?

 Yes

No

    • And when his head spins around so it's upside-down, his facial markings look like a second face. Seriously, who gives a good character two faces?
    • "The Owl is watching! Hoot!"
    • The owl guide in Link's Awakening is also quite creepy, as he knowingly sends Link to effectively destroy the world in which the owl himself and all of Link's new friends live.
  • Lechku (pictured) and Nechku from Okami count, even though, technically, they're not real owls, but they're demonic clockwork owls. With Nice Hats. In feudal Japan.
  • Owls are considered creepy enough for them to be a recurring enemy in Castlevania, sometimes accompanied by an Owl Knight.
    • Poor dude gets pissed off if you kill his bird (and vice versa).
    • Stolas from the Ars Goetia also appears. He doesn't attack on his own, but summons various other monsters.
  • Clockwerk, the Big Bad for the first Sly Cooper game. Though he's technically a giant robot owl.
    • According to Sly's in-game speculation, he was probably a regular owl who gradually replaced all of his body parts with robotic ones.
      • This was pretty much confirmed for true when he shows up.

  Sly Cooper, you have escaped my gas chamber and destroyed my death ray. Remarkable, you Coopers always find a way to beat me.


Webcomics

  • El Goonish Shive used owls as a Running Gag. Moperville North high school has a mural warning "Read, or the Owl will Eat You". A big owl appears as RTFM enforcer in Goonmanji arc out of continuity. Then in a guest comic the owls make good on their threat, devouring an Analfabets Anonymous meeting (well, not really, but close 'nuff).
    • Subverted with Hedge, whose dramatic moments are always ruined by owls getting in the way.
  • Muut (see Mythology, above) shows up in Gunnerkrigg Court, but here he's an owl-man.
  • Lucid TV: Being full of owls is a serious medical condition.
  • Digger: Considering owls' reputation as a death omen, having your elder healer named "Owl Caller" isn't a good sign.
  • Owls show up fairly often in Happle Tea. The author, Scott Maynard, has stated that he's obsessed with them.
  • Thistil Mistil Kistil One of Loki's forms
  • Space Owls show up twice as of April 2012 in Questionable Content. They knock people unconscious, at least according to Faye, who is telling the story to cover up her own handiwork. However, it's not to be evil or creepy.


Web Original


Western Animation

  • The creepy opening sequence in the Peanuts Halloween Special It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown features an owl hooting into the camera just before the commercial break.
  • In the Freakazoid episode "Candle Jack," the first instance of "Scream-o-vision" occurs when an owl appears in the frame and hoots at the audience.
  • In Avatar: The Last Airbender, the Knowledge Spirit, Won Shi Tong, who combines the inherent creepiness of a giant talking owl with the ability to stretch his neck like some sort of feathery snake. Brrr....
    • He wasn't all that creepy until he started chasing after the heroes.
    • Of note is that the standard owls in this universe really are cats as birds; one was used to aid in the creepy atmosphere of The Puppetmaster
  • The freaking terrifying owl that attacks the furlings in Once Upon a Forest.
  • The 1960s-era secret agent spoof Cool McCool had a villain named The Owl, seen in the opening credits.
  • Rupert and the Frog Song. The evil, glowing-eyed white barn owl swooping down towards the viewer with a shriek is certified Nightmare Fuel. Can be seen circa 4'25 here[1].
  • Averted in a Merrie Melodies classic, "I Love to Singa". "I love to sing-a/about the moon-a/and the June-a and the spring-a/I love to sing-a..."
  • The villains in Rock-a-Doodle are all owls motivated by their aversion to sunlight. The Big Bad even plays an Ominous Pipe Organ and gets a bizarre One-Winged Angel sequence.
  • An owl appears during the Headless Horseman's introductory sequence from The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad.
  • An entire horde of owls serve as the antagonists in Rock-a-Doodle. Their goal? To permanently blot out the sun and devour the protagonists and their friends.
    • Now this is the third time Rock A Doodle has been mentioned on this page!
  • An owl in the famous Silly Symphony The Skeleton Dance managed to scare a freaking skeleton out of his lack-of-skin. (Though the skeleton DID pull himself together and knock the owl's feathers off with his own skull.)
  • He has been mentioned already under Comics, but the Owlman of Justice League Crisis On Two Earths takes it Up to Eleven by being an Omnicidal Maniac who thinks the only action that would have any meaning would be to destroy every single Earth there is in the multiverse.
  • Subverted by Owlowiscious in My Little Pony Friendship Is Magic. Spike feels that way about him for supposedly stealing his place as "Twilight Sparkle's number 1 assistant" (he also thinks Owlowiscious' 180 degrees head rotation looks creepy). However otherwise Owlowiscious falls pretty squarely into The Owl-Knowing One.
  • Subverted in Franklin. Mr. Owl is their teacher, and he is always kind and helpful...and though intelligent, never pompously so.
  • In Kung Fu Panda: Legends of Awesomeness, we learn that the owl Feng Huang, formerly the most powerful member of the previous Furious Five, was corrupted by her power, and turned evil.


Real Life

  • Owls are suspected as the source for several reported ghost hauntings or sightings of aliens.
  • The "Bohemian Grove" secret society that pops up in many New World Order conspiracy theories apparently worships the owl goddess Lily.
    • Or the owl god Molech (according to tinfoil hatter Alex Jones), never mind that Molech is supposed to be a man with the head of a bull, not an owl.
  • I don't even know what media category this belongs to (is knitting a "medium"?), but macrame owls were Nightmare Fuel to some of us who were little kids in The Seventies.
  • OwlCam, which caused the creation of some very unsettling GIFs on Something Awful. One of them featured four or five young barn owls - one crouched low and weaving from side to side, one breathing rapidly, and one gulping down a rodent half its own size. One Goon found Nightmare Fuel in the fact that the barn owls resembled the equally creepy masked Jabber Wockeez dance crew.
  • Assuming the clip hasn't been taken down, this slow-motion footage is probably the last thing a mouse ever sees. To get the shot, they hung a piece of bait under the camera.
  • Art scholars believe the owls in Hieronymous Bosch' paintings represent madness.
  • One kind of owl actually makes itself look more evil to scare off predators. Has this trope been Lampshaded by nature itself?
    • All owls try to invoke this trope as a self-defense mechanism, fluffing themselves up to make them seem bigger and more intimidating, similar to a cat. That particular owl, however, seems to have taken things to the next level.
    • The owl in the video seems to be attempting camouflage rather than intimidation. It's thinning itself out and closing its eyes so that its bark-colored plumage is the only thing visible, and to drive it home it makes a very visible effort to keep the most effective parts of its camouflage pointed directly at the threat.
      • Well, in the second transformation it does. The first, with the puffed feathers and spread wings, still qualifies.
  • The Eurasian eagle owl, a.k.a. killer owls, inadvertently introduced into Scotland about five years ago. They can wind up three feet tall, and have been known to carry off dogs and small sheep.
  • Never piss off the barn owls.
  • Much of the mythology regarding owls as omens of death could have its roots in the fact that they would frequently appear in old times when someone was ill. If a vigil was kept at night there would be lights burning, the light would attract insects, the insects would attract mice and the mice would attract owls.

O RLY?

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