Why Are There So Many Night Owl Songs?

In the movie Baby Driver, Deborah (Lily James) tells Baby (Ansel Elgort) she admires his name because lots of songs are named for “Baby,” but she only knows one named “Debra,” by Beck. Baby knows one, too, “Debora” by T Rex, which singer/songwriter Mark Bolan makes rhyme perfectly with zebra, as “he could speak British English fluently.”

There are in fact at least ten songs about women named Debra or a variant thereof, including “Debbie Gibson is Pregnant with My Two-Headed Love Child” by Mojo Nixon. Rol, a witty but “humble music fan from the north of England,” documents them in one of his blog posts: http://histopten.blogspot.com/2015/11/my-top-ten-debra-deborah-debbie-songs.html
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When I started researching songs with “Night Owl” titles, I felt a little like Baby’s girlfriend Deborah at first. You mean there’s more than a couple of Night Owl songs? I could only think of Gerry Rafferty’s “Night Owl” and the Tony Allen “Night Owl,” mainly because I knew the Frank Zappa cover.

But I soon began to feel like Mickey as the sorcerer’s apprentice in Fantasia. Where did all these “Night Owl” songs suddenly come from? Doo wop Night Owls, folk rock Night Owls, hip hop/R&B Night Owls, country Night Owls, even heavy metal Night Owls. Eventually, I found more than two dozen different Night Owl songs written and recorded since 1951 — and I’m sure there are more out there. In fact, “Night Owl” song titles outnumber any other titles with the word “owl” in them, such as “Hoot Owl Boogie,” “Screech Owl Blues” and “Owl Lullaby.” (I’ll be writing about these in a separate post soon.)

So when I saw an article titled “What’s the Most Common Billboard Hot 100 Song Title?” I thought for sure “Night Owl” would make an appearance. To get mentioned in the article though, the title had to make the Chart at least 10 times since 1958. The number of times “Night Owl” made the Billboard Hot 100 — at least in the U.S., since the UK, Australia and Europe have their own charts — is exactly once.

Australia’s Little River Band’s “Night Owl” reached #6 in 1981. At least two other times though, “Night Owl” was the backside of a single that made the top 100: “Night Owl Blues” by the Lovin’ Spoonful was the backside of #2 “Daydream” in 1966; “Night Owl” by Wilson Pickett was the backside of #59 “Hey Joe” in 1969.

The earliest “Night Owl” I could find is a blues tune written in 1951 and sung by Lowell Fulson. The most recent “Night Owl” I’ve turned up is an electronic pop tune by Joseph Mount’s Metonomy released in 2016.
Between 1951 and 2016 at least 24 additional “Night Owl” songs have been recorded and released.

One of the reasons there are so many Night Owl songs is the versatility of the concept. We generally think of night owls as people who stay up late and party a lot. That’s the most popular theme for a Night Owl song. But there are several others.

The Night Owl Lovers

The first use of the term “night owl” to refer to a person was in Shakespeare’s poem “The Rape of Lucrece” in 1594.

… his guilty hand pluck’d up the latch,
And with his knee the door he opens wide.
The dove sleeps fast that this night-owl will catch

Human night owls may not be predators exactly, even metaphorically, but the term fits those who appreciate the freedoms of the night, the liberty to do things that daytime people are constrained from doing, to be expressive and maybe a little wild. This is the general profile of a night owl. They love the night time.

That’s what the “Night Owl” songs by these artists are about: James Taylor (folk rock), Eric Bellinger and Kito Dickson (R&B/hip hop), and even Foxes and Vaya Con Dios (pop).

But not everyone wants to be a night owl. Artists in some songs complain about being night owls, how it’s a condition their lovers have forced on them. Lowell Fulsome (blues) says, “I’m just a night owl, I roam the streets from dusk to dawn” looking for his lover. Kathleen Kruze (country) stays up all night. She can’t “get no rest,” she’s “just that obsessed.” The female voices in Little Big Town (country) sing, “I’m a night owl waiting for you.” And Metonomy’s Joseph Mount (pop) taunts his girlfriend who’s on the verge of leaving, “So let’s imagine right now/I’m just another night owl.”

Night Owl Druthers

Then there are the songs about how to deal with your night owl lover. Tony Allen (doo wop) has decided he’s had enough and tells his woman, “I know what you been putting down” and “there’s no reason to hang around. So long night owl/Be on your merry way.” Wilson Pickett (soul/R&B) issues his “night owl” a similar warning: “You gonna stick your key in my door/And you find it don’t fit no more.”

Gene Chandler scolds the teenage night owl he knows. “Your daddy told you long ago/Not to come in late no more.” Madeline Adams (folk/indie) tells her sweetie, “I don’t want to be a night owl,” and “if you love me in the day time darling/I never will.” Glen Shorrock and the Little River Band mock the night owls but can’t deny that “They have a need to rock and roll.”

The Night Owl as a State of Mind

These are the conventional night owl narratives. In 1979 though Gerry Rafferty took the night owl concept and shaped it to explain his own internal struggles. Gerry started to give the night owl concept an added dimension. Other artists who followed Rafferty would do the same, like indie folk artist Mree, rapper Phora, and death metal band Sadist. They may not even use “Night Owl” in their lyrics. The Night Owl becomes a symbol of their inner world.

The Night Owl Call to Action

Though as different from each other in style as a hawk from a handsaw, folk song writer Steve Tilston and Philo heavy metal band Slapshock have written songs about taking a stand. Steve Tilston’s lyrics use the night owl’s return as the signal to the people of Northeast England in the 10th century that it’s time to take arms and resist the Viking invaders. Slapshock likens its pride and resilience to the ubiquity of owls in the night.

The Wise Night Owl

Howard Tate wants advice on how to get his girl back in his soulful “Night Owl.” John Sebastian pays tribute to the famous Night Owl Cafe in Greenwich Village where he and others like James Taylor got their start in the ’60s. And folk singer Willie Aames actually wrote a song about a real night owl, capturing a rat to enjoy eating back in his nest.

I’ve written detailed entries about each Night Owl song, including the three instrumentals, in groups of chronological order. Also, here is a list of the songs by genre hyperlinked to their entries:


1. (I’m a) Night Owl – (1951) Lowell Fulson (blues)
2. The Sad Nite Owl – (1961) Freddy King (blues)
3. Night Owl Blues – (1966) Lovin’ Spoonful (blues)


1. Night Owl – (2011) Kathleen Kruze (country)
2. Night Owl – (2012) Little Big Town (country)

Doo Wop

1. Night Owl – (1955) Tony Allen (doo wop)
2. Night Owl – (1961) Gene Chandler and The Dukays (doo wop)

Folk Rock

1. Night Owl – (1972) James Taylor (folk rock)
2. Night Owl – (1979) Gerry Rafferty (folk rock)
3. (The) Night Owl – (1981) Little River Band (folk rock)
4. The Night Owl Café – (1993) John Sebastian (folk rock)

Indie Folk

1. Night Owl – (2011) Madeline Adams (indie/folk)
2. Night Owls – (2013) Mree (indie/folk)
3. The Night Owl Homeward Turns – (1997) Steve Tilston (folk)
4. Night Owls – (2014) Tiny Ruins (indie folk)


1. Night Owls – (1990) Vaya Con Dios (pop)
2. Night Owls Early Birds – (2014) Foxes (pop)
3. Night Owl – (2016) Metronomy (pop)

R&B Hip Hop

1. Night Owls – (2014) Phora (R&B/hip hop)
2. Night Owl – (2014) Kito Dickson (R&B/hip hop)
3. Night Owls – (2014) Eric Bellinger (R&B/hip hop)


1. Night Owl – (1969) Wilson Pickett (soul/R&B)
2. Night Owl – (1968) Howard Tate (soul/R&B)
3. Night Owl Walk – (1965) Booker T. & the MG’s (soul/R&B)

Night Owl Songs – 1951-66 Early Classics

1. (I’m a) Night Owl – (1951) Lowell Fulson (blues)
2. Night Owl (1955) – Tony Allen (doo wop)
3. Night Owl – (1961) Gene Chandler and The Dukays (doo wop)
4. The Sad Nite Owl – (1961) Freddy King (blues)
5. Night Owl Walk – (1965) Booker T. & the MG’s (soul/R&B)
6. Night Owl Blues – (1966) Lovin’ Spoonful(blues)

1. (I’m a) Night Owl – (1951) Lowell Fulson

This 1951 song is the earliest instance I can find of an American popular song with night owl in the title. “I’m a Night Owl” follows the 12-bar blues AAB formula in structure and message. As such, the song is a series of short one line verses repeated twice, followed by a refrain, with both parts rhyming. Lloyd Glenn is credited as the author, but like most blues writers he borrows heavily from traditional blues lyrics and concepts.

His lover is gone and he’s got the blues again. If that wasn’t bad enough, the whole world seems to be turning on him. It’s a typical blues trope. Complaints about duplicitous, unfaithful or treacherous women told with self-pity and whining about loneliness are staples of early blues. Bluesman Robert Johnson (1911- 1938) was particularly fond of writing these kinds of songs.

One of the nice features of this recording is the lush saxophone work of Stanley Turrentine. Ray Charles also played with Lowell Fulson in the early 50s and that is likely him on piano. In the 2004 film Ray, Lowell Fulson is portrayed by blues musician Chris Thomas King.

In the “Encyclopedia of the Blues,” Gerhard Herzhaft says, “[Lowell Fulson] along with T-Bone Walker is the creator of modern California blues. He is still close to his rural roots, although he borrows many inflections form jazz and the ballad … Lowell Fulson recorded some of the most beautiful postwar rural blues.”

Fulson is probably best known today for his raunchy 1970 recording of John Lennon’s “Why Don’t We Do It in the Road?”

In 1965 BB King recorded the same song. He sings the original two verses but drops the last two, which underscored the artist’s neediness. King ends his version with a sly question to his lover about whether she’s happy or not, because he doesn’t think they’ll ever meet again.

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2. Night Owl (1955) – Tony Allen

In Lowell Fulsom’s song he’s not a night owl by choice. The only reason he’s “roaming the streets from dusk to dawn” is to find his lover. She’s made him codependent.

The title of Tony Allen’s “Night Owl” refers to his lover, not himself. She’s a night owl — and he doesn’t call her that as a compliment. The piano bangs out chords in triplets. Somebody shouts “who, who” like an owl every now then. The backup singers wail “Ooh, Night Owl” and “shoo bee wah.” When Tony Allen greets his lover, there’s no self-pity or even chastisement in his message. He’s not having any more of it. “So long, night owl,” he says. And he sends her on her “merry way.”

The story behind “Night Owl,” according to what Tony Allen himself wrote on the Doo-Wop Society of Southern California’s website in 1999 is that:

“Night owl was a name my ‘mother’ Nila had for me because I was always staying out late at night. I turned that phrase into a little song and recorded it on July 4, 1955, at Master Recorders in Hollywood, with The Chimes singing behind me, even though they were billed on the record as The Champs. [The Chimes were a doo-wop group from Brooklyn.]

“Thanks to “Night Owl” being such a big hit around Southern California and other parts of the country, I’m always singing somewhere these days. I’ve sung at five or six Doo-Wop Society shows. My favorite was the time Gaynel Hodge, Richard Berry, Eugene Church and I formed a vocal group together, a one-time-only group, and sang our asses off.”

There are at least six covers of this song.

Dick Dale and the Del-tones covered it on their first album, “Surfer’s Choice,” in 1962. Although arguably the first surf rock tune, “Let’s Go Trippin,'” appeared on this album, the Del-tones version of Tony Allen’s “Night Owl” stays true to the doo-wop style.

Frank Zappa loved doo-wop and he does a brilliant cover. Ray Collins’ falsetto chorus reminds me of “Stay” by Maruice Williams and the Zodiacs.

Tim Timebomb made this cover in 2012 sounding like a mafia don telling his Molly she’s off the goombah payroll. She can still work at the Bata Bing but now she’s got to find a pole to dance with.

Here are some of the notes Tim Timebomb included with his cover:

“This was done at Ryan Foltz’s place in Cleveland with the Ohio Ramblers. I’ve heard three versions of this song, and I dig them all. One is by Tony Allen and The Champs from the 50s, another is by Bobby Paris, which was a Northern Soul hit in the 60’s, and there’s a great reggae version by Horace Andy from the early 70s. Our rhythm is like the Bobby Paris version, and our chorus is more like Tony Allen’s. If I ever met Horace, I’d ask him what version he was influenced by. I feel this is the kinda song where everyone adds something to every new version as it floats down the river of music. Our addition to the ‘Night Owl’ was our call and response Outro.”

There is also a cover by Soul Hooligan from 1997

Sorry for all the covers I’ve embedded. I like them all for different reasons. And I just love the song.

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3. Night Owl – (1961) Gene Chandler and The Dukays

In 1961, Eugene Dixon (Gene Chandler) wrote both “Night Owl” and the song he’s best known for, “The Duke of Earl.” But according to an interview, Dixon gave to Tom Popson of the Chicago Tribune in 1985, Dixon had a problem. Even though “Night Owl,” which Dixon had recorded with the Dukays on the Nat label, was climbing up the charts, Nat was not interested in recording “Duke of Earl.” Vee-Jay Records was interested in buying “Duke of Earl” from Dixon, but because he was under contract to Nat, he wouldn’t be able to record the song for Vee-Jay — unless he quit Nat and came over to Vee-Jay. Which he did. Because his Nat contract did not permit him to record under his own name for any other label, he adopted the name Gene Chandler (after his favorite actor, Jeff Chandler). Vee-Jay also purchased the rights to “Night Owl,” and the song is available on both labels.

Like Lowell Fulsom’s “Night Owl,” Dixon’s song with its sassy tenor solo is a doo-wop classic, with a . But the year is 1961 and R&B lyrics are more urban now. The night owl in Dixon’s song is a teenage boy, being scolded by another family member, probably his younger brother or sister. He doesn’t listen to his father because he thinks “that he’s a square.” The instrumentation is minimal, with a simple, steady drum beat. The lyrics are conversational with lots of words repeated and nonsense syllables in the backup chorus.

The Tren-Dells, a white Louisville, KY group, also recorded Chandler’s tune in 1962. There’s a sassy tenor sax at about 1:30.

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4. The Sad Nite Owl – (1961) Freddy King

In 1961, Freddy King’s instrumental “Hide Away” reached number five on the R&B charts and even busted into the pop charts at number 29. Eric Clapton, Stevie Ray Vaughn and Jeff Healey would later record covers of it — Healey’s version was nominated for a Grammy in 1988. After the success of “Hide Away,” King’s producer at Federal Records encouraged him to record more instrumentals. Over the next three years, King and his band recorded 30 instrumentals including “The Sad Nite Owl.”

Freddy King is often referred to as one of the “Three Kings” of electric blues guitar, along with Albert King and B.B. King. Freddy King was inducted to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2012.

In his book, “Obsessions of a Music Geek,” Ted Drozdowski writes: “King’s instrumentals crossed over more effectively than those of his blues contemporaries because of his compositional intellect. He wove a sophisticated sonic tale into the 12-bar form, employing arrangements rather than jams, with hooks melodies, bridges and distinct movements.”

Guitar teachers often start students who want to learn the blues with King’s “Sad Nite Owl.” It’s a standard instrumental for many blues groups.

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5. Night Owl Walk – (1965) Booker T. & the MG’s

As the house band for Stax records in the 1960s, Booker T. & the M.G.’s laid down a distinctive funky soul backup heard on hundreds of R&B recordings by artists such as Wilson Pickett, Otis Redding, Sam & Dave, Rufus Johnson, Bill Withers, Albert King and others. They also recorded instrumentals under their own name, featuring Booker T on the Hammond organ. Booker T explores the Hammond’s rich, breathy tones, playing short, staccato bursts, sustained chords over multiple bars and nice little blues and jazz runs up and down the keyboard.

Most people know the band’s 1962 hit, “Green Onions.” If you like “Green Onions,” you’ll like the “Night Owl Walk.”

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6. Night Owl Blues – (1966) Lovin’ Spoonful

Back in the early 1960s, The Lovin’ Spoonful began appearing at the Night Owl Cafe on West 3rd Street in the Village. The music they and others were playing started to be called folk-rock, reflecting the changes folk music was undergoing under the influence of Bob Dylan, the Beatles, and others.

Unlike the Byrds and other folk artists of the time, such as Joan Baez and even bands like the Jefferson Airplane, the Spoonful’s music carried no political messages. This and the quality of their music appealed to the producers at NBC-TV and Screen Gems Productions and they tried to persuade the band to come to Hollywood to be in a TV series revolving around life as members of a youth rock band. The Spoonful prized their freedom too much and declined. So Hollywood created the Monkees instead.

The “Night Owl Blues,” a sassy blues instrumental, is a tribute to the Spoonful’s Greenwich Village venue. It was released as the backside of the Spoonful’s big hit, the old-timey, laid back “Daydream,” which reached #2 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1966. John Sebastian opens with some sweet harmonica riffs, followed by a couple of bluesy guitar choruses by Zal Yanovsky while Joe Butler keeps time on drums. Many years later, in 1996, John Sebastian would write another song dedicated to the Night Owl Café, this time including lyrics. (See #13)

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Night Owl Songs – 1968-90

7. Night Owl – (1968) Howard Tate (doo wop)
8. Night Owl – (1969) Wilson Pickett (soul/R&B)
9. Night Owl – (1972) James Taylor (folk rock)
10. Night Owl – (1979) Gerry Rafferty (folk rock)
11. (The) Night Owl – (1981) Little River Band (folk rock)
12. Night Owls – (1990) Vaya Con Dios (pop)

7. Night Owl – (1968) Howard Tate

In this Night Owl composition, the singer can’t find his woman again. But he shares his troubles with the “wise night owl” and pleads for “Help.”

Howard Tate croons the lyrics in a jumping, funk style, punctuating his lines with shimmering falsetto trills. He gets solid backup from a rhythm section of guitar, electric bass, vibes, organ, piano and drums; and a horn section — trumpets, saxes and a trombone — that stabs and wails in counterpoint riffs and chords, James Brown style.

The song’s authorship is credited to his producer Jerry Rogovoy, who also wrote “Time is on My Side,” made popular by the Rolling Stones. Rogovny also co-wrote “Piece of my Heart,” made famous by Janis Joplin.

Log Cabin Music Critic Rob O’Connor has said the fact “that Howard Tate isn’t a household name is a true crime. Tate is on par with the greatest soul singers, from Marvin Gaye to James Brown.”

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8. Night Owl – (1969) Wilson Pickett

Don Covey’s lyrics to this Night Owl effort start from the same premise as Tony Allen’s — his lover is a night owl — but Wilson Picket isn’t sending her off on her “merry way.” Not just yet. She had better “get her program right” though. “Night Owl” was the backside of Pickett’s cover of “Hey Joe,” which reached #29 on the R&B charts and #59 on the pop charts in 1969

Electric guitar and Hammond organ play riffs on top of each other, while the horn section wails long sustained chords against Picket’s staccato phrases. Sometimes it’s just Pickett and the drums working together building momentum until the horns, organ and guitar come back full force. You’ll recognize this sound if you’re a Blues Brothers fan. After being mentioned several times in the first Blues Brothers film in 1980, Wilson Pickett appeared in the 1998 Blues Brothers 2000. He performed “634-5789’ with Eddie Floyd and Jonny Lang. “If you need a little lovin’, call on me.”

By the time Wilson Pickett recorded “Night Owl,” he had already enjoyed huge success with “In the Midnight Hour” (1965; #1 R&B, #21 US pop) , “Land of 1,000 Dances” (1965; #1 R&B, #6 US pop) and “Mustang Sally” (1966; #6 R&B, #23 US pop).

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9. Night Owl – (1972) James Taylor

Taylor’s “Night Owl” is the first instance I’ve found of an artist taking ownership of the night owl mantel. He’s not complaining about anyone he knows being a night owl. He himself is a night owl and he’s proud of it. Most folks “like the good day time,” but not Taylor.

Taylor was inspired to write “Night Owl” when he performed at the Nite Owl Café in Greenwich Village. He, like John Sebastian and the Lovin’ Spoonful, also played there in the mid-1960s.

There are several covers of the song, including by Cleo Lane (1971), his older brother Alex Taylor (1971), Carly Simon — who would soon be married to Taylor for a short time — with backup vocals by Paul and Linda McCartney (1972), Pamela Knowles (1996), and Ile Kaillio (2007).

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10. Night Owl – (1979) Gerry Rafferty

In his lyrics to “Night Owl,” which reached #5 on the UK Billboard chart, Gerry Rafferty evokes the same sense of disconnect and alienation as in his major hit “Baker Street,” released two years earlier in 1977 (#2 US #3 UK).

When night comes he feels alone and looks for solace in the bars and alcohol and “in a space and time” of his own. Losing himself in dreams and shadows he finally regains his sense of life’s flow. We feel the longing in Rafferty’s isolation. But the flow of the music undercuts the alienation of the words and we lose ourselves in the Rafferty’s warm vocal, the swaying rhythm, and Raphael Ravenscroft’s sweet Lyricon solo (he had played the signature sax riff on “Baker Street”).

In a significant way with Rafferty, artists start to bend the concept of the night owl to reflect their very personal struggles and perceptions. The words “night owl” don’t even appear in the lyrics. Rafferty uses night owl to describe a state of mind. Until now artists had used the night owl only as a metaphor in a commentary. The night owl was an external phenomenon. In Rafferty’s song, night owl represents an existential dilemma.

The folk rock rhythm and chords, too, are a departure from the blues tradition that had framed Night Owl songs until now. The underpinnings of the 12-bar blues are gone. The song switches between major and minor chords in the verse, with most of the chorus in two major chords. Rafferty was greatly influenced by his Scottish folk traditions, the Beatles and Bob Dylan, as well as other UK bands of the 70s.

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11. (The) Night Owl – (1981) Little River Band

Remember “Night Owl” by the Dukays? That song upbraids a teenager for being out night-owling all the time. When songwriter Graeham Goble wrote his “Night Owl” for the Australian group Little River Band many years later, he might have been thinking about the further adventures of this kid. Gerry Rafferty’s “Night Owl” might have also come to mind.

Little River Band’s night owl is slightly delusional, but that’s his fate. He finds a bar where he can hang out, show off his dance moves and win the girl. He stays up late and works his craft. He’s determined he’ll score because, well, he’s hot stuff. But he’s not really. And besides, he has a “need to rock and roll.”

The situation in Little River Band’s tune is not that different from Gerry Rafferty’s need to resolve his alienation.

When Michael H. Little reviewed “The Night Owl” in a recent Vinyl District column, he called the song “the idiot love child of the Eagles and REO Speedwagon and worth its weight in chuckles.” Little is right about the lyrics, of course, but I think it was Goble’s intent to make his night owl somewhat pathetic and a bit laughable — and mortal. Note the sexual double entendre in the second line.

“The Night Owls” was on the Billboard US pop chart for 20 weeks in 1981 and reached #6.

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12. Night Owls – (1990) Vaya Con Dios

The Night Owl song written in 1990 by Belgian singer/lyricist/producer Dani Klein and the other two members of her trio, Vaya Con Dios, takes a sociological perspective. The night owls have been sleeping all day but they “come alive at night” “dressed to the nines.”

The men and women hang out in groups where they calculate moves on their next victims. Sexual seduction is one goal, but so is getting high. Women seduce men with sex, men seduce women with drugs. But a good time is had by all. It’s what you do at night. Party time.

The lyrics are playful but cynical. Most importantly, it’s a great dance tune. “Night Owl” is up-tempo jazz rock played with brassy gypsy flair. Of course, there’s the obligatory owl chorus: “Who, who, who, yeah.” In the video, sultry Dani Klein in a tight yellow dress sways and dances and there’s no doubt everybody’s loving it.

Another song on the same album as “Night Owl,” “Nah neh nah,” which reached #7 on the Belgium (Flanders) charts, has a sassy jazz rock gypsy groove similar to “Night Owl.” “Night Owl” peaked in Belgium at #42.

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Night Owls Songs – 1993-2011

13. The Night Owl Café – (1993) John Sebastian (folk rock)
14. The Night Owl Homeward Turns – (1997) Steve Tilston (folk)
15. Night Owl – (2010) Sadist (death metal)
16. Night Owl – (2010) Willie Ames (folk)
17. Night Owl – (2011) Kathleen Kruze (country)
18. Night Owl – (2011) Madeline Adams (indie/folk)

13. The Night Owl Café – (1993) John Sebastian

John Sebastian channels his nostalgia for the old Night Owl Café at the corner of 3rd and MacDougall in Greenwich Village into a bittersweet lament to its demise. It’s a tribute song, much like John’s classic “Nashville Cats” was a tribute to the “Mothers and the music of Nashville.” Sadly though, since 1993 there’s been “no more music at the Night Owl Cafe.”

The song reflects John’s casual relaxed attitude and has a nice folk – country – rock style, plus one of John’s sweet harmonica solos.

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14. The Night Owl Homeward Turns – (1997) Steve Tilston

It’s probably only fortuitous that Steve Tilston’s song is a Night Owl song since the title is simply the first line of his folk song about the English resistance to Viking invaders in the 10th century: “The night owl homeward turns.” For the only role of the night owl is how it marks the dawn by returning to its nest, signaling the English to gather forces and defend their land.

In this way, though, it’s like one other Night Owl song I found, Slapshock’s “Night Owl,” which I’d also say is a call to action song. Of course, though the themes are similar, the two songs and artists couldn’t be more different from each other in style.

In the video, Maggie Boyle sings the song accompanied by Steve Tilston.

Tilston’s “Night Owl” is often sung by people protesting for rights, as in Ireland and in the women’s rights movement in the U.S.

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15. Night Owl – (2010) Sadist

[This is the full album; “Night Owl” starts at 22:10]

The Italian techno-progressive death metal band Sadist has composed a terrifying Night Owl. If you’re not that familiar with death metal or its many sub genres (me, not much), this music will take a few listens to get used to. But Sadist’s “Night Owl” is quite interesting.

As the “Night Owl” track on the album begins, the first thing we notice is how the rapid broken chord figures sounding like chimes that underscores most of the album has stopped. But the atmosphere isn’t any less chilly for the change. We are entering a blizzard. Following a short jazz chord progression, vocalist Trevor Nadir and the band explode with sound. He screams blood-curdling grunts and snarls against a free-for-all of pounding cymbals and drums, guitar chords and ascending four note runs. Eventually, the drums and rhythm section assert a triple meter rhythm.

The intensity is too much to keep up though and soon, the force of that explosion dissipates and there’s a brief calm. The bass plays rapid figures against synth chords and light cymbal drumming. We start to discern an eerie voice calling out. It must be the night owl. But then, chaos returns. We hear snarling vocal lines again, the triple rhythms are back, accompanied by increasingly frantic drumming.

Finally, guitar and synth join in harmony for a sweet melodic passage which for a brief moment makes us wonder if the song will transition to something soft and jazzy. No, here comes chaos again, though with less force this time. It fizzles quickly, as Nadir’s snarls end with a roar and the sound of the night owl returns. Underneath the owl’s moaning we hear the bass play little eighth note patterns and the drummer taps his cymbals lightly with drumsticks.

Just as the music presents a varied and often violent soundscape, the words paint a world of unsettling images and extreme contrasts. Sadist’s “Night Owl” is about lost innocence, a theme which is to death metal what nostalgia is to country music. Though others dance and rise and fall to the music, the song of the bent man is gone. Maybe because he’s dead. The only song in this world is the night owl’s. It kills everything. Just another day in death metal hell.

Even if you listen very carefully and though the lyrics are in English, it’s impossible to make them out. This, however, suits the band’s intent, to make you focus on the sounds and the feelings they arouse, not cognitive understanding. Each cut of the album, including “Night Owl,” is a journey through strange unpredictable soundscapes.

Gerry Rafferty created a Night Owl world that represented his state of mind. In that sense what Sadist has created is no different. Sadist creates its sonic world by pushing limits. That spooky night owl chant we hear is a reminder of our mortality, our lost innocence and even the meaninglessness of life. Darkness, despair, pessimism? Well, the band’s name is Sadist.

Here’s another take: In 2010, the Encyclopedia Metallum reviewed the concept album Season in Silence, which “Night Owl appears on and said this: “The album consists of a dazzling exhibit of inner torments as Sadist free[s] the very spirit from your being through a graceful aggression of chugged guitars, popping bass and smooth, corporeal solo work. … ‘Night Owl’ flows like a stream of cold melancholy through a room full of low-key 80s progressive rock dreamers, their music store branded t-shirts tucked deep into their clean blue jeans, their mullets and thin ‘staches flexing against the inevitable breakout of monstrous thrashing that Sadist will often explode into out of almost nowhere.”

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16. Night Owl – (2010) Willie Ames

Willie Ames’ 2010 “Night Owl” is the only Night Owl song I’ve ever heard that’s actually about a night owl. Ames was probably inspired by the film Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole, also released in 2010. His music video includes clips from the film.

Ames finger picks his acoustic guitar, singing about the night owl looking for a kill, “it’s rodent’s guts he’s hungry to spill.” The night owl soars through the air, locates his prey with the help of his powerful hearing, scoops up a rat and brings it to his nest. Afterward, the night owl displays some anthropomorphic behavior (asserting his unwillingness to “share” with others, “getting laid,” “providing a nest”) and gets a “full days rest” after a “hard night’s work.”

It’s not clear what’s become of Willie Ames the past couple of years. There are no posts to his website or his Facebook after 2015, but his Night Owl single and the other tunes on his Night Owl album were well received by critics.

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17. Night Owl – (2011) Kathleen Kruze

Kathleen Kruze is a night owl because she thinks about her lover all night long. She can’t “get no rest,” she’s “just that obsessed.”

The song opens with a sugary piano played Nashville style that reminds you of Crystal Gayle’s “Don’t You Make My Brown Eyes Blue.” There’s no signature piano hook, though, like the one Hargus “Pig” Robbins created for Gayle’s song, which really made that song work so well. Plus, the country piano keeps morphing into cocktail jazz.

“Night Owl” has a bluesy vibe and while Kruze’s voice is smooth and silky, we’re not convinced she’s troubled much about her night owl obsession. Her voice is so soothing you get the impression she’s not complaining about her lover’s lack of attention. More likely she’s doing a little buttering up, testifying about her devotion, putting her insomnia to good use.

I was shocked that the YouTube video had received only 6 views since it was posted in 2014. It’s a sweet little tune.

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18. Night Owl – (2011) Madeline Adams

Madeline, a folk singer from Athens, Ga, doesn’t want to be a night owl. Night owl life is a party scene and she wants no part of that. It bores her.

Her voice on “Night Owl” is clear and strong. She sounds a like a southern Carly Simon, but back in the 70s at least, Carly didn’t mind being a night owl. Madeline, on the other hand, will go to bed with someone who loves her but basically, she’s there to sleep. Not party.

She also has a lot of “don’ts” for her lover, the first being that she doesn’t want to be a possum. That’s a curious comparison, I thought. I looked up possum in the Urban Dictionary and found two definitions that might fit here. The top definition of possum is “a great drinking game where players have to sit in a tree, like a possum and consume a pack of 24 beers, preferably Speights [a New Zealand beer], until they fall out of the tree from drunkenness.” I could see how that’s not a party game she’d want to repeat often. She also says “I don’t want to act a fool,” so there’s that too.

And there’s also this possum definition: “The act of a girl faking she is asleep after 1-2 drinks at a party to avoid the creepy guy in the corner that has been trying to get with her all night.”

I am labeling this the definitive anti-Night Owl song.

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Night Owl Songs – 2012-16

19. Night Owl – (2012) Little Big Town (country)
20. Night Owls – (2013) Mree (indie/folk)
21. Night Owls – (2014) Eric Bellinger (R&B/hip hop)
22. Night Owls – (2014) Slapshock (heavy metal)
23. Night Owls Early Birds – (2014) Foxes (pop)
24. Night Owls – (2014) Tiny Ruins (indie folk)
25. Night Owls – (2014) Phora (R&B/hip hop)
26. Night Owl – (2014) Kito Dickson (R&B/hip hop)
27. Night Owl – (2016) Metronomy (pop)

19. Night Owl – (2012) Little Big Town

Country music vocal group Little Big Town’s “Night Owl” is a sentimental ballad about lovers yearning to be reunited. The man drives home while the woman waits patiently. They’re both so anxious.

Even before the first strum of the acoustic guitar, the female voices (Karen Fairchild and Kimberly Schlapman) softly coo “ooooo oooo” like night owls. Then both male and female members of the group start an exchange of verses. The male voices (Jim Westbrook and Phillip Sweet) are first, singing about counting the signposts and landmarks they pass as they drive home. They’re hoping to see their sweethearts soon. The female voices reply, they’re dreaming of their lovers, waiting and staying up like night owls until they see the “bright headlights coming over the hill.”

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20. Night Owls – (2013) Mree

Mree (Marie Hsiao) is an indie folk singer-songwriter from New Jersey. Her voice on “Night Owl” from her album Winterwell is soft, relaxed and dreamy.

With images of the sun and darkness, she explains how in her heart she resolves the tension between having feelings for someone and realizing those feelings are not mutual. Her words are vague but I take them to mean that she withdraws to her inner world, her creative space. The light like the truth is harsh, so she finds solace in shadows and darkness, where she can work things out. She is the night owl, loving the darkness. But she admits that her retreat does not change the fact she will still love the person who caused these conflicted feelings.

Under her breathy singing, Mree strums a gentle ostinato figure while shimmering background voices and sometimes mellow horns fade in and out, creating a wispy, dreamy mood. Mree likes to create moods. She explains her approach to creating Winterwell: “I wanted these songs to be able to put you in a state of mind where you can not only hear, but feel the music … To place you, for example, in the middle of the hollowed echoes and beautiful bitterness of winter in the middle of the summer.”

“[This music] shows Mree taking a new direction,” said music critic Leah Herrick on his blog when Winterwell was released in 2013. “Overall I loved Winterwell. I was surprised by the difference between Mree’s previous work and this new sound, but it was a risk that paid off. Mree shows a creativity and self-awareness that’s sometimes beyond more seasoned musicians. Winterwell leaves very little to be desired and I would recommend it to any one in the mood for something a little different.”

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21. Night Owls – (2014) Eric Bellinger

Songwriter and singer Eric Bellinger, Jr has written songs for Usher, Drake, Justin Bieber and others.

He sings “Night Owls” on his mixtape Choose Up Season. The song has a sexy R&B beat and some nice falsetto improvising in the chorus. Bellinger’s night owl is one of those party guys that Vaya Con Dias sings about and Madeline doesn’t want to have anything to do with.

Since the song is part of a mixtape, though, you have to consider it in context. Things always start off superficially for night owls, but after a whle, things can settle in and get “awkward,” as Bellinger puts it in his notes to the mixtape:

“The single life in LA is wild. And the ‘CHOOSE UP’ can get very real. After you choose up, it’s time to leave the club and get your car from [the] ‘VALET’ before continuing the turn up with a ‘HOUSE PARTY’ at the crib. If things go right, you know she’ll [be] pulling out the ‘NIGHT BAG’ and talking to ‘THE PILLOW’ while the two of you become ‘NIGHT OWLS.’ However, it’s usually agreed upon in the beginning that the two of you will ‘NEVER BE TOGETHER’ and that things are just ‘CASUAL’ until one of them catches feelings and things instantly get ‘AWKWARD.”

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22. Night Owls – (2014) Slapshock

Filipino heavy metal band Slapshock sings a pulsating hard driving “Night Owl” full of angst and rebellion. They “just keep coming back.” In spite of what people think, what the media says, their dreams are alive. They are strong, “ready to attack.” They will “never die.” They are “Like a dark owl in the night.”

As a call to action, Slapshock’s “Night Owls” is in some respects like Steve Tilston’s “The Night Owl Homeward Turns.” But Tilston’s message is somber, fateful and earnest. The people are called to arms, but reluctantly. “We must push tears from our eyes.” The “young men’s talk is brave” but “their courage [flows] from a jug.” There’s no circumspection for Slapshock. Their words are full of defiance, purpose, pride and righteousness. In Jackie Dosmanos’ review of “Night Owl” for ABS-CBN News, he said, “On the title track, the singer declares, ‘We will survive/We will never die.” It would appear schlock coming from any other artist. Slapshock, however, make it sound like survival is their collective destiny.”

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23. Night Owls Early Birds – (2014) Foxes

Foxes is the stage name of Louisa Rose Allen, a British singer, songwriter and actress. Her “Night Owls Early Birds” could have been on Eric Bollinger’s mixtape Choose Up Season if he wanted to include a female perspective. Carl Willfott in Idolator describes her music as “darkly elegant synth-pop.” She calls it “experimental pop.”

Foxes’ “Night Owl Early Birds” is a savvy, world-weary dance tune. She starts by describing the embarrassment of being a night owl early bird leaving someone’s flat to “do the walk of shame” home “in your best dress.” There’s a nihilistic inevitability about how night comes and “we’re all under the ground/can’t be found.” The “save me save me” chorus is catchy. But the plea is rhetorical. She wants to let the fire burn and “feel the embers warming.” She wonders why she looks like she’s “wear for worse?” Redemption someday maybe.

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24. Night Owl – (2014) Tiny Ruins

Tiny Ruins is an indie folk ensemble from Auckland, New Zealand, led by Hollie Fullbrook.

Their “Night Owl” is a soft, slow paced peaceful meditation on arriving “home,” where there’s no fear of “the clambering day,” of “laying low,” “forgiveness,”

And the sound of my heart turning the days
Bitter blood into a haze

Time to rest and unwind after a bad day at the office. The song is so restful you might fall asleep, the way a lullaby lulls you to sleep.

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25. Night Owls – (2014) Phora

Phora (Marco Archer) raps a Night Owl song of pride, defiance and social commentary. The words “night owl” don’t appear in his song, but what night owl means to him is the same as what night owl means to Hollie Fullbrook and Tiny Ruins: a time to unwind.

Before he begins his “Night Owls” video, we see Phora walking down some poorly lit urban street past parked cars and empty sidewalks. He gives us a short intro, saying, “Yeah, it’s that late night early morning type shit, you know. Just got to get some shit off my chest.” Then he begins. He raps about how he’s not interested in “fancy cars” or the “system” or “the haters.” He can take care of himself, too. He can “fill a clip and pull the trigger so quick” “that you won’t hear the click.” Archer has creds. He’s survived a stabbing and two shootings.

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26. Night Owl – (2014) Kito Dickson

Kito Dickson and his crew want to “make it happen” and “party like we’re nineteen” because he’s a “Night Owl.”

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27. Metronomy – (2016) Night Owl

I hear a breakup song in Metronomy’s “Night Owl.” The narrative is mocking, sarcastic and petulant. But there’s a lot of good lines: “I’ll take the feelings that I wish I never had/You take your favorite band, that shit was always bad.” His girlfriend is on the verge of leaving him, so he taunts her about getting right back into the night owl scene. “So let’s imagine right now/I’m just another night owl.”

It’s wicked funny and you get the impression Mount isn’t the only one slinging verbal assaults around. He likely gets back as good as he gives. It’s probably what gives him the energy to keep punching out word thrusts.

I’m not sure I agree completely with the Guardian’s Phil Mongredien’s assessment of Summer 08, released in 2016, the album that “Night Owl” appears on. But he explains the premise and makes some good points:

“Joseph Mount looks back to 2008 and the release of Nights Out. The resulting Summer 08 captures that record’s sleek, quirky synthpop with an eye out for sincerity, saving it from falling into that nostalgic trap of lacking self-awareness, but simultaneously keeping it away from real revelations. …

Witty, sarcastic self-awareness and winking nostalgia have always been a part of the Metronomy equation. Mount once called Nights Out “a half-arsed concept album about going out and having a crap time,” after all. … After starting strong, Summer 08 fizzles out, much like a failed night on the town — especially a failed night for someone already eight years removed from their prime “going out and having a crap time” nights. The beats start to slow and blend together, much like nights at the club remembered years later. But remembering shitty nights at the club has its own special sort of self-schadenfreude. Mount has a good time mocking himself and loving the music, and both come through loud and clear.”

I do agree that Mount has a good time mocking himself and loving the music.

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America’s Best Owl Commercials

Owl commercials have been around a long time. At least since 1969, when Tootsie Roll’s Mr. Owl first tried to answer the question, “How many licks does it take to get to the Tootsie Roll center of a Tootsie Pop.”

Whether Mr. Owl was really wise or a fraud taking advantage of a curious but naïve little boy is not clear. But we can be sure of one thing. Mr. Owl got the part because owls are supposed to be wise.

The wise owl is a trope. Let me define trope. A trope is any recognizable character, plot, setting or other dramatic device. Tropes repeat a characteristic or pattern of behavior or occurrence we’ve seen or read before and recognize as such. A movie chase scene, a spouse who dislikes their mother-in-law, deliberately going down to the cellar in a horror film — all tropes. If a trope becomes too predictable we call it a cliché. The wise owl is probably a cliché but let’s be charitable.

The wise owl trope is important. It’s the main hook for advertisers like America’s Best Eyeglasses, Trip Advisor and XYZAL. We’re going to look at their owl commercials in a minute.

But the wise owl trope isn’t the only owl trope in commercials. Especially not in the last few years, with so many more owl commercials on television.

Why so many more owl commercials? Partly because owls are just more prominent in the culture. We see owls in music videos by Drake and Justin Bieber, in the Harry Potter movies and on television shows like Parks and Rec, Archer and Family Guy. There are even non-documentary movies starring owls like “Legends of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole.”

A few years ago someone posted a forum comment with a list of well over a dozen instances of owls he had recently spotted on television, which he said was a small fraction of what he had managed to jot down. The frequency of owl sightings has probably increased since then.

When you make owl commercials these days, you need to appreciate that audiences are more sophisticated. They just know more. This is good because as comedian Del Close says, “the more you know, the more you can make fun of.”

How many owl tropes can you spot in an owl commercial? After watching a couple of dozen recent owl commercials I counted at least seven.

  1. Wise owl
  2. Nighttime bird
  3. “Who” and other owl vocalizations
  4. Rotating head
  5. Extraordinary sight
  6. Extraordinary hearing
  7. Spooky owl

In a commercial for the GMC Terrain SLE-1, an owl turns its head 90 degrees as the voiceover says the truck has a rear vision camera. (Rotating head trope)

Often tropes are combined. The Cracker Barrel Campfire Meals commercial shows a campfire by a lake in a woodsy setting. As a large human hand picks up a match, strikes it and lights the campfire, we’re surprised to learn we’re looking at a picture. The owl in the picture registers its surprise, too, by spinning its head 360 degrees a couple of times. (nighttime bird and rotating head tropes.)

At the end of a Simply Orange commercial (“Plant Tour”) emphasizing how Simply Orange is not made from concentrate, just natural oranges, an owl, “the night watchman” of the orchard, we’re told, says, “Who, who, who.” (Nighttime bird and Who tropes)

The “who” trope is very popular. GEICO uses it in one of its “15 minutes could save you 15% or more on car insurance” non-sequiturs. “Did you know some owls aren’t that wise?” a woman asks her husband after seeing a GEICO billboard. Scene shifts to a couple of owls talking:

Female Owl: Don’t forget I’m having lunch with Megan tomorrow.
Male Owl: Who?
Female Owl: Megan, my coworker.
Male Owl: Who?
Female Owl: Seriously, you met her like three times.
Male Owl: Who?
Female owl sighs.
(Wise Owl and Who tropes)

A real-life couple, Jordan Peele (MADtv) and Chelsea Peretti (Brooklyn Nine-nine), wants a perfect wedding destination. They use Booking.com and consider getting married in a yurt on a sandy beach. Their fantasy is interrupted when they see an owl in the yurt puffing itself up, probably to frighten away possible predators. ( Spooky owl trope)


The Spooky owl trope is new, so maybe it’s not really a trope yet. As people learn more about owls, maybe more owl behaviors will become tropes, such as how owls need to eat about 20% of their own body weight per day. Or how Pygmy owls have false eyes in the back of their heads to deceive predators. Or how most owls don’t build their own nests, they use nests built by woodpeckers and others. Or how female owls are usually bigger than males. So many new jokes await viewers of the future.

There may be more owl tropes today, but the anchor trope, the wise owl trope, is essential. It’s why advertisers like America’s Best Eyeglasses, Trip Advisor and XYZAL have owls as their spokes-animal.

America’s Best Owl

When America’s Best Eyeglasses introduced their new owl icon in 2015, “we wanted to show the personality of the brand in a way that was both endearing and enduring,” said Dale Hruby, principal of The Richards Group, which created the ad campaign for America’s Best.

The running gag is that the America’s Best Eyeglasses owl is a pretty hip bird. He’s an authority on getting the best deal when buying eyeglasses and he knows all the owl jokes. He — it’s a he, the owl is played by Chris Fries (“Want Fries with that?” is his slogan for pitching VO gigs) — either sets up the humans for the joke or cracks it himself with his droll sense of humor.

In “Who,” a man carrying groceries is told by the eyeglass-wearing owl that he paid too much for his glasses.

“Who?” asks the man.
“You. You paid too much.”
“Practically everyone. Unless you shopped at America’s Best.”
“America’s Best, where two pairs of glasses and a free eye exam are just $69.95.”
“Yeah, that’s American’s Best.”
“Just keep up,” says the owl.


It’s a nice reversal of roles with the man saying “who” instead of the owl.

In “Air Optix Colors,” the “Who” trope is reversed in another way. The owl answers the man’s questions with all the interrogatives except “who:”

Finally, the man says, “Why are you doing this?”
“It’s funny,” says the owl.


In “Stop It,” the owl talks to a woman on park bench. When she starts getting a little too cute with all her “who’s” and “too’s,” he tells her to “stop it.”

In “Turn Heads,” it’s the “Who” joke again at first. He tells a woman (Cyrina Fiallo who plays “Vonnie” on Good Luck Charlie) sitting at a table that she paid too much for her designer glasses. Then the eye-glass wearing owl spins his head in a full rotation. Each time his head does a rotation he’s wearing a different pair of designer frames.

When the owl says “Get ready to…,” the woman cuts him off with what she thinks he’s going to say. “Turn some heads?” she asks, triumphantly. “Save money,” says the owl. He’s still the clever one.



In “So Cute,” the a woman he’s talking to screams “so cute.” She’s a little tweaked up from too much coffee. The owl reminds her that owls have sensitive hearing.


They’re clever ads, but I have a question. Why does an owl need to wear glasses? An owl’s vision is about ten times better than a human’s.

Nigel, the XYZAL Owl

Like the America’s Best owl, the XYZAL owl seems to be troubled by poor vision. He wears a monocle. Maybe that’s why these two owls are working in commercials instead of hunting voles and other rodents.

The XYZAL owl is an animated version of what looks like a Great Horned Owl with polished British manners. We find him in a softly lit, richly paneled study full of books. It may be his home or his club. He is definitely the kind of anthropomorphic owl who would belong to a gentleman’s club. He wears a smoking jacket and a bow tie and speaks BBC English (voiced by William John Austin).

As baroque music plays in the background, Nigel stands on his brown leather club chair and tells us how allergy sufferers should try XYZAL because it “may help with itchy nose, throat and eyes as well as sneezing. . . . It’s original prescription strength with no prescription needed. So, for continuous allergy relief, be wise all, take XYZAL.”



David Hulin created XYZAL’s Nigel the Owl. Hulin has done design work for several well-known brand icons, including Speedy Alka Seltzer, Teddy Grahams Bear and the GEICO Gecko. On his website, Hulin shows the acting and character references he used and sketches he made to create Nigel.

Providing the inspiration for Nigel were Orson Welles, Sean Connery, Pierce Bronson, Richard Harris, Tom Wilkinson and Ernest Hemingway, among others. But the main inspiration for Nigel was the actor who portrayed “The most interesting man in the world” for the Dos Equis commercials, Jonathan Goldsmith. Yes, Nigel is supposed to be “the most interesting owl in the world.”

Maybe in future ads, we’ll hear strange factoids about Nigel, such as:

  • If Harry Potter gave him a letter to deliver, it would arrive before Harry gave it to him.
  • He is so wise, if the Buddha met him on the road he would invite him to lunch.
  • He once rode a duck in Boston. Or was it a swan? Probably both. At the same time.
  • If a butterfly flaps its wings in New Mexico, he will hear it in China.
  • He never says anything tastes like voles, not even voles.
  • He can say “Who” in 186 languages.
  • He once twisted his head continuously in one direction so many times, it took three hours for it to unwind to its starting position.

He is the most interesting owl in the world.

“I don’t always suffer from allergies, but when I do, I prefer XYZAL. Stay medicated, my friends.”

Nigel’s writers can get inspiration here:

Ollie, the Trip Advisor Owl

Ollie the Owl was inspired a couple of years ago by the owl in Trip Advisor’s logo. Ollie looks like an Elf Owl, the smallest North American owl, which are about six inches tall at most, with a wingspan of about 13 inches. He gesticulates with his wings (right wing mostly) and speaks with a posh English accent.

In the three commercials I’ve seen, Ollie always wears a robe. What is it with these English-accented owls who are always in their lounging apparel? Trip Advisor, which was founded in 2003, sees Ollie as a foil to Travelocity’s Roaming Gnome.

If you don’t know, the Roaming Gnome has an interesting backstory. A few years ago people thought it was a clever prank to steal their neighbor’s garden gnome and carry it to faraway places, then send the neighbor a photo with a note from the gnome. “Hi, having a grand time at the Great Wall of China. Hugs and kisses.”

Wacky humor tends be a keynote of the Roaming Gnome Travelocity commercials. Ollie the owl’s humor is more restrained. He likes puns and rhymes. Trip Advisor avoids the owl tropes for the most part. Choosing an owl is itself a trope of course. But don’t miss the “whooo” sound effect in all the ads. They start and end with it.

In “Safe Bet” Ollie stands inside a hotel safe. He wears his bathrobe and tells us finding the best hotel price is a “safe bet” with Trip Advisor. He urges viewers to find the hotel you want and “lock it in.”



In “A Price That Fits,” Ollie, still in his bathrobe, is getting fitted for a suit. He recommends Trip Advisor to find a hotel that “fits your budget.”



There are no puns in “This Bird’s Words.” While lounging in his bathrobe, of course, Ollie just explains how people can search for the perfect deal on Trip Advisor. “Trust this bird’s words,“ he tells us, which is a clever rhyme, I guess. He thinks so anyway.


Sometimes an Owl is Just an Owl

Not all owl commercials depend on tropes. Sometimes a director will include an owl for the sake of just being an owl. In car commercials, like those for Lexus and Kia Sorento, owls in the trees along the road enhance the romance of driving a new car.

In a very funny Verizon commercial, a man is standing in his yard with his arms stretched out trying to get birds to land on him. His wife is sitting indoors faced away from him counting her Verizon points. As a dove lands on one arm, suddenly several more birds including an owl land on both arms. “You’re a big guy,” he says to the owl. Then a giant hawk picks him up and carries him off.

Three Classic Owl Commercials

Advertisers have been flocking to owls to star in their commercials the last few years. Three major advertisers have adopted owls as their spokes-animal: America’s Best Eyeglasses, Trip Advisor and XYZAL. Several others have produced commercials featuring owls or including owls in walk-on roles. I cover these commercials in another post, but in this post let’s look at three classic owl commercials.

Woodsy Owl Commercials

In the late 60s, pollution was becoming a major issue. As he was already a well-respected steward of the environment, Smokey the Bear was a natural choice to be an anti-pollution spokes animal. Unfortunately, Smokey was restricted by federal law to discussing only fire-related issues.

REPORTER: “Smokey, give us your take on whether polluted rivers should be cleaned up.”
SMOKEY: “Sorry, man, no comment. I could lose my job.”

The Forest Service (part of the United States Department of Agriculture) needed a new spokes-animal.

ThinkstockPhotos 678689860 300x264 - Three Classic Owl Commercials
Woodsy’s buddy, the great horned owl, also known as the tiger or the hoot owl, is a large bird native to the Americas. It is an extremely adaptable bird with vast range and is the most widely distributed true owl.

They called on Harold Bell, who had produced their Smokey the Bear public service announcements. Bell brainstormed some concepts with Betty Hite of the Forest Service and a couple of forest rangers, who had worked as technical advisors for the Lassie television series. They thought the new mascot should be a creature you see in both urban and wilderness forests. A raccoon, a bull elk, a rainbow trout and a ladybug were considered.

Why not a bird? An owl would be perfect. They’re birds, they’re wise. In time for Earth Day 1971, they came up with Woodsy Owl, an anthropomorphic rendition of a Great Horned Owl in green trousers, sporting a Robin Hood cap with a feather in it. Woodsy was wise but young and active, too. He didn’t spend all this time perched in a tree, cogitating. He romped with the kids and they could relate to him.

Woodsy Owl’s early commercials stressed picking up litter, stopping vandalism — such as painting on rocks and carving on picnic tables — and reducing noise pollution: “Turn your radio down; that’s noise pollution.” There were cartoon versions and three-dimensional, Muppet versions of Woodsy, which the Forest Service started licensing to educators and environmental groups for a fee.

In Woodsy’s commercials, he skips through forests and cities, lakes and mountains followed by packs of shiny, happy kids, who gleefully collect litter, plant trees and act like little do-gooders, as Woodsy sings:

Help Woodsy spread the word.
Never be a dirty bird.
No matter where you go,
You can let some people know,
Give a hoot don’t pollute.
Never be a dirty bird.
In the city or in the woods,
Keep America lookin’ good.

Woodsy Owl was voiced by several actors, including Sterling Holloway, who also voiced the Winnie the Pooh and by Barry Gordon, the voice of the Nestle Quik bunny and Donatello in the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

On Earth Day, 1997, the Forest Service repositioned Woodsy Owl to sharpen his focus on environmentalism. His new slogan was: “Lend a hand, care for the land!” Along with a new message, Woodsy Owl had a new look. He had shed some weight and updated his wardrobe. He was slimmer, and now in addition to his green field pants, he was outfitted in a backpack and hiking boots.

Also, Federal law may have caught up with Woodsy, for the feather in his hat was gone. As Woodsy should have known, it’s illegal in the U.S. to possess the feathers of most owls, according to the Migratory Bird Act of 1918. Of course, Woodsy himself is an owl, but not the humans who wear the licensed Woodsy Owl costumes, and maybe that was the rub.

Wise Ol’ Towel

In this classic owl commercial for Lava Soap, first aired in 1978, a little boy and his older sister enter a bathroom. They begin to wash their hands. The towel hanging in the rack by the sink has a face like an owl wearing eyeglasses. It talks to them.

“Who, Who.”
“Who’s that?” says the girl, brightly. She is not creeped out at all.
“Wise old towel. One of you’s got the wrong soap.”
“Which one?”
“You’ll see.”
The boy washes his hands with Lava soap, the girl uses brand X. They both wipe their hands on Wise Ol’ Towel.
He is not insulted. He is a towel.
“I see,” she says. Her hands are still dirty. She washes them again. This time with Lava.
“Lava, with pumice and creamy lather gets hands clean the first time,” says Towel.

The voice of Wise Ol’ Towel was Don Messick, the voice of Scooby Doo (“Ruh-roh”) and Ranger Smith in the Yogi Bear cartoons.

Over the years, several owners have washed their hands of Lava. Proctor & Gamble acquired Lava Soap in 1927 from William Waltke Company, which invented it in 1893. P&G sold Lava to Block Drugs in 1995. In 1999 Block Drugs sold Lava to its current owner WD-40.

Tootsie Pop Owl Commercials

The most famous owl in any owl commercial ever made is probably the Tootsie Pop Owl. The commercial that seeks to answer the question, “How many licks does it take to get to the Tootsie Roll center of a Tootsie Pop?!” was first shown on television in 1969. It is such a classic, I’ve transcribed the full dialogue of the 60-second version (there are also 30 second and 15 second versions). One of the things that make this commercial so memorable are the actors who voiced the characters:

The Boy: Buddy Foster, older brother of Jodie Foster. He was 12.
The Cow: Frank Nelson, most famous for his “EEE-Yeeeeeeeeeeesss?” catchphrase, he appeared on many television shows from the 50s to 80s, including The Jack Benny Program, I Love Lucy and The Real McCoys.
Mr. Fox: Paul Frees, best known as the voice of Boris Badenov in The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show.
Mr. Turtle: Ralph James, best known as the voice of Orson, Mork from Ork’s boss on Mork & Mindy from 1978 to 1982.
The Owl: Paul Winchell, the famous ventriloquist and comedian who appeared on many shows during the 50s and 60s.
The Narrator: Herschel Bernardi, the original voice of Charlie the Tuna.

Boy: Mr. Cow…
Mr. Cow: Yeeeeesss!!?
Boy: How many licks does it take to get to the Tootsie Roll center of a Tootsie Pop?!
Mr. Cow: I don’t know, I always end up biting. Ask Mr. Fox, for he’s much cleverer than I.
Boy: Mr. Fox, how many licks does it take to get to the Tootsie Roll center of a Tootsie Pop?!!
Mr. Fox: Why don’t you ask Mr. Turtle, for he’s been around a lot longer than I! Me, heheh, I bite!
Boy: Mr. Turtle, how many licks does it take to get to the Tootsie Roll center of a Tootsie Pop?
Mr. Turtle: I’ve never even made it without biting. Ask Mr. Owl, for he is the wisest of us all.
Boy: Mr. Owl, how many licks does it take to get to the Tootsie Roll center of a Tootsie Pop!?
Mr. Owl: A good question. Let’s find out. (He takes the Tootsie pop and starts licking) A One… A two-HOO… A tha-three..
(crunch sound effect — he bites the Tootsie pop off the stick)
Mr. Owl: A Three!
Boy: If there’s anything I can’t stand, it’s a smart owl.
Narrator: How many licks does it take to get to the Tootsie Roll center of a Tootsie Pop?
(six different flavors of Tootsie Pops appear, get licked down, then suddenly disappear from theirs sticks accompanied by a crunch sound effect)
Narrator: The world may never know.

The commercial’s creators have done a very effective job of drawing us into its conundrum. The curious boy asks his simple question four times (three times or twice in the shorter versions), “How many licks does it take to get to the Tootsie Roll center of a Tootsie Pop?!” The question is never satisfactorily answered.

The boy is diverse with his queries. The animals he approaches represent different segments of society.

  • The cow is an average Joe.
  • The fox is a hipster.
  • The turtle is a retiree.
  • The owl is an intellectual.

Not one of them has ever had the self-discipline to actually lick its way to the Tootsie Roll center of a Tootsie Pop. They are all incapable of properly completing this simple task. Bite, they must. All but Mr. Owl admit their weakness though. Why is that? Mr. Owl is supposedly the wisest of them all. Is it pride? Is it cunning? Is it really ignorance?

How Many Licks? The Science is Not Settled

Unless his backstory is someday revealed, the world may never know Mr. Owl’s motivation. Regarding the conundrum at any rate, “How many licks does it take to get to the Tootsie Roll center of a Tootsie Pop!?” there have been several scientific and quasi-scientific studies:

  • Students at the University of Cambridge concluded the answer is 3,481 licks.
  • Across the pond, far fewer licks were needed. Student research at The University of Michigan revealed 411 licks.
  • The kids at Purdue used a licking machine to calculate 364 licks; though when student volunteers were used the average licks per student were 252.
  • A student at Swarthmore tested a group that represented fast and slow lickers and came up with a median of 144 licks.
  • A group of real academics at the University of Florida used Tootsie Pops to get a scholoarly paper published about “the effects of biology, corrosion, and mechanical agitation on the wear of Tootsie Roll Pops.” Independent of licking style, the researchers concluded it takes 130 licks with a standard deviation of 29 to get to the Tootsie Roll Center of a Tootsie Pop.

On YouTube, the Tootsie Roll test is shtick for vloggers like Ryan Higa and “Ian is Bored,” who couldn’t complete the task. He had to go to the ER, he said, his mouth hurt so much from licking. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UDwpNenln5E.

I want to know when Pewdiepie takes up the Tootsie Pop challenge.

Parody Is Homage Gone Sour

I haven’t counted but there might be more “how many licks” tests in YouTube videos than Diet Coke and Mentos experiments. That’s not the only legacy of this commercial, though, which is almost 50 years old. It’s so iconic it has also inspired countless parodies. Two of the most popular jokes revolve around the injustice of Mr. Owl biting the Tootsie Pop and how the little boy doesn’t seem to be wearing any clothes.

In one version the boy simply says what anyone who’s ever watched this commercial has to be thinking. “Are you kidding me? You just bit it. You didn’t even lick it!!” https://youtu.be/jYwKC4V_jRI

In another version, the director shouts “Cut. Damn it, Mr. Owl. You’ve got to stop biting the Tootsie Roll. It’s not cute anymore…We’re not trying to see how many times an owl can fuck up a commercial.” Meanwhile the boy asks the director, “Can I put some clothes on now?” https://youtu.be/oz0-ri9waBo

Many of the parodies are quite violent, with the boy shooting the owl after he bites the Tootsie Roll Pop. https://youtu.be/OJpau0DVulU
In a another version the boy says, “You think this is funny? You just ate my lollipop, you jerk. Let’s see how long it takes a bullet to go through your thick skull.” Then he counts, “a one, a two-HOO, a three.” https://youtu.be/ZB1Qt22-UN0

Sometimes the “how many licks” question is asked of different animals. The boy asks a pit bull, “How many licks does it take to get to the Tootsie Roll center of a Tootsie Pop?” The pit bull bites his head off. https://youtu.be/1th7o5DVDgg

Sometimes the boy asks a different question. In one parody, the boy hands a bottle of whiskey to the owl and asks, “Mr. Owl. How many DUIs does it take to become a convicted felon without parole?” “Let’s find out,” says Mr. Owl. He then drunk-drives a car resulting in three at fault injury accidents. From behind bars, Mr. Owl answers, “Three DUIs.” https://youtu.be/yAmDFtKlgBw

Some humorists have been inspired to create multiple parodies:

  • Mr. Owl shoots the boy because he always asks the same question
  • Mr. Owl bites the Tootsie Pop, falls dead from his perch and lands on top of the boy
  • Mr. Turtle takes the challenge and bites the Tootsie Pop on the count of one
  • Mr. Owl interrupts the boy and says, “I’ve got a better question, little boy. Where are your clothes?” https://youtu.be/pTO1Mn2gNE4

When you were a kid yourself, you may have seen this commercial several times a day, every day for several years. In another series of dark, gruesome and often twisted parodies, one of the jokes is a reaction to this repetitiveness. In one segment (at 3:20), after the curious boy poses his “how many licks” question, Mr. Owl cannot contain himself:

“Oh, for fuck’s sake. Oh, no, you goddamn kid. What’s wrong with you? I tell you every single fucking day the same answer and you just come back with the same question. What do you want from me? What have I ever done to you? …“
(Mr. Owl grabs the Tootsie Pop and starts licking.)
“One, two, threeeeeeeeeeeeeee. It’s three. It’s always been three, always will be three and never will be anything but three. Slit my throat. I can’t take it anymore.” https://youtu.be/36NWy9Z3vuY

“Parody is homage gone sour,” said Brendan Gill. Maybe like a sour green apple Tootsie Pop? My favorite.

No wonder this owl commercial is often included in short lists of the best commercials of all time.

Get Your Clean Stick Award

By the way, you can take the challenge yourself and send your number of licks to Tootsie Roll Industries. According to their website, they will send “a certificate we call ‘The Clean Stick Award,’ to each person who mails in a response to the question of how many licks it takes.”

Eight Famous Owl Brand Names

People have been using owl brand names since at least the 19th century and probably a lot earlier.

The oldest firm in England named after a bird still doing business is Ye Olde Fighting Cock in St. Albans, Hertfordshire. The pub was established in 793 AD, according to its website, though its license dates only to the 17th century. At any rate, the Guinness Book of World Records agrees it’s the oldest pub in the UK.

In the U.S., the oldest product named for an owl that I can find is Kentucky Owl Bourbon, founded 1879, according to the family that still owns and sells it. More companies than ever are naming their firms after owls, according to InspirationFeed.com, which provides logo designs and websites to start-ups. The archives of LogoLounge.com contain over 250,000 logos and it says searches for owl logos on its website have spiked over 200% in the last two years.

Do you need a positive, non-controversial brand name? Do you want people to think your business is smart, your employees are patient and your mission is in tune with nature? It might be a wise move to use an owl brand name for your business. Or adopt an owl as your mascot.

Here are eight historic, interesting or colorful companies with “owl” (or, in the case of Hooters, its slang equivalent) in their name:

1. Kentucky Owl Bourbon

was founded in Oregon, Kentucky in 1879 by Charles Mortimer Dedman. Prior to the enactment of Prohibition, teetotalers were already on the move in Kentucky and in 1916 government agents confiscated Dedman’s entire stock and hauled it away to a warehouse in Frankfurt. Not long after that, over 250,000 gallons of Dedman’s whiskey were supposedly consumed in a fire that burned surprisingly cool for being fueled by alcohol. Rumor has it the finest speakeasies in the nation were pouring Kentucky Owl Bourbon throughout Prohibition. Whoever spirited the Kentucky Owl Bourbon away never compensated C. M. Dedman.

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Original Kentucky Owl Bourbon Label

Fast forward almost 100 years when Dedman’s descendants, who operate the Old Owl Tavern and Owl’s Nest Lounge at the Beaumont Inn in Harrodsburg, Kentucky, decided to resurrect Kentucky Owl Bourbon. Today Kentucky Owl Bourbon is made in very small batches and can only be purchased in the Bluegrass state, where it sells for $175 per bottle and more. You can get a pour at the Old Owl Tavern and Owl’s Nest Lounge for just $40, a real bargain compared to the Brown Hotel in Louisville, where you’ll pay $110.

Tasting Notes for Kentucky Owl Bourbon, Batch 6, released September 2016, according to The Whiskey Wash: Deep amber color, many narrow, evenly spaced legs. Nose is highly vaporous, so a good nose rest is suggested before nosing. You taste caramel and fruit on the palate followed by prominent oak at the mid-palate. Juicy Fruit gum and toasted marshmallow flavors emerge if you let it linger.

2. White Owl Cigars

was founded in Dotham, Alabama in 1887. These inexpensive cigars, which retail at 2 for $0.99, are still manufactured there. The logo of the snowy owl perched on a cigar is one of the oldest commercial logos. The very first commercial logo, the Bass Ale red triangle, was trademarked in 1870. (You can find the Bass Ale mark in the lower right corner of Edouard Manet’s famous 1882 painting A Bar at the Folies-Bergere.)

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By Doug Kerr via Wikimedia Commons

White Owl cigars come in a variety of types and flavors, such as Strawberry Blunts, Grape Cigarillos, New Yorkers, Invincibles and Demi Tips.

John Travolta has said that some of his fondest memories growing up in New Jersey are of his father smoking White Owls. These days Travolta “can afford to reward himself with less pedestrian smokes” such as Davidoffs, Dunhills and Montecristos, according to Cigar Aficionado: The Good Life Magazine for Men

In the movie “Blast from the Past,” Christopher Walken’s character hands down his prized baseball card collection to his son, played by Brendan Fraser, in a White Owl cigar box.

The Swedish tobacco and snuff company Swedish Match now owns White Owl Cigars. Its vision, according to its website, is “a world without cigarettes.” Does that include cigars and cigarillos?

3. The Owl Drug Company,

founded in San Francisco in 1892, is legendary among apothecary bottle collectors. Not only did they sell drugs and related products, they also manufactured bottles to store pills, sodas, poisons and powdered medicines.
Owl Drug Company logo 1917 Douglas Arizona - Eight Famous Owl Brand Names
Foreshadowing Starbucks, they also made drinking glasses personalized for some of the many locations where they had stores, such as San Bernardino, Kansas City, New York and of course San Francisco. According to a 128-page collector’s book published in 1968 about Owl Drug glassware, most of the items manufactured included the characteristic Owl Drug “logo embossed on into the glass — an owl sitting on a mortar and pestle with T.O.D. Co on the mortar.”

Western actor Richard Edmund “Hoot” Gibson, the idol of millions of kids in the 20s and 30s, got his nickname “Hoot” when he was 15 delivering prescriptions for the Owl Drug Store in Los Angeles.

For many years in the first part of the 20th century, one of the 19 Owl Drug Store locations in San Francisco was in the Flood Building at the corner of Powell and Market. In the 1947 film noir movie “Dark Passage,” Humphrey Bogart’s character rides a cable car, getting off at Powell and Market in front of the Owl Drug Store, the terminus of that line. You can see a still of this scene at the website Reel SF, “San Francisco movie locations from classic films.”

Owl Drug Stores was purchased by Rexall Drugs in the 1920s. It continued to use the Owl Drug Store brand until the end of the 20th century. There is still at least one Owl Rexall Pharmacy, in Covina, California.

4. Red Owl

was an upper Midwest grocery store chain founded in 1922. Before it was sold to Supervalu in 1998, the company owned 441 stores in North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Michigan. After the sale, a few of the stores became independent and retained the Red Owl name.
RedOwlRefrigeratorMagnet - Eight Famous Owl Brand Names
Mary on The Mary Tyler Moore Show shopped at a Red Owl in Minneapolis in the 70s. In this screenshot posted at tumbler, you can see her picking a package off the rack in the meat department during the opening credits of season 4. Look for the red owl logo on a poster in the upper right corner.

The only remaining Red Owl store still in operation appears to be Mason Brothers Red Owl in Green Bay, Wisconsin, “Where convenience is King.”

After Brownlow’s Red Owl in Le Roy, Minnesota closed in 2009, it made its Red Owl memorabilia collection available for view to the public. However, according to its Facebook page, the collection was put up for sale on eBay starting February 2016. Prefaced by a tearful emoji, Kay McCloud, the current owner, posted this for his
Facebook fans on July 2, 2015, at 9:59 pm

“It is a Walmart world now. No room left for small businesses. We were in business 80 years. I have the largest Red Owl collection in the country including many signs and 2500 items! If u want a shirt send me your size and address I will send you one for free. Always love a Red owl lover; the shirts are from when the store was opened.”

The Coen brothers used items from the Brownlow memorabilia collection in their 2009 film, “A Serious Man.” In the film, an orthodontist named Sussman discovers Hebrew letters engraved on the lower incisors of a patient’s teeth. They say, “Help me. Save me.” In one of several efforts to discern their deeper meaning, he translates the numerical equivalents of the letters into a phone number. The phone number belongs to a Red Owl store in Bloomington, Minnesota. He drives to the store, but it’s just a Red Owl. “Just groceries, what have you.”

The Coen brothers like Red Owls stores. The first episode of Season 3 of their television series “Fargo” released in 2017 includes a scene in a small Red Owl grocery, presumably using props again from the Brownlow collection.

5. Hooters

opened its first location in Clearwater, FL, in 1983. If you’ve never been to a Hooters, let me explain. Although the owl in the logo resembles a Horned Owl and hooter is slang for owl, the name is not a tribute to Strigidae Bubo. Hooters is also slang for something else. The logo owl’s creepy little eyes resembling nipples should be a tip off. According to the bloggers over at Straight Dope, the bulbous hoot-sounding squeeze-horns on old time cars and bicycles resemble breasts, hence they’re hooters.

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Another kind of hooter

Hooters opened the original “breastaurants.” Their success, with over 400 restaurants in 27 countries around the world, has led to many imitators, including the Tilted Kilt, Twin Peaks, Mugs & Jugs, Racks and Bone Daddy’s. The possibilities for double entendre names are unlimited if you’re blessed with a lewd imagination.

Hooters admits that though it’s a sports bar with burgers, salads, sandwiches, seafood and “Hooter original chicken wings,” its main attraction is the Hooter Girls. With their short-shorts and tank tops, they “provide the energy, charisma and engaging conversation that keep guests coming back,” says their website.

Of course, I only go there for the food.

6. Owl City

is an American band created in 2007 by singer, songwriter and instrumentalist Adam Young. I’m mentioning this owl-named band right after Hooter’s because it’s another example of naming an entity after an owl for reasons that would seem to have nothing to do with owls. This owl brand name is derived from the name of Adam Young’s hometown, Owatonna, Minnesota.

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Owl City at Anaheim House of Blues

However, if there was synchronicity involved in naming the band, it was revealed when in 2010, Owl City recorded Adam Young’s song “To the Sky,” for the film “Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole.” The song perfectly evokes the sense of freedom and joy we vicariously experience watching owls take flight.

Bid the forest floor goodbye as you race the wind
And take to the sky (you take to the sky)
There’s a realm above the trees
Where the lost are finally found
Touch your feathers to the breeze
And leave the ground

Complete Lyrics

7. The Purdue OWL (Online Writing Lab)

was created in 1994 to “bring the Purdue Writing Lab to students no matter where they were.” It is the “world’s first Online Writing Lab.”

It is also the only OWL acronym with enough cache to appear on the first page of search engine rankings. Which is understandable considering their website gets over 500 million visits a year. When I enter the search term “owl” in Google or Bing, the top entry says “Welcome to the Purdue University Online Writing Lab (OWL).” OWL’s Alexa ranking is 1510, which means that only 1509 websites in the entire world get more traffic.

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Barred Owls are the most commonly found owls in Indiana

It’s kind of a shame that an acronym that makes absolutely no reference to any kind of actual owl gets the catbird seat for owl SERP rankings.

I also wish they’d change their one-eyed owl logo. It looks like they just hacked off a piece of the Hooters Owl and stuck letters into it. At least give the poor thing a full set of eyeballs.

The OWL might want to consider adopting a real owl as its representative. The website Wild Indiana, “Everything Hoosier Outdoors,” says Barred Owls are the most commonly found owls in Indiana, though it names seven other owls often seen in the state.

8. Origami Owl

had me stumped for a long time. The company neither sells nor instructs people in the art of origami. Nor, as you might infer from having a look at their product line, does it specialize in jewelry resembling owls. The firm was started by Bella Weems when she was 14 years old. The Chandler, Arizona high school sophomore wanted to buy a car when she turned 16. She asked her parents for the money. They said earn it. So she did. In 2010 she started her own custom jewelry company. By 2013 it was generating $250 million in sales.

The company has about 60,000 independent associates who buy jewelry and related products at a discount, which they sell at private parties or “jewelry bars” in people’s homes. The business uses a multi-level marketing (MLM) model, similar to Amway, Shaklee and Avon.
It’s an amazing success story about a very enterprising teen.

But why the name Origami Owl? Bella’s first products were lockets with a variety of charms people could select from to make their own distinctive jewelry. Was an owl one of them? Maybe but I really didn’t find any owl pendants in the collections I saw online. It seems Bella has always loved the origami hanging from the ceiling of her bedroom. Because people can fold origami in unique ways, the word conveys the individuality people bring to designing their own versions of the lockets the company sells. “That’s the signature of Origami Owl jewelry. No two are exactly alike,” she says.

What about the owl part? “Owls represent wisdom, strength, and courage.” Bella says she and her mom, Chrissy Weems, put the name Origami Owl together because they “loved the way it sounded. We loved the meaning even more.”

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Authentic Origami Owl

So there is no origami owl. It’s just a name — and a meaning. Make sense? Well, maybe the idea is also to convey some of the mystery owls represent. If you’re wondering what a real origami owl looks like, I’ve included a picture here.

Final Thoughts on Owl Brand Names

Of course, these eight firms are just the most iconic of owl-named brands. They merely scratch the surface. Bookstores, wineries, bars, restaurants, insurance companies and agencies, creative copy and design firms, property management companies — you name it, you can find almost any kind of business with “owl” in its name. Like I always say, it’s owl good. If you’re noodling around for an owl name for your business, you might want to try out this handy name generator over at Shopify: https://www.shopify.com/tools/business-name-generator

P.S. I am gathering resources for posts about bookstores, bars and wineries with owl names. If you know of any you think I should include, please let me know in a comment or send me an email. Thanks!

Why Are There No Owl Mascots in Big League Sports?

I would cry foul but of course the owl is not a fowl. It is a raptor. And to the contrary, fowls are well represented in top tier sports teams: St. Louis Cardinals, Baltimore Orioles, Toronto Blue-jays, Baltimore Ravens, etc.

Here’s what sticks in my craw though. Why no owls?

The Cincinnati Barn Owls Would Have Been a Great Name

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This would not be a problem today if the very first professional sports team in America had paid closer attention to how they got their start and chosen their name logically — as a wise old owl might suggest.

It’s been over 150 years since a gaggle of guys in Cincinnati called themselves “barn-stormers” and began selling tickets to spectators who wanted to see them play baseball. What name, I ask you, would have been more appropriate for barn-storming baseball players than the Barn Owls?

This lack of vision has persisted ever since. No top tier team has yet grasped the advantages of naming themselves after any of these elegant, perceptive, fiercely competitive birds.

Top Tier Sports Teams are For the Birds

Of 30 NBA teams, 30 Major League Baseball teams, 32 NFL teams, 31 NHL teams — 126 teams in all — not one of them has an owl mascot.

It’s not like they’ve ducked the entire avian class either. Thirteen teams are named after a bird of some kind. You could even say professional sports teams are for the birds except when it comes to owls:

NBA (30 teams):

  • Atlanta/St. Louis Hawks
  • New Orleans Pelicans

MBL (30 teams)

  • Toronto Blue Jays
  • St. Louis Cardinals
    Baltimore Orioles

NFL (32 teams)

  • Seattle Seahawks
  • Philadelphia Eagles
  • Arizona Cardinals
  • Baltimore Ravens
  • Atlanta Falcons

NHL (31 teams)

  • Pittsburgh Penguins
  • Anaheim Ducks

Yes, I know, there are also no Hummingbirds, Sparrows or Woodpeckers either. Not to mention no teams named for the blue footed booby, the great tit, the kaka or any of the dozens of other silly bird names. So what am I squawking about?

Well, for one thing, “owl” is not a silly name. When you consider a lot of the mascots that teams comes up, like the following, you could easily get the impression they think “silly” is a feature, not a defect:

The Hall of Lame Is Full of Mascots

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  • San Diego — now Los Angeles Chargers: No, not like horses charging. Maybe originally but now the name refers to electricity. Hence, their mascot: Boltman, a lightning bolt with a face and abs. The concept seemed positive in the beginning. Barron Hilton, who started the franchise, picked “Chargers” as the winner in a “name the team” contest. He liked how its cognate “charge” reminded him of the sound of bugles. But apparently, there were missteps between vision and execution and Boltman was born. Mentioning that Frankenstein was another unintended outcome seems appropriate.
  • New Orleans Saints: They have two mascots, Sir Saint and Gumbo the dog. Sir Saint looks like a caricature of Stan Smith from American Dad. Gumbo the dog is a Saint Bernard who enjoys Cajun food. There’s nothing hagiographic about either of them.
  • Golden State Warriors: The Warriors mascot for several years was Thunder. Thunder looked like a buffed up member of the Blue Man Group with a lightning bolt protruding from his head. He was discharged in 2007 when Oklahoma City decided it wanted the name for its new NBA franchise. (Maybe the Warriors finally got payback when they lured Kevin Durant from OKC in 2016.) The name would seem to work as a mascot for meteorological reasons, but “Rumble the Bison” represents the Thunder. Why not at least “Thunder the Bison”?

Boltman, Sir Saint, Gumbo the dog, Thunder. And I didn’t even get to the Tampa Bay Rays. What kind of animal is Raymond exactly? These are just a few of the silly team names that professional sports team geniuses have come up with. There are many more. (For more silly mascot names check out The Bleach Report’s Top 20 Worst Team Names.)

Given the lack of credible mascots getting hatched these days, why does the owl continue to be overlooked? We know that big professional teams are not adverse to bird mascots. So why do they chose birds that don’t stack up against the owl?

Cardinals, Maroons and Blue-Jays

Okay, naming the Baltimore Orioles was inevitable. The bird was famous before the baseball team. Civic pride is important.

Not so much the Cardinals. Naming the baseball team had nothing to do with birds. Someone said the uniform was a “lovely shade of cardinal.”

The uniform color was also the inspiration for the now Arizona Cardinals. When the NFL team started out in Chicago in 1920, the owners bought secondhand uniforms from a local college team. They were actually maroon, but Cardinals seemed like a better name than the Maroons. I’d have to agree.

According to Wikipedia, the name of the Toronto Blue Jays was inspired by a preference for the color blue. Majority team owner Labatt Breweries wanted a tie-in with its feature beer Labatt Blue. Gee, if only they were found locally, the Toronto Blue-footed Boobies might have been an option.

To my mind, choosing a mascot for its color kind of blindsides you to more important qualities. If you’re going to pick a bird as your mascot, don’t pick it for its color. Pick your bird because it symbolizes the qualities you want your team to emulate, right?

These Birds Don’t Hunt

What do cardinals do? They mostly sit perched eating berries, insects, spiders and seeds. What do orioles do? Same thing mostly, sit perched eating insects, fruit and nectar. Ditto for ducks, they waddle around eating insects, mollusks and plants. The blue jay is mainly a vegetarian.

On the aggressiveness scale, these birds don’t hunt.

Owls Hunt

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What are the predominant qualities many teams strive for in a team name? Toughness, boldness, courageousness, competitiveness — all attributes inherent in team names like Hawks, Falcons, Eagles, Ravens, and Seahawks. I’m not including the (Toronto) Raptors which are are dinosaurs, even though in the long run (400 million years later) they evolved into birds.

Are these not the attributes also found in owls? Toughness, boldness, courageousness, competitiveness — yes, check all the boxes. Sure they look cuddly enough, with their big eyes and almost human appearance. But owls are killers. They’re predator birds. Some of your larger owls will take on hawks and falcons. Owls swallow their victims whole or rip them into shreds before swallowing them, for heaven’s sake!

What I’m saying is if you want fans and opponents to know you’re a bird with swagger, be an owl — not a non-threatening species like a cardinal or an oriole. Certainly not a duck, though I am a big Oregon Ducks fan. Every animal is somewhere in the food chain but why chose a name that screams prey?

In a survey of the world’s ten most formidable birds of prey, six are eagles, two are vultures and — get this — two are owls: Blakiston’s Fish Owl and the Eurasian Eagle Owl.

College Teams Are Owl On Board

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According to one survey, the owl is the 17th most popular college mascot name. (The most popular name for a college team is bulldog, which might be a bone for bulldog advocates to pick with major league sports.)

The first school in the country to adopt the owl as its mascot was Temple University in the 1880s. Since classes were first held at night, its students were referred to as “night owls.” Hooter is the costumed mascot’s name. But like many colleges with owl mascots, Temple also maintains a live owl. Currently, Temple’s live owl representative “Stella,” a Great Horned Owl, resides at Elmwood Park Zoo, near Philadelphia.

Florida Atlantic University’s costume mascot is Owlsey. Its Boca Raton campus is actually a Burrowing Owls habitat that was named an official owl sanctuary by the Audubon Society in 1971.

Other college teams with owl mascots include:

  • Brandeis University — Ollie the Owl (team name: the Judges)
  • Bryn Mawr College — Predator D. Owl
  • Keene State College – the Owls
  • Kennesaw State University – Scrappy the Owl
  • Oregon Institute of Technology — Hootie the Owl (team name: Hustlin’ Owls)
  • Rice University — Sammy the Whiskered Screech Owl
  • Rowan University — Prof the owl, “Whoo RU” (team name: Rowan Profs)
  • Southern Connecticut State University – The Southern Owl (team name: Fighting Owls)
  • University of Maine at Presque Isle — Owls
  • Westfield State University — Nestor the Owl
  • William Woods University — Screech the Owl

In addition, there are hundreds of high school, community college and semi pro teams with owl mascots.

Are Owls Pigeon-holed as Too Smart to Be Athletic?

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Why is the owl good enough for schools but not major sports teams? Maybe because most people think foremost of how smart owls are supposed to be, not their hunting prowess. To most people they’re more mathletes than athletes.

In Western culture, the owl’s association with Athena, goddess of wisdom, has always defined it as a symbol of learning and wisdom. Pictured wearing a cap and gown and perched on a stack of books, who wants that image for a major sports team? Teams mainly want brawn, not brains. They prefer players who kick ass, not go to the head of the class.

Of course owls possess the same aggressive characteristics as other raptors, as we’ve seen. Public perception is just not focused on these qualities. But why not? Major professional sports teams have to be both smart and aggressive, so why not adopt a mascot that also reflects those qualities?

It’s Never Too Late for Owls

Owl is not lost. There are plenty of opportunities to right this wrong. Teams get renamed all time. Right now several opportunities exist for a top tier professional sports teams to adopt an owl mascot. Here are a few suggestions:

DC Owls: The Redskins have a PR problem. Sure, a Washington Post poll conducted in 2016 found that 9 out of 10 Native Americans are not bothered by the name. But what about the 10% who are? That’s about one million people. As Dan Steinberg in the Washington Post says, “If you invite 10 friends to a dinner party and one leaves in tears, was the night a success?” There’s pros and cons, is all I’m saying. My main point is, this is a perfect opportunity to right two wrongs!

Owls figure prominently in Native American culture. The Cherokee who lived in western Virginia thought only the cougar and the owl were strong and brave enough to endure the upheaval of creation, which is why only they are endowed with the power to see at night. So how about the DC Owls? Barn Owls, Barred Owls and Great Horned Owls can be found in parts of DC. Plus the Thomas Jefferson High School teams in Alexandria already call themselves the DC Owls.

Golden State Owls: The Golden State Warriors are currently without a mascot after losing Thunder. So how about the Golden State Owls? Many kinds of owls can found in the Bay Area, including in Marin County the Northern Spotted Owl. But there is no Golden State Owl, you say. Well, tell Cal there are no Golden Bears either. Golden State Owls could also pay homage to one of the great bars of San Francisco,
The Owl Tree Bar, located at Post and Taylor for over 40 years. The legendary bartender Bobby Cook collected and displayed his vast collection of owls there until he died in 2006. But the legend endures as a sports bar now. Perfect.

Las Vegas Owls: Oakland Raiders fans feel the decision to move the team from Oakland to Las Vegas in 2020 or sooner was a slap in their face. So retiring the Raiders name would be a concession to them — and if another NFL team decides to relocate to Oakland the Raiders name could be revived. Sportswriter Des Bieler in the Washington Post has drolly suggested the new name should be the “Sinners,” since Las Vegas is “Sin City.” In that case, how about the “Sodom and Gomorrahs”? I don’t know. Talk about a slap in the face. Let’s give the people of Las Vegas a little more credit.

I would suggest taking a name change cue from a different slogan. “The city that never sleeps” is supposed to apply to New York but the city that never sleeps is really Las Vegas. Vegas casinos are the biggest circadian cycle disrupters in the world. There is no way to tell what time of day it is when you’re entombed in one. Nocturnal, diurnal or crepuscular. It’s all good. Just like owls. Several species of owls are found in the Las Vegas area: Barn Owls, Burrowing Owls, Flammulated Owls, Great Horned Owls, Long-eared Owls, Northern Saw-whet Owls, Short-eared Owls and Western Screech-Owls.

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Is It Time For an Owl Movement?

Let’s get serious for a moment. Many people do not have a proper appreciation of owls. I don’t mean just because of the mistaken notion of owls as some kind of passive creatures who spend all their time cogitating. That’s superficial. The real significance of owls is the role they play in a balanced ecosystem. A national sports franchise could help build awareness of the profound importance of what that means. One of the primary benefits of sports teams to a community is how they inspire our youth. What if as a side benefit a sports team could also help educate youth — and adults— about owls and their importance to the environment? Smart, competitive, and concerned about the planet: What’s not to like about owls?

Besides wouldn’t it be a hoot for a professional sports team to have an owl mascot? Think of how much the fans could annoy their opponents during, say, basketball games by shrieking “hoot, hoot” all the time. Of course “hoot, hoot, hoot” for a three-pointer.

17 Fascinating Owl Facts

Owls are fascinating birds. That intense mysterious gaze, their often strange behavior, the thrill we get when we realize we’ve spotted one sitting in a tree or taking flight. Here are some fascinating owl facts that help explain why humans cherish and admire these amazing creatures.


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Move on, nothing to see here. That’s how the Mexican Spotted Owl in this photo wants you to read its body language. The feathers of most owls match the color of the trees they nest or roost in. 

But body language can involve more than color. Pygmy, Great Grey, Snowy Owls and others that have ear tufts can close their eyes and elongate their bodies when they feel threatened, making them appear like a tree branch or a piece of wood. Even owls without tufts, such as Boreal and Saw-whet Owls, have been observed to assume tufted poses when alarmed. Because of its size and coloration, a Northern Pygmy-Owl sitting on a branch of a Douglas fir can resemble a fir cone.


Not some owls. They prey on other owls.  Northwest Western Screech owls are hunted by Northern Spotted Owls, Great Horned Owls and Barred Owls.  Great Horned Owls prey sometimes upon Northern Spotted Owls. 

The Barred Owl, which has been displacing the Western Spotted Owl in many parts of the western U.S., may also be preying on the Western Spotted Owl.  Over 10% of the diet of Eagle Owls (a subspecies of the Horned Owl), which reside in Europe and Africa, is made up of other owl species.   

In his book, The House of Owls, artist and writer Tony Angell says that a series of Screech Owls lived in a nesting box he put up by his home in Northwest Washington. Sadly, one day after twenty-five years, he discovered that a Barred Owl had hunted down and captured its current resident. “The discovery of Barred Owl castings containing the feathers of the Western Screech Owl provided evidence of their role in the disappearance of our owl family.”


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They swallow their prey whole or first rip it into big chunks with their talons and beaks.  The parts that an owl’s stomach cannot digest are deposited in its gizzard and compressed into pellets and spit out later.  Fur, feathers, bones, teeth, everything gets regurgitated. 

Companies such as Carolina, Educational Innovations Inc., pellet.com and others sell owl pellets to schools and others to dissect in the classroom as a way to learn about the owl’s role in the food chain.


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Owls are often an indicator species.  What does that mean?  An indicator species reflects the general condition of its habitat.  If conditions in a habitat are in decline, for example, with fewer critters around or new critters taking over and radical changes happening to the natural flora, the owl population of the area will reflect those changes.  

The Northern Spotted Owl, which prefers closed-canopy old growth forests, is an indicator species for old-growth forests in the Northwest.  Less than 5% of old growth forest remains in the Pacific Northwest, putting the Northern Spotted Owl on the endangered species list.


Female Owls are larger than male owls.  This is called reversed size dimorphism, which is common with most birds of prey, including hawks and eagles.   There are probably several reasons for this.  Males are the primary hunters in a pair.  Females remain in the nest incubating and tending the fledglings, while the male hunts and delivers prey for hunger mouths.   The male needs to be agile, fast and efficient.  Females need extra energy for producing and incubating eggs. 

Different sizes also helps avoid competition between mating pairs, with the larger female targeting larger prey and the smaller, more agile male targeting more abundant smaller prey.


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More than half of North American owls rely on woodpeckers for their nests. The Pileated Woodpecker, featured in this photo, is one of the biggest woodpeckers and it makes the larger nest holes that many owls prefer. 

Woodpeckers typically build their nests in dead trees and branches, which because of humans can be scarce in populated areas.  By leaving dead trees and branches standing in urban and suburban areas, humans are likely helping out a woodpecker and in turn, maybe an owl or two as well. 

In addition to bird nests, some owls, like the Western Screech Owl, will use natural cavities and nest boxes built by humans.  Tony Angell built a nest box by his house, which various Western Screech Owls used for a quarter century, as he explains in the fascinating first chapter of his book The House of Owls.

Larger owls, such as the Western Spotted Owl and the Northern Hawk Owl, require bigger nests than most woodpeckers make. 

Short-eared Owls are one of the few owls, besides Burrowing Owls, that create their own nests.  The female Short-eared Owl finds a tree cavity to scratch out a nest bowl in, then furnishes it with twigs and feathers.


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Not literally of course. Pygmy Owls, like the one in this photo, have two false eyes formed by the plumage on the back of their heads.  The purpose of this is most likely to fool predators into believing the Pygmy Owl is on full alert, aware of its predators and ready to take defensive action if necessary, even though it’s looking the opposite direction or taking a snooze with its face resting against a tree. Of course just because it can’t see a predator doesn’t mean it doesn’t know its presence. Owls have excellent hearing.

By the way, the Pygmy Owl does not have a pygmy appetite. It hunts birds much bigger than its 6 ½ inch height, including California quails twice its size.


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One of the creepiest movie scenes of all times is when the girl in The Exorcist turns her head 180 degrees and looks at us from her backside. Owls can do that.  In a recent episode of Family Guy, Meg informs Peter he’s reading the newspaper upside down. “You’re wrong,” he says, putting the paper down to reveal his head twisted upside down. Owls can do that too.

English folklore has it that you can get an owl to strangle itself by having it watch you walk around it in a circle until it chokes.   Obviously, this won’t work.  The bird is not stupid.  But its neck is pretty bendy. 

Owls can turn their heads 180 degrees in either direction and move them up or down 180 degrees.  To do this the owl has a valve system that keeps sending blood to its brain even as its neck is twisted. It also has twice as many vertebrae in its neck as most mammals, including humans.  The reason the owl has adopted this extraordinary rotational range is that its eyes are fixed in its skull and do not move around inside its eye sockets like ours.


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Just because their faces look sort of human has nothing to do with it.  Unlike many other owl species, which are disappearing because of humans, the barn owl has adapted well to living with humans.  It can be found in most of the lower 48 states and Southern Canada.   Its favorite meals are rats, mice and other small rodents commonly inhabiting urban and suburban areas.   It’s easily identified by its monkey faced appearance. 

Barn Owls are a member of the Tytonidae family — the only North American owl not a member of Strigidae family.  All owls are birds in the Strigiformes order.

Other owls, like the Western Screech and Barred Owls, have also adapted to human presence and can be found in parks, backyards, particularly where old trees are present.


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That’s what Burrowing Owls do.  They decorate the entrances to their tunnels with feces to lure insects and other small prey — and, some experts think, to ward off predators with a better sense of smell.

Unlike other owls, which tend to be solitary, Burrowing Owls are gregarious and congregate in colonies. Found in dry landscapes on the Great Plains and western states, they build their nests in burrows found in short grass located near long grass where they hunt for larger prey.


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It’s not just Burrowing Owls. Owls, in general, have a poor sense of smell. The Great Horned Owl, which hunts everything, including mice, rats, marmots, rabbits and other owls, also hunts skunks.  Doesn’t bother them a bit.


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The owl’s wings, which are longer than most birds, are designed to minimize noise, with feathers that muffle sound.   Owls with very long wings, like the Short-eared Owl in this photo and Long-eared Owls, have very low wing loading.  This allows them to hover or change course in mid-flight and pounce on their prey with great agility.


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What appear to be ears in certain owl species with earlike tufts on their faces, like this Great Horned Owl, are not really ears at all.  All owls hear through slits covered with feathers just behind their eyes. 

The range of sounds heard by owls is similar to what humans hear but owls hear certain frequencies much more acutely, enabling them to detect the movement of their prey.   Some experts think the false ears on some owls are intended to make them look like mammals, which may deter some predators.


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A few strictly nocturnal owls, like the Barn Owl (shown here), have asymmetrical ear openings and a scooped out facial disk, somewhat like a radar or satellite dish (for a closer look at the Barn Owl’s face take a look at #9 again).  The asymmetry of its ears enables the Barn Owl to pinpoint the exact location of its prey as it analyzes the sound waves hitting and bouncing off its facial disk.  

Owls generate a mental image of their prey’s location and stay on track, approaching it with talons outstretched and positioned to strike. The owl’s medulla (the part of the brain associated with hearing) is three times bigger than a crow’s.


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This owl, the Northern Hawk Owl, is diurnal. It hunts during the day. Even though about 60% of owls are nocturnal, some are diurnal, and a few hunt at dusk and dawn (crepuscular).   In general owls with yellow eyes are diurnal (Northern Hawk Owl and Northern Pygmy Owl); owls with orange eyes are crepuscular (Great Horned Owl); and owls with brown or black eyes hunt at night (Barred Owls, Northern Spotted Owls).


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Red or rufous owls are more difficult to see at night and when it’s cloudy.  This gives them a competitive advantage over grey owls.  The Eastern Screech-Owl, which has the widest color range of any North American owl, comes in both shades, grey and rufous.  The downside for owls with rufous feathers is that their feathers contain less melanin than greys.  Melanin makes feathers more durable.  Darker feathers also dry faster and generally offer better circulation. Some experts think this is why darker Eastern Screech-Owls have a higher survival rate than lighter, rufous ones.


ThinkstockPhotos 519319180 Smart Owl - 17 Fascinating Owl Facts In Greek mythology the owl is linked with Athena, goddess of wisdom. Sanofi uses an owl to hawk its over-the-counter allergy relief drug Xyzal — because presumably, owls are even smarter than doctors. Owl characters from Merlin’s Archimedes to Harry Potter’s Hedwig illustrate not only the owl’s wisdom but courage and initiative.

In reality, an owl’s brain is about the size of a golf ball.  Owls use one-third of their brain to see to see with, one-third for hearing and one-third for brainy stuff like locating prey.  What they are singularly well suited for is hunting.  Not prescribing drugs, predicting the future or dispensing wisdom to humans.

On the other hand, owls have those great big eyes and we tend to associate big eyes with intelligence. They also look somewhat human. Especially the Snowy Owl and the Barn Owl. And of course, we think humans are smart, so owls must kind of be too.