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; who knows where they got it from?
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
Generally speaking, in real life, owls aren't the smartest of birds (that goes to the corvids, such as crows and magpies
). Solo predators tend not to be the smartest creatures (although smarter than herbivores; it takes even fewer brains to sneak up on a leaf), as cunning is better than raw brainpower when it comes to getting hold of prey. Compounding the problem is that owls are notoriously difficult to train, which some people interpret with stupidity. However, Barn owls seem to be moderately intelligent and even emotional, as evidenced by owl trainer Gary Gero
Contrast Ominous Owl
. See also Animal Stereotypes
and Woodland Creatures
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- 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.
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 Wolfs 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.
- 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.
Films — Animation
Films — Live-Action
- 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.
- Guardians Of Ga'Hoole has varying degrees of this, and some aversions, depending on the character 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 badass.
Myths & Religion
- 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) rather than actual birds.
- Inverted in Indian mythology, were owls are often protrayed 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.
- 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 Neighbourhood 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 ŕ la J. R. R. Tolkien, are among the few "giant animal"-type monsters to have been sentient in all incarnations of AD&D.
- 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."
- 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 (wŕnzhītáng) 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 hsd 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.
- Doctor Bubo from the hungarian animated series of the same name is an owl. With a PHD.
- The owl is the unofficial mascot of the high IQ organization Mensa.