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Ominous Owl
aka: Owl Be Damned
Check your nightmares at the door.
"If you were an alien abductee, you might have memories of seeing owls in the city, or owls on the subway, or owls sitting outside your apartment window, or owls sitting INSIDE your apartment window, wearing space clothes and preparing a rectal probe."

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

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

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

See also Feathered Fiend, Creepy Crows and Circling Vultures for other types of scary, creepy birds. Contrast The Owl-Knowing One.

Examples:

    open/close all folders 

    Anime & Manga 
  • In One Piece, every member of CP 9 has an animal motif, and the creepiest one is definitely Fukuro who is based off of an owl. Among other things, his mouth has a zipper on it that he has to unzip if he wants to talk.
  • There is yet another Fukuro among the assassin group Trinity Raven in Fairy Tail, who is also noticeably creepy. He has a man's body but an owl's head (also two missiles on his back with the word "JUSTICE" printed on it), and one of his abilities is to swallow his opponents whole and use their magic until they digest fully. It's worth noting that "Fukuro" is Japanese for "owl."
  • The Wolfs Rain anime series had a creepy owl that made appearances at times, most likely as a symbol for death.
  • In the zoo chapter of Yotsubato, Yotsuba is utterly terrified of the owl. She ends up trying to scare it (so that it stops staring at her)... and then it spreads its wings and hoots. Cut to her hiding behind her dad's legs.
  • In Cyborg 009, a mother owl and her babies actually live in an abandoned castle in Germany where Albert/004 fights a robot with his same looks and powers. During the fight, the nest gets knocked off its site and out of reflex 004 shields the owls with his own body... which saves his life, as the robot couldn't predict his human reaction and its programmed strategies are all screwed.
  • Kouichi from Nabari No Ou is actually an owl with a human heart. His partially transformed form after being shot in the heart is more than a little creepy.
  • Mukuro from Katekyo Hitman Reborn! has a Snowy Owl as his box animal. Not so creepy until you see it with his red/blue heterochromia. Unsurprisingly, the owl is named Mukurou.
    • Though the name might come from the fact that the Owl was the body Mukurou used for an extended period of time (and thus, was in fact Mukurou) before he got his own body back. That and the box technically belongs to Chrome, not Mukuro.
  • A recurring motif in Lupin III: The Woman Called Fujiko Mine, with normal ones appearing in the opening, as well as more nightmarish humanoid ones appearing in a flashback of Fujiko's.
  • The manga Jagan wa Gachirin ni Tobu takes this tropes to its worst possible conclusion in the form of Minerva, an owl shaped abomination whose eyes continuously spill blood from their sockets, and whose mere gaze can kill any living thing almost instantly after forcing them to expel blood from their eyes, ears and mouths. It's gaze was so potent that after escaping containment from a U.S. military aircraft carrier, it killed off the entire crew and decimated several Japanese cities just by flying over them. It was also nearly impossible to kill even with ranged weapons like guns, since it could sense its attackers' blood thirst. It took the efforts of a completely blind (courtesy of Minerva) expert hunter, a Batman Gambit, and a jet battle in midair to finally bring the wicked-eyed bird down.
  • An episode of Digimon Tamers had a creepy (complete with glowing red eyes) talking owl who creepily tells the protagonists about the Devas. The entire scene is very odd, as one review can attest:
    -good God what the hell is up with that? He's not a Digimon or anything... just a talking owl that seems to exist only to give Takato and Henry nightmares. His unfortunate speech patterns takes the sting out of it a little (as does his talk of a "chicken of vengeance"), but he just stands there with those crazy eyes talking about the coming of the Devas like some goddamn Cheshire cat. Then he flies away like nothing happened!

    Art 
  • Goya's etching The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters (El sueńo de la razón produce monstruos) depicts the artist's nightmares as owls and bats.
  • Art scholars believe the owls in Hieronymous Bosch' paintings represent madness.

    Card Games 
  • In the Alara block of Magic: The Gathering, strixes are kept as pets in the bio-mechanical realm of Esper. As the name might suggest to any Latin scholars, they're venomous or parasitic evil clockwork owls.

    Comic Books 
  • A horror comic had a short story called "Hooters" where evil owls killed buxom women on a camping trip.
  • In Usagi Yojimbo, the comic reflects the Japanese idea that the Owl is a symbol of death. In one story, Usagi and Gen spot one perched near a hut. When they looked inside and found their old friend, Zato-Ino, in a hut and gravely wounded, that bird was a bad omen. However, they are able to successfully treat the pig and Gen spitefully goes out to taunt the bird and drive it away. Later the Owl is diving for a cute little lizard, but the little guy is saved by an attacking Tokage who tackles the Owl and eats it.
    • There's a very mysterious assassin called "The Lord of Owls" who appears in one chapter.
  • In Hellboy: The Corpse, when the Fairy King makes his first appearance, he has an owl perched on his arm.
    • B.P.R.D. 1946 and 1947 feature a vampire count who shapeshifts into an owl. Sometimes he does it to make murdering Nazis easier and sometimes he does it to get around faster. It's just his thing.
  • In the Marvel Universe, there's a villain named The Owl, who's primarily a member of Daredevil's Rogues Gallery. He eventually had surgery done to make him look more like an owl.
  • DC Universe,
    • Owlman is the Evil Counterpart of Batman in the Crime Syndicate's Mirror Universe.
    • Another Batman example is the vilainous organisation The Court of Owls introduced in Scott Snyder's run on Batman Volume 2. They're a clandestine society who have apparently secretly controlled Gotham for centuries, and the "owls prey on bats" imagery has been played up for all it's worth.
  • Macduff, a wooden doll in form of an owl that formerly was the pet of Gepetto, recently joined Jack Frost in his adventures. Perhaps it was an omen, as the series ended with literally everyone getting killed.
  • This cover from Mouse Guard. The scene itself is even more brutal and awesome.

    Film - Animation 
  • Disney's Alice in Wonderland. While traveling through a spooky forest Alice encounters an owl with a neck like an accordion that makes music as it flies.
  • Although he's ultimately friendly, the ancient owl in The Secret Of Nimh is intensely scary.
  • The sunlight-hating Big Bad owl (and his tiny minion) in Rock-A-Doodle.

    Film - Live-Action 
  • An owl provides a Cat Scare to Arthur at one point in Horror of Dracula.
  • The appearance of Jareth, the goblin king, in Labyrinth (and his departure at the end) involved his becoming an owl... actually, Labyrinth's entire opening shot is a (for the time) impressive CG sequence of said owl flying around the opening credit shots and eventually becoming a real owl with a carefully executed editing sweep shot into the first scene.
  • The movie The Adventures of Milo and Otis, a story about a lost kitten and a puppy, has a scene in the treetops at nighttime where the kitten talks with a horned owl with glowing eyes who pops out of nowhere. Though he is friendly, he is, needless to say, quite terrifying for younger children.
  • The Owls in I Know Who Killed Me. They don't mean anything, nor are they particularly foreboding. They're just there.
  • The rather intense Owl-to-human transformation in the Russian film version of Nightwatch.
  • In The Fourth Kind, the owls are actually Aliens coming to abduct you.
  • The killer in StageFright -Aquarius- wears an owl mask, which was part of the theatre production he crashes.

    Literature 
  • In Mervyn Peake's Titus Groan, Lord Sepulchrave is driven mad by the destruction of his library, starts believing he is 'The Death Owl' and eventually commits suicide by allowing himself to be eaten by owls.
  • Henry David Thoreau wrote in Walden: "I rejoice that there are owls. Let them do the idiotic and maniacal hooting for men. It is a sound admirably suited to swamps and twilight woods which no day illustrates, suggesting a vast and underdeveloped nature which men have not recognized. They represent the stark twilight and unsatisfied thoughts which all [men] have."
  • Neil Gaiman: "Daughter of Owls," wherein a baby girl foundling is superstitiously thought to be, yes, born of owls and thus the townfolk will not raise her, only giving her food.
  • In Bless Me Ultima, owls are a sign that a bruja (or evil witch) is around.
    • It's also a subversion, as the main owl in the story is connected to Ultima herself, who is a curandera rather than a bruja (playing on the Latino Catholic stereotype of indigenous healers being witches). In fact, when the owl is killed, Ultima dies not long after as a consequence.
  • As explained in the above quote, owls are symbols that you've been abducted by aliens in More Information Than You Require.
    • The book also contains instructions on how to cook an owl. One of the steps is to remove their clockwork innards.
  • In The Chronicles of Ancient Darkness, Big Bad Eostra was once the mage of the Eagle Owl clan, so eagle owls are considered creepy bad omens. Other kinds of owls are cool, though.
  • Stephen Bauer's fantasy novel Satyrday centers on the attempts of the protagonists - an orphaned boy, the satyr who raised him, a fox-spirit, and a sympathetic raven - to combat a malevolent owl and his plot to kidnap the Moon (who is a character in her own right). The owl is tyrannical and very cruel, a prime example of this trope.
  • At one point in The Bible, Job complains that in the extremity of his misfortune, he has become "a brother to dragons and a companion to owls." Though some translations render it as "a companion to ostriches," which somehow reads as slightly less eerie.
  • In Jincy Willet's short story "Justine Laughs at Death," an extended parallel is drawn between the Serial Killer (and rapist and torturer) Ripley and an owl he sees outside his window, with the owl's menace and predatory nature initially reminding Ripley comfortingly of himself (once the metaphor is extended, it gets... less comforting).
  • Parodied in James Thurber's comic essay "There's An Owl In My Room", which is mostly about pigeons and how un-sinister (or poignant, for that matter) they are, but it does refer to the sinister nature of owls as a contrast:
    You could dress up a pigeon in a tiny suit of evening clothes and put a tiny silk hat on his head and a tiny gold-headed cane under his wing and send him walking into my room at night. It would make no impression on me. I would not shout, "Good God Almighty, the birds are in charge!" But you could send an owl into my room, dressed only in the feathers it was born with, and no monkey business, and I would pull the covers over my head and scream.
  • In the story "The Ghost Car" in Chris Woodyard's book Haunted Ohio II, the deaths of a certain family's members are heralded by a number of owls that fly away one by one until none are left. This occurs after a man muffled in a coat knocks on the family's door before vanishing. This happens on winter nights for two years in a row. When the knock comes on the third year, the family does not open the door, at which the knocker chuckles and says, "Soon no one will occupy this farm but the owls."
  • George Eliot complains about a clumsy attempt to invoke this, in her essay "Silly Novels by Lady Novelists":
    she falls into this mediaeval vein of description (the italics are ours): "The banner unfurled it at the sound, and shook its guardian wing above, while the startled owl flapped her in the ivy; the firmament looking down through her 'argus eyes,'-
  • Discworld makes fun of this trope (As it does virtually every trope in existence). The Epebian goddess of wisdom was supposed to have an owl as her signature animal. Unfortunately, due to her church hiring a sculptor who wasn't very good at doing birds for her statue, she ended up with a penguin.
  • Subverted in the Young Adult novel Hoot. While burrowing owls are tiny and adorable, their existence on a construction site spells doom for the pancake house that is supposed to be built on it.
  • Completely averted in Katherine Lasky's Guardians of Ga'Hoole, where the cast consists almost entirely of owls, the odd snake and seagull aside. That is, averted as long as you're talking about the protagonists; their enemies, The Pure Ones, can be a pretty nasty bunch.
  • Justified in Poppy, since most of the cast are mice. However the mice and the owl, Mr. Ocax, have an odd relationship in which the mice are forced to pretend that Mr. Ocax is their kindly ruler/landlord.
  • Spooky owls crop up a lot in Paul Cornell's Doctor Who New Adventures.
  • In the Warrior Cats series, owls are often thought of as ill omens. Justified, since an owl seems quite large to a cat, and owls have been known to carry off kits. However, ThunderClan does occasionally look for owls at night, because if it's windy and they're having trouble scenting prey, they can follow an owl and find prey that way.
  • In Gene Stratton Porter's Freckles, one trial facing Freckles in his job is being caught on the train and hearing the unnerving hooting.
    Night closed in. The Limberlost stirred gently, then shook herself, growled, and awoke around him.
    There seemed to be a great owl hooting from every hollow tree, and a little one screeching from every knothole.
  • In the Obsidian And Blood trilogy, owls are the preferred sacrifice of Mictlantecuhtli, the Aztec God of the Underworld.

    Live Action TV 
  • Owls in Twin Peaks are supposed to be the eyes of BOB and/or the Black Lodge, but their significance is never really explained. Then again, neither is anything else of consequence to the series' overall plot.
  • John Oliver once noted on Mock the Week that owls can kill tigers, because they have the high ground.
  • The Colbert Report: Owls are on notice. Colbert refuses to talk about it, saying "they know what they did". Possibly something to do with Owlbears?
  • Tales from the Crypt had an episode with a man who gets the auditory system of an owl.
  • On MythQuest, Gwydion and Math sentence Blodeuwedd to spend eternity as an owl, shunned by both man and bird, for murdering her husband.
  • Would I Lie to You?: Greg Davies used a a drawing of the "Hoot Owl of Death" as sort of a Black Spot when he was a child.
  • In the pilot episode of Longmire Walt is making coffee when he sees an owl perched outside his window in broad daylight, a pretty unusual occurrence, and when he turns his back for a moment it's gone. Later on a scene features a stuffed one in the background while he's unknowingly talking to the killer.
  • Game of Thrones: This owl is an enemy spy! (context).

    Music Videos 
  • Watch the video for Outkast's "Ms. Jackson" and you may remember that owl forever.
  • A couple of Lindsey Stirling's videos, e.g. her Zelda medley, use owl hoots to set the scene and make it seem scary.

    Mythology 
  • Original references to vampires turning into flying creatures had them become owls, not bats.
    • This may be because the Middle Eastern Lilith/Lilitu was often symbolized as an owl, and often took the form of an owl.
  • The Cahuilla Indian god of death, Muut, was represented by an owl.
  • The demon Andras, is a man with the head and wings of an owl.
  • There's the saying Cuando el tecolote canta, el indio muere (when owl hoots, an American Indian dies).
    • Most Native cultures in Mexico and the American Southwest consider owls ill-omened — many of them believed hearing an owl hoot is an omen of death. Though Old Man Owl occasionally does some good in Navajo legends, most owls one might meet are probably shape-shifted ghosts”the related Apache tribe wear owl feathers to keep ghosts away. Even when Old Man Owl does his good deed, it's creepy, considering what he says when given a deer-liver as thanks: "Turn your back, my grandchild, I allow nobody to see me feed."
    • Owls also were the symbol of Mictlantehuatl, god of death and ruler of the Underworld in Aztec Mythology.
  • Speaking of owls and the Aztecs, the Aztecs feared owls: hearing the hooting of an owl was an omen of misfortune, hearing the scream of a screech owl was an omen of your own death, and seeing a horned owl was the beginning of one's own spiritual corruption and doom.
  • The Aztec god Tlacolotl was a patron of evil doers, sorcerers and darkness. He is similar to Tezcatlipoca, though, unlike the Smoking mirror, who is the dark half of the Light and cultivates evil so it can be exposed and dealt with, Tlacolotl cultivates wickedness for the sake of wickedness. In the Codex Cospiano, Tlacolotl is represented as a horned owl nesting in a temple as the blind sorcerer god of obstacles, ice and immobility, Itzlacoluihqui. sometimes described as a negative counterpart to Tezcatlipoca, makes an offering of blood and burning incense, apparently in an attempt to blot out the sun. [http://www.kunst-fuer-alle.de/english/art/artist/image/mexican-school/8713/16/index.htm#]
  • In some parts of Medieval Europe, it's thought only owls could abide the presence of ghosts, so an owl nesting near a house is a sign that it's haunted.
  • On the one hand, owls are considered a death omen in Japanese mythology. On the other, they're also considered to be really stupid.
  • Stolas/Stolos, a demon and prince of hell in the Ars Goetia, is represented as an owl. Also an example of The Owl-Knowing One since he is presented as a tutor, albeit one who teaches poisons and other demonic knowledge.
  • In several African tribal beliefs, particularly in the Congo, owls were and are considered evil beings that eat the souls of humans.
  • Some cryptozoologists have argued that the infamous Mothman is actually 'merely' a giant owl from Pleistocene Cuba. They call it (what else?) Bighoot.

    Pinball 

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

    Theatre 

    Video Games 

    Webcomics 

    Web Original 

    Western Animation 
  • The creepy opening sequence in the Peanuts Halloween Special It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown features an owl hooting into the camera just before the commercial break.
  • In the Freakazoid! episode "Candle Jack," the first instance of "Scream-o-vision" occurs when an owl appears in the frame and hoots at the audience.
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender :
    • The Knowledge Spirit, Won Shi Tong, combines the inherent creepiness of a giant talking owl with the ability to stretch his neck like some sort of feathery snake. He's making a comeback in The Legend of Korra.
    • The standard owls in this universe really are cats as birds; one was used to aid in the creepy atmosphere of The Puppetmaster.
  • The freaking terrifying owl that attacks the furlings in Once Upon a Forest.
  • The 1960s-era secret agent spoof Cool McCool had a villain named The Owl, seen in the opening credits.
  • Rupert and the Frog Song. The evil, glowing-eyed white barn owl swooping down towards the viewer with a shriek is certified terror. Can be seen at around 4:25 of this video.
  • Averted in a Merrie Melodies classic, I Love to Singa. "I love to sing-a/about the moon-a/and the June-a and the spring-a/I love to sing-a..."
  • An owl appears during the Headless Horseman's introductory sequence from The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad.
  • An owl in the famous Silly Symphony The Skeleton Dance managed to scare a freaking skeleton out of his lack-of-skin. (Though the skeleton DID pull himself together and knock the owl's feathers off with his own skull.)
  • He has been mentioned already under Comics, but the Owlman of 'Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths'' takes it Up to Eleven by being an Omnicidal Maniac who thinks the only action that would have any meaning would be to destroy every single Earth there is in the multiverse.
  • Subverted by Owlowiscious in My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic. Spike feels that way about him for supposedly stealing his place as "Twilight Sparkle's number 1 assistant" (he also thinks Owlowiscious' 180 degrees head rotation looks creepy). However otherwise Owlowiscious falls pretty squarely into The Owl-Knowing One.
  • Averted in Franklin. Mr. Owl is their teacher, and he is always kind and helpful...and though intelligent, never pompously so.
  • In Kung Fu Panda Legends Of Awesomeness, we learn that the owl Feng Huang, formerly the most powerful member of the previous Furious Five, was corrupted by her power, and turned evil.
  • Phineas and Ferb had an episode where Candace dreamed that she was in The Wizard of Oz: When Candace and co. make it to the forest, one of the things that startles them is an owl...but not just any owl; it's actually a whacked-out version of an owl with Stacy's head... See for yourself.
  • In the South Park episode "Insheeption," Mr. Mackey is revealed to have a hoarding problem stemming from a childhood incident when he was molested by a Woodsy Owl mascot ("Give a hoot, don't pollute!"). When Mr. Mackey faces up to this traumatic memory in a dream, the owl mascot turns into a monstrous embodiment of Mr. Mackey's trauma. Eventually, believe it or not, the other people in the dream have to bring in Freddy Krueger from A Nightmare on Elm Street to stop the owl.
  • In the 31st-century New New York of Futurama, owls are pests, considered to be vermin like the rats and pigeons they were introduced to eliminate. They ended up filling the ecological niche those pests vacated. Owls can be domesticated, though, and trained to attack trespassers.
  • Adventure Time's Cosmic Owl is a pretty chill dude, but when he appears to Jake in a dream that appears to predict his (Jake's) death, Jake calmly, completely, even *enthusiastically* accepts that he's going to die which freaks Finn out terribly.

    Other 
  • Owls are suspected as the source for several reported ghost haunting or sightings of aliens.
  • The "Bohemian Grove" secret society that pops up in many New World Order conspiracy theories apparently worships the owl goddess Lily. Or the owl god Molech, never mind that Molech is supposed to be a man with the head of a bull, not an owl.
  • Macrame owls were horrifying to quite a few children in The Seventies.
  • Much of the mythology regarding owls as omens of death could have its roots in the fact that they would frequently appear in old times when someone was ill. If a vigil was kept at night there would be lights burning, the light would attract insects, the insects would attract mice and the mice would attract owls.



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