There is a long-running tradition of using owls as a symbol of knowledge. This might be because their eyes resemble Nerd Glasses, or because they are silent and mysterious. Most likely, though, it's because of their importance in various ancient cultures, especially the Greeks, where the owl was the bird of Athena, the goddess of, among other things, wisdom. Ironically, Athena's bird was the owl not because the Greeks themselves saw owls as wise, but because Athena's patron city Athens (and its environs) swarmed with wild little owls. In any event, owls are usually depicted as wise and honorable and serve as mentors, teachers, and advisors. Be aware, though, that they tend to share traits with the Absent-Minded Professor and the TV Genius, so take their advice with a grain of salt. There is also a tendency for owls to act as narrators/storytellers. Contrast Ominous Owl. Compare to Clever Crows. See also Animal Stereotypes and Woodland Creatures.
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- The owl from the classic '70s animated Tootsie Pop commercial, as a subversion. Or possibly not, since he's the only one in those commercials ever willing to just say, "I don't know."
- He's also the only one to suggest the application of the scientific method to the question. And then use that suggestion to get free candy.
- In a live-action 1970s Esso commercial for their auto service that has a takeoff of The Tortoise and the Hare, the tortoise makes a pit stop with an owl as his "mechanic."
- There's a Geico commercial that subverts. A wife asks her husband if he knows that there are some owls that aren't that wise. The scene then cuts to two owls in a tree — another wife and husband pair, and the wife chats about a co-worker of hers, but the husband just keeps asking "Who?"
- Woodsy Owl, the anti-pollution mascot.
- Wise low-cal potato chips feature a stylized owl's head on their bags.
- A short animation from Spainnote features an owl trying to convince "Las Tres Mellizas" (the title characters of an animated series, also from Spain) why they should go to bed.
Anime & Manga
- In Negima!?, Yue (The Smart Girl) transforms into an owl as her suka/dud form.
- Ash's Noctowl in Pokémon was said to be very intelligent in the episode in which he captured it, but it wasn't really mentioned later.
- The owl of the Forest of Death in Wolf's Rain falls between straight and subversion. The wolves are creeped out by it because it doesn't have a scent (maybe it's a ghost), and its utterances don't seem to make sense. On the other hand, it turns out that they not only do make sense, but eventually lead the wolves and Cheza out of the forest to (temporary) safety.
- Old Man Owl from Sonic the Hedgehog: The Movie is a fairly slick aversion; maybe he was at one point, but emphasis on the fact that he's known as Old Man Owl. The guy's senile as a head of Wensleydale and his vision is so bad even those cokebottles he wears don't do him any good.
- In Yaiba, on their way to the Seven Orbs, Yaiba and the others met a huge, wise-looking owl and asked him for directions. He wanted to be paid. They eventually resorts to bind him and taking him with them.
- Used In-Universe for Lupin III: The Woman Called Fujiko Mine, the Fräulein Eule uses the Owl as their symbol for the connotations of knowledge and science. As a work, however, the frequent images of Owls are a creepy Animal Motif.
- Sandorst from The Autumnlands: Tooth & Claw is a complete inversion. He is short-sighted, ignorant, and a terrible judge of character. His daughter Enna is thankfully smarter and more rational.
- In many Disney comics, a judge that both Donald and Mickey have dealt with is an owl (not certain if it is meant to be the same person, or if being a judge is just a thing that comes naturally to anthropomorphic owls) — which is obviously meant to be symbolic, as it is rare that the Funny Animals in the comics are easily identifiable as anything but generic "birdpeople" or "dognoses".
- Otero and Liebber in Blacksad, who are both anthropomorphic owl scientists during the cold war.
- Harvey Who, an extremely minor character from Archie Comics' Sonic the Hedgehog series is this as a member of the Kingdom of Acorn's Secret Service. However, King Max portrayed him as a Cassandra Truth sayer, ignoring his advice and leading to the downfall of his kingdom note . He sees Max's son, Elias, as a worthy holder of the crown and is working to help him get it back.
- In Pocket God, Klik's Spirit Advisor, Nox, is shaped like an owl.
- Howland Owl from Pogo is actually a parody/subversion of the trope, as his idea of intelligence is using big words and spouting Little Known Facts.
- Paulus de Boskabouter: Oehoeboeroe is a very stoic owl, who usually remains solemn and calm at all times, providing words of wisdom and using very old-fashioned language.
- Owls are reoccuring minor characters in the Swedish comic Hälge. They are, however, not really wiser than any other inhabitant of the forest they live in, but lean more towards being wiseasses prone to making really bad puns.
Films — Animation
- Owl from Winnie-the-Pooh is a subversion, as some of his advice makes no sense.
- Archimedes from The Sword in the Stone, as per the film being an adaptation of The Once and Future King (see Literature). However, Archimedes' gruff nature from the books is played up here, to make him seem more like a cranky schoolmaster.
Archimedes: PINFEATHERS AND GOLLYFLUFF!
- Subverted with Friend Owl in Disney's Bambi, who initially appears to be wise but turns out to be a Know-Nothing Know-It-All.
- The Secret of NIMH: The Great Owl. As in the novel, he is both creepy and wise.
- There is Big Mama, an owl, in The Fox and the Hound, who functions as a mentor figure to Tod.
Films — Live-Action
- The owl voiced by Jenna Elfman in the film Dr. Dolittle starring Eddie Murphy.
- In the original version of Clash of the Titans, Athena gives Perseus Bubo, a clockwork duplicate of her own owl companion built by Hephaestus, which becomes Perseus' guide. (It makes a small cameo appearance in the 2010 remake, where he finds it in the armory, but leaves it behind.)
- Owls in the Harry Potter 'verse seem to be unusually intelligent, at times seeming to almost be able to understand humans, and have the uncanny ability to find anyone in the world, as long as they have something addressed to that person. (Word of God says that wizards in hiding can enchant themselves to be untraceable by owls, though.)
- Subverted in the Doctor Who New Adventures novel Sanctuary, by David A. McIntee:
"[The Doctor] is very much like the owl, I think," said Guy, half to himself.
"Wise, you mean?" Benny had heard several people comment on such a likeness. Perhaps it was his eyebrows and keen gaze.
"What has wisdom to do with owls? He is comfortable in the darkness, as they are, and I think he is equally as adept at hunting down prey in cold blood."
- Merlin's owl Archemedes in The Once and Future King.
- Owl in Winnie-the-Pooh stories, where he's an outright Know-Nothing Know-It-All.
- The Chronicles of Narnia: The Silver Chair. The Parliament of the Owls.
- The Hank the Cowdog series has Madame Moonshine, the witchy little owl. She often provides magical assistance to Hank when it suits her, although she does have some odd mannerisms, like referring to him as "Hank the Rabbit."
- Subverted harshly in the James Thurber fable The Owl Who Was God.
- Subverted in The Patchwork Girl of Oz, which features a pair of minor characters called the Wise Donkey and the Foolish Owl, who are just that.
- In The Belgariad, the philosophical and wise god Aldur has the owl as his totem. The sorceresses he taught, Poledra and Polgara, also favour that shape when they need to transform.
- As a story whose main characters are almost all owls, Guardians of Ga'Hoole has varying degrees of this and some aversions—depending on the owl in question.
- Owlstar from Warrior Cats was a wise and just leader of ThunderClan who is Famed In-Story. He isn't actually an owl, but he copied his skills from one, and has an obvious owl theme. It's what made him a badass.
- The original trope name ("Wise Old Owl") comes from a nursery rhyme:
A wise old owl lived in an oak
The more he saw the less he spoke
The less he spoke the more he heard.
Why can't we all be like that wise old bird?
- This was later appropriated by the U.S. Army to encourage soldiers to keep their mouths shut (loose lips sink ships).
- It was also written on the walls of the Owl Bar in Baltimore as a code for ordering alcohol during Prohibition—when booze was available, an owl lamp above the bar would blink.
- Music/Nightwish's The Crow, the Owl and the Dove has the following lines:
An owl came to me, old and wise
Pierced right through my youth
I learned it's ways, envied it's sense
But needed nothing it had
- Owls, of course, are the emblem of Athena, Greek goddess of wisdom. They were also apparently very common in Athens; in several languages, "Carry owls to Athens" means doing something pointless. Though the last part may be referring to Athenian coins stamped with an owl motif (Athena being, of course, the city's patron goddess, and the commonness of owls in Athens being the likely source of the association) rather than actual birds.
- Inverted in Indian mythology, were owls are often portrayed as stupid because of their blank expression.
- Inverted in Finnish mythology, in which owls were seen as stupid animals. While the imported image of owls as a symbol of wisdom is now the more popular one, the Finnish word "pöllö" is still used to describe stupid people.
- Do a Google search for "smart owl" or some variation thereof and you will find a plethora of pictures of owls in mortarboards.
- Magic Girl has a white owl watching from the top of the playfield.
- OWL magazine, published in Canada, is a digest meant to get kids interested in learning. The name and mascot are owls, obviously playing to the owl's association with knowledge.
- Mister Rogers' Neighborhood: X the Owl from The Neighborhood of Make-Believe.
- Charlie Owl from New Zoo Revue wore a mortarboard, implying wisdom.
- Hoots the Owl from Sesame Street, who possessed the skills of saxophone playing and singing the blues.
- The Dutch children's show De Fabeltjeskrant—also known as I fablernas värld ("In the world of fables") in Swedish—used an owl called Meneer de Uil (Mr Owl, originally enough) as a narrator.
- Dungeons & Dragons
- The game links Owls to wisdom too. The wisdom-boosting spell in 3rd ed. and later is called "Owl's Wisdom".
- In Planescape, the Beast Lord of owls is one of oldest beings on his plane and is a part-time sage of godlike wisdom and knowledge. Noctral are Lawful Good supra-genius barn owls with 20' wingspan collecting (and dispensing to anyone capable of hearing) knowledge.
- Giant owls, along with giant eagles à la J. R. R. Tolkien, are among the few "giant animal"-type monsters to have been sentient in all incarnations of AD&D. Some editions also feature normal-sized talking owls, a bird which is Exactly What It Says on the Tin; these are wise oracles of the forest that seem to be at least partially related to Fey.
- Basic/Expert/etc. D&D and the Tabletop Game/Mystara setting have the hsiao, a Lawful race of giant owls with clerical (= Wisdom-based) spellcasting powers.
- A Dragon article on personality types for Gamma World mutant animals suggested owl-people weren't any smarter than anyone else, but acted as if they were.
- Mortasheen gives us the Bemzuul, which is essentially an owl with oversized, creepy-looking eyes. While not wise per se, it is capable of telepathy, photographic memory, and even Mind Rape. Bonus points for having a name derived from B.E.M., the acronym for "Bug Eyed Monster."
- That annoying owl (Kaepora Gaebora) in The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask, and The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening. Although the wisdom part may be justified here as the stones scattered around Hyrule in Ocarina seem to suggest that he was once one of the Sages, and ended up reincarnated. Hyrule Historia confirms that Kaepora Gaebora and Rauru, the Sage of Light are indeed the same person, watching over the Hero of Time.
- In King's Quest V: Absence Makes The Heart Go Yonder!, Cedric the Owl was intended to help guide the player through the game and offer insightful input. In practice he just hung around annoying you, left when anything dangerous might happen, made inane observations ("Graham, watch out! A poisonous snake!") and when he said something that actually could have been a useful warning, it was always too late to avert the catastrophe. The key here is he was designed to give information; he just sucked at it.
- The owl in My World, My Way who gives advice and a few spells to the heroine.
- The creatively named Owl from Nights: Journey of Dreams serves as the game's Exposition Fairy.
- Hoothoot and its evolution Noctowl from Pokémon, while not exactly Psychic-type, can still learn a lot of good Psychic-type moves. The Pokedex also states that they're very intelligent—Hoothoot's Platinum entry states that "Some countries consider it to be a wise friend, versed in the world's ways," while Noctowl's Silver entry states that "When it needs to think, it rotates its head 180 degrees to sharpen its intellectual power."
- The owls found all over the place in ZanZarah: The Hidden Portal serve as Mr. Exposition.
- Blathers, the curator of the Museum in the Animal Crossing games. At the least, he's knowledgeable in most, if not all of the things you donate, and in the early games would blather on about whatever fish, bug, or completed fossil you gave to the museum.
- Peepsta Hoo dream eaters in Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance use a fairly sound strategy: scan an enemy for its elemental weakness and then ruthlessly exploit it with high-level magic and tuned attacks. A handy spirit to have in your party, but in nightmaresform...
- From the Bayonetta series, Jeanne had her own version of the titular character's Crow Within technique called Owl Within, in which she transforms into a blood-red owl. It's very fitting for her role in the first game, as throughout the game she not only acts as Bayonetta's rival, but also as her mentor, reminding Bayonetta of the techniques she's forgotten and her role as an Umbra Witch. This could double with an Ominous Owl as well, since for most of the first game Jeanne acts as Bayonetta's enemy.
- Lil' Hoots: "Oh, Old Master Owwwww-wul!"
- In El Goonish Shive owls are related to the knowledge, albeit in a different way. "READ, or the owl will eat you".
- Hark! A Vagrant knows what makes owls wise.
- The Perry Bible Fellowship reminds us◊: the hardest part is to find that owl.
- According to Jason Love's Snapshots, some owls more than the rest◊.
- Political satire comic I Drew This pointed out the falsehood of this on one occasion:
Owls have a reputation for being wise. But in fact, they're no smarter than they need to be. Larry King looks like an owl. But recently he asked the dumbest question anyone has ever asked on TV: "How can you out-and-out deny creationism, since if evolution is true, why are there still monkeys?"
- Heroes Of Thantopolis Helene's cautious chief adviser takes the form of an owl, complete with eyes shaped like round spectacles
- In Avatar: The Last Airbender, Wan Shi Tong, the knowledge spirit who runs the greatest library in the world, is a giant barn owl (who crosses over into Ominous Owl territory when he gets mad). His name, 万知堂 (wànzhītáng) even means "He who knows ten thousand things." In the Sequel Series The Legend of Korra however, he's shown to be poorly informed when it comes to human technology and easily swayed by Unalaq.
- In the Christmas Special Christopher the Christmas Tree, a young owl runs away from home because he's tired of being taunted for not being as smart as the rest of his family (he can't fly or even talk). His smarter brothers are even shown wearing mortarboards, playing into this trope.
- Good-guy leader Leoric from Visionaries has a magic staff with the power of Wisdom, manifesting as a talking owl whose advice usually take a scene change to figure out.
- Professor Owl in the Adventures in Music Duology.
- One of the teachers on Timmy Time is Osbourne, a kindly and patient owl. His son also attends, and clearly looks up to his father, emulating him whenever possible.
- The owl Zocrates from The Bluffers is not only named after an ancient Greek philosopher, he is even dressed like a stereotypical ancient Greek, complete with laurel wreath on his head.
- Owl from The Animals of Farthing Wood.
- The family of owls from the Looney Tunes short I Love to Singa is a family of classical musicians—except for the youngest, who wants to be a jazz singer.
- Olivia Owl in Birdz is the nerdy type.
- Owlowiscious (pronounced the same as the even less phonetic Aloysius) in My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic becomes the pet of Twilight Sparkle, and for a pet he's extremely competent, helping Twilight out at night when Spike is asleep. Enough so for Spike (a fully sentient dragonling who has been with Twilight for years) feels his position as "number 1 assistant" threatened by the owl.
- There was an Aloysius Owl in Terrytoons' Possible Possum series. He tried to avert from Possible's more outrageous schemes.
- Doctor Bubo from the Hungarian animated series of the same name is an owl. With a doctorate.
- On Wild Animal Baby Explorers, Izzy the owl knows a lot of things, but isn't always a good sport when he gets something wrong, or has to admit he doesn't know something.
- The owl is the unofficial mascot of the high IQ organization Mensa.
- Although owls have a much larger skull and brain size in proportion to their bodies than most other animals, owls in captivity consistently test among the lowest in bird intelligence, and owls in the wild have been observed to make life-threatening blunders not frequently witnessed of other birds.
- The FFA (Future Farmers of America) has the symbol of the owl for the Advisor (a teacher that helps organize FFA activities). To quote, from opening ceremonies:
Vice President: "The Advisor?"Advisor: "Here by the owl".Vice President: "Why stationed by the owl?"Advisor: "The owl is a time-honored emblem of knowledge and wisdom. Being older than the rest of you, I am asked to advise you from time to time as the need arises. I hope that my advice will always be based on true knowledge, and ripened with wisdom."
- Purdue University's Online Writing Lab takes advantage of its acronym to draw a connection between its purpose as a knowledge base and research for professional writing and owls, which have been featured in some way either as an emblem or logotype for the writing lab.