Michael McCarthy laments the sad decline of the little owl (Athene noctua) in Britain in today’s Independent, noting that unlike other introductions, they have not spelled ecological disaster, forming an attractive addition Britain’s birdlife. They were introduced by Victorian gentleman-ornithologists in the 1870s who wished to pay testament to their fame in Greek mythology. Little owls were linked to the godess Athena, perhaps because they bred in her temple, the Parthenon in Athens. The bird also became the symbol of the city, and its bug-eyed image was such a feature of Athenian silver coins – that they were known as “owls”.
Coincidentally, I came across last week this entry by George Orwell spotting a little owl back in January 1940,
No thaw. Unable to unfreeze pipes etc. Saw a little owl today – have not previously seen any of these round here.
- More on little owls from the RSPB (including sound recording of its cat-like call)