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Ominous Owl

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"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 possess several traits that make them creepy to humans. Firstly, they're nocturnal and permeate the dark of night with their spooky call. Secondly, they strike in silence and eat cute critters like little mice. Thirdly, not many creatures on this planet can spin their heads all the way around, and owls are among those few capable of this uncanny feat.note  And then there's also those wide, piercing eyes of theirs and claws that can badly hurt a human if an owl would choose to attack one. Rare, but not unheard of.

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. In some Native North American traditions, owls are associated with the evil wintertime spirits most popularly known in English as wendigo, and a few languages used a single word to refer to both the bird and the spirit. Geoffrey Chaucer also had a thing for them. Harbinger is the key-word here, all too often the owls are used in films as normal, non-threatening (to humans) animals who merely enrich the eerie ambiance with their huge glistening eyes and especially their otherworldly hooting.

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

See also Brutal Bird of Prey, Creepy Crows, Vile Vulture, and Circling Vultures for other types of scary, creepy birds, as well as Bat Out of Hell for another scary nocturnal flyer, and The Owl-Knowing One (for when the owl is an Evil Genius). Contrast Cute Owl (though there might be some overlap when Cute Is Evil).


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    Anime & Manga 
  • 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.
  • 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!
  • 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 them), 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."
  • Professor Hoot the Owl from Happy Happy Clover, while nice and helpful, does have moments where he comes across as very creepy and a bit unnerving. This is more notable in the Manga in one story where he warns students about humans and going outside the forest.
  • Doku-Chan from Jagaaaaaan, a ball-shaped owl with a pair of pilot glasses, fulfills all requirements as he enters Jagasaki's life and gives him a roundabout briefing about what's going on after his first encounter with a Fractured Human.
  • The manga Jagan wa Gachirin ni Tobu takes this trope 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. Its 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Mukuro from Reborn! (2004) 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.
  • In Tokyo Ghoul, the Ghouls with this Animal Motif are particularly frightening.
    • The legendary One-Eyed Owl, the most powerful Ghoul seen in the original series. Rumored to be a Half-Human Hybrid prone to committing cannibalism, it appeared suddenly a decade prior to the series and began a killing spree targeting Ghoul Investigators. It was only when The Ace challenged it that the Owl was forced to retreat even managed to defeat them but spared due to personal reasons, going into hiding. The mere thought that it could show up again terrifies CCG, and with good reason. When it finally appears, it becomes clear just how monstrous a Ghoul can become.
    • Kind and grandfatherly Yoshimura — normally associated with The Owl-Knowing One — becomes this trope when sufficiently provoked into coming out of his peaceful retirement. When he fights, it is typically presented as a Mook Horror Show.
    • The sequel gives us another such Ghoul, former Plucky Comic Relief Seidou Takizawa. Reforged into a Minion and driven mad, he gleefully murders everything in his path. That he looks like a strung-out Goth adds to his creepiness, as does him comparing human brains to jam.
    • Another one who has this trope is no other than Koutaro Amon, who also received Yoshimura's kagune and thus his abilities, and suffers both of the pros as well as the cons.
  • The Wolf's Rain anime series had a creepy owl that made appearances at times, most likely as a symbol for death.
  • In the zoo chapter of Yotsuba&!, 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.


    Card Games 
  • Magic: The Gathering:
    • On Alara, 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.
    • Mindshrieker, an owl spirit from Innistrad, feeds on spells that it tears right out of its victims' minds.
  • Yu-Gi-Oh!: The Raidraptor archetype consists of cybernetic birds of prey, including Strixes. While not evil, their owner in the anime is still a brutal '90s Anti-Hero, and the owls look scary.

    Comic Books 
  • The DCU:
    • All-Star Comics: There is often a shadowy dark owl perched behind The Loreli while the cruel witch is giving orders.
    • 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.
  • 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.
  • A horror comic had a short story called "Hooters" where evil owls killed buxom women on a camping trip.
  • Macduff, a wooden doll in form of an owl that formerly was the pet of Gepetto, joined Jack Frost in his adventures. Perhaps it was an omen, as the series ended with literally everyone getting killed.
  • 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.
  • This cover from Mouse Guard. The scene itself is even more brutal and awesome.
  • Tintin: In The Castafiore Emerald, Bianca Castafiore, after arriving at Marlinspike Hall, complains about having her sleep disturbed by a "monster" who appears outside her window (perhaps having climbed up the ivy), makes footsteps upstairs in the attic and occasionally makes a weirdly owllike cry. Tintin directly investigates this matter after the theft of the emerald and sees that the attic intruder was in fact just an owl.
  • Ultimate X-Men: There was an owl in a tree outside Weapon X when Nightcrawler broke free, to set the ominous nature of the place.
  • 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.
  • Watchmen: The second Nite Owl was probably going for a heroic but still intimidating version of this imagery with his theme, but doesn't quite pull it off.

    Eastern Animation 

    Fan Works 
  • The World is Filled with Monsters: Strygians, gigantic hawk owls turned into creatures of living shadow by exposure to dark magic.
  • The Myth of Link & Zelda: Breath of the Wild, a fanmade novelized adaptation of the game of the same name, there's an original entity called the Owl Spirit, or just the Owl. As its name implies, it takes the form of a giant golden owl. It's Zelda's spirit animal, expanding her sealing power from just a sealing power to wielding the power of this enormous spirit animal. It's not ominous on its own, except for one scene where Paya, empowered by the Sheikah Orb, has a vision where she sees the Owl as wielded by Zelda become suddenly corrupted by Malice in the same vein as Calamity Ganon.

    Films — Animation 

    Films — Live-Action 
  • 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 Ballad of Buster Scruggs. The mother owl in "All Gold Canyon" may or may not be some sort of supernatural guardian of the valley's peace. A Prospector steals one of its eggs and ends up being shot In the Back by a claim jumper. But when seeing the owl watching him, the prospector felt guilty and returned all but one of the eggs, which may be why the wound isn't fatal and he's allowed to leave with his gold.
  • In The Fourth Kind, the owls are actually Aliens coming to abduct you.
  • An owl provides a Cat Scare to Arthur at one point in Horror of Dracula.
  • The Owls in I Know Who Killed Me. They don't mean anything, nor are they particularly foreboding. They're just there.
  • In Killers of the Flower Moon Mollie's mother sees a vision of an owl flying into her bedroom shortly before her death.
  • 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 rather intense Owl-to-human transformation in the Russian version of Night Watch.
  • The killer in StageFright -Aquarius- wears an owl mask, which was part of the theatre production he crashes.

  • 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. In fact, when the owl is killed, Ultima dies not long after as a consequence.
  • 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.
  • In chapter 22 of The Cold Moons, the badgers come across a screech-owl and find it to be an omen. According to badger superstition, screech-owls often forebode death.
  • A Darkness More Than Night: The killer leaves a porcelain owl at the murder scene as a token.
  • Neil Gaiman's "Daughter of Owls," wherein a baby girl foundling is superstitiously thought to be, yes, born of owls and thus the townsfolk will not raise her, only giving her food.
  • The Discworld series 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.
    • In two different Discworld novels, Reaper Man and Snuff, owl-shaped clocks in quiet country parlours create discomfiture in the leading characters. Death, temporarily rendered mortal, is reminded of the passage of time and his own impending mortality, whilst Sam Vimes decides he hates owl-shaped clocks on principle because of their sinister nature.
  • Spooky owls crop up a lot in Paul Cornell's Doctor Who New Adventures.
  • 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 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."
  • Guardians Of Gahoole has most of the characters being owls, so some are bound to be evil as they oppose the good owls. Besides the Pure Ones (barn owl supremasists), Saint Aggies, has some nasty owls too. One of the most sinister owls has to be Nurse Finny, a snowy owl who acts sweet but really eats eggs and owlets.
  • 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.
  • 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).
  • In Midnight Tides, book five of the Malazan Book of the Fallen, owls make noticeably frequent appearances. One pattern is certain: they get progressively deader and appear in connection to Reluctant Warrior Trull Sengar and may be a symbol for his growing enstrangement from his people. Owl #1 is seen happily munching on a freshly caught mouse while Trull's world is still alright. Owl #2 has both a bloodied beak and bloodied claws and is seen in hurried flight, at a point where Trull's world is starting to come apart at the seams. He finds owl #3, freshly dead, shortly before realizing how there's no going back, and owl #4, long dead and decaying, is found by his betrothed in her empty house, right about the time everything's clearly gone downhill.
  • 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 a story in The Muddle-Headed Wombat series, an owl antagonizes the protagonists for setting a tree house in its home tree. It decides not to bother the trio anymore when the treehouse ends up underneath the tree instead.
  • The villain of Nighttime Is My Time is a Serial Killer who uses an owl as his symbol. He calls himself the Owl and is referred to by this name in his narration to conceal his identity from the reader. The villain chose this alias because owls are stealthy nocturnal predators, like him. It also stems from an incident in his childhood where he had to play an owl in a school performance but was so nervous he ended up humiliating himself and was slapped by his father; he was later mocked for it in high school too, so he reclaims it as a symbol of his power and vengeance against those who have wronged him. The Owl also utilizes owl-shaped pins as his Calling Card and wears an owl mask while committing his crimes.
  • In the Obsidian & Blood trilogy, owls are the preferred sacrifice of Mictlantechtli, the Aztec God of the Underworld.
  • Alan Garner's novel The Owl Service recasts the Welsh myth of Blodeuwedd to modern Wales.
  • In Ruben Eliassen's Phenomena there is a woman surrounded by obscure mystery, some of which reaches What Do You Mean, It's for Kids? standards; she is later revealed to be the mysterious owl who has been following them so far.
  • 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.
  • RWBY: Fairy Tales of Remnant: in The Warrior in the Woods, the third Grimm the hero encounters are three huge owls who are jet black and possess deadly stares. They have razor sharp feathers and deadly talons. He manages to kill two of them, but is unable to finish off the third without help.
  • 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.
  • George Eliot complains about a clumsy attempt to invoke this, in her essay "Silly Novels by Lady Novelists":
    she falls into this medieval 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,'-
  • The Southern Reach Trilogy: In Acceptance, a letter written by the biologist about her time in Area X tells of how she found a peculiar owl on the island. It's never entirely disclosed, but due to the peculiar behavioral patterns of said owl — not taking flight when she approaches, bringing her a dead rabbit, nesting close to her — , she comes to suspect that this is what Area X transformed her husband into.
  • Whitley Streiber's novels on alien abduction have the running theme that just before or after an abduction, owls will be heard hooting nearby. The books establish an association between wide-eyed grey aliens and huge-eyed owls.
  • 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 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.
  • Les Voyageurs Sans Souci: When the main characters arrive at the abandoned castle, they are said that it is haunted by ghosts. Sébastien and Agathe also learn those supposed ghosts are called the Lords/Princes of Night by the local birdlife, who take care to not fly near from the castle after sundown because they are terrified of them. Both kids decide to wait until night to climb the tower and spy on the ghosts, finding out they are a flock of eagle-owls. Unfortunately they are discovered, and have to flee from an angry and very scary eagle-owl.
  • 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."
  • 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.
  • Inverted in Jurassic Park; when Nedry is lost in a rainstorm and trying to find his bearings, he's not phased when he hears a soft hooting that he mistakes for an owl. It's only when he realizes that it's not an owl that the ominousness kicks in. Indeed, it was the Dilophosaurus, which quickly bestows a Cruel and Unusual Death on him.
  • In Them: Adventures with Extremists, British journalist Jon Ronson and Conspiracy Theorist Alex Jones infiltrate Bohemian Grove, with the latter freaked out over the owl statues everywhere which he was convinced were related to Satanic rituals by the powerful elite. Ronson however dismissed the whole thing as a bunch of aging businessmen and government types reliving their fraternity days.

    Live-Action TV 
  • The Colbert Report: Owls are on notice. Stephen Colbert refuses to talk about it, saying "they know what they did". Possibly something to do with Owlbears?
  • Game of Thrones: This owl is an enemy spy! (context).
  • 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. In the folklore of the Cheyenne, who inhabit the part of Wyoming where the series is set, owls are an omen of evil things.
  • John Oliver once noted on Mock the Week that owls can kill tigers, because they have the high ground.
  • Murder, She Wrote made extensive use of the "distant, hooting owl" effect especially in later seasons to herald the inevitable Body of the Week.
  • On MythQuest, Gwydion and Math sentence Blodeuwedd to spend eternity as an owl, shunned by both man and bird, for murdering Pixelmator.
  • In Reservation Dogs episode 3 has a fake owl outside Uncle Brownie's house. Since the kids are all Native they see this as an ill omen and try to avoid looking at it, and the owl's eyes are even pixellated (presumably for the sake of any Natives watching the show).
  • The Suite Life of Zack & Cody: In "The Arwin That Came To Dinner", the twins are trying to help Arwin after his mom moved out of the house, and they find a collection of owl statues that look like they are staring at you. The twins decide they have to get rid of them because of how creepy they look. Zack decides to find a new home for them, and places them in Mr. Moseby's office. Mr. Moseby sees the owls, and he's freaked out.
  • Tales from the Crypt had an episode with a man who gets the auditory system of an owl.
  • 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.
  • Would I Lie to You?: Greg Davies used a drawing of the "Hoot Owl of Death" as sort of a Black Spot when he was a child.

  • The Neko Case song "This Tornado Loves You", about a Stalker with a Crush, mostly uses a sentient tornado as its metaphor. Towards the end, though, we get these lines:
    My love, I'm an owl on the sill in the evening
    But morning finds you still warm and breathing

    Music Videos 
  • In the video for Neko Case's "Maybe Sparrow", a barn owl threatens the little songbird (even though the lyrics name a hawk as the enemy).
  • The video for Enya's "Evening Falls" includes a shot of a barn owl (a la Jareth, mentioned above under Labyrinth) landing in a stone casement. Considering the Deliberately Monochrome video is already filled with unsettling and saddening imagery, and the song is inspired by an old Ghost Story, this appearance is apt.
  • The GazettE's seventh album Beautiful Deformity was mascotted by a chimera consisting of five animals, each representing a member of the band. Aoi, the guitarist, was represented by an owl, the chimera's eye. In live viewings of the album's final song each animal was ripped apart by vines, making the owl and other animals gory and even more creepy.
  • 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.

    Myths & Religion 
  • The Bible: At one point, 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.
  • 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."
    • Meanwhile, the Choctaw have the Skate'ne, a malicious witch who sought to harm the locals only to be chased by a bobcat before she could do anything. Knowing she was unable to attack the tribe as she originally intended, the evildoer proceeded to morph into an owl, enabling her to escape in such a way that the bobcat would be unable to pursue her.
    • The Seminole have the Stikini, which are witches that can become owls by throwing up their organs and hanging them from trees. Even speaking their name is said to summon them.
    • Owls also were the symbol of Mictlantecuhtli, god of death and ruler of the Underworld in Aztec Mythology.
  • The Aztecs as well as their neighbors the Mayans 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. This tradition continued into some parts of modern-day Mexico, with tales of a witch known as "La Lechuza" that (similarly to the Choctaw Skate'ne) would shapeshift into one resulting in some fearing every owl they come across.
  • The Aztec god Tlacolotl was a patron of evildoers, 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. []
  • 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.
  • Japanese Mythology's Tatarimokke (a translation that can mean "cursed child"), comes with some duality. As the general lore goes, it's (commonly) the ghost of a dead baby that possesses owls, though the how "ominous" they were depended on how that they died (and or were buried), so if they died with a grudge note , then y'all would get the more ominous variety.
    • In Ainu mythology, the eagle owl was seen as a messenger of the gods and worthy of reverence, and carvings of eagle owls on houses were used as wards against sickness and pestilence. Little horned owls and barn owls are viewed as being demonic beings, though, playing the trope straight. Though, while the little horned owl is considered demonic, it's said that it is able to detect whether someone has evil in them, and that if it averts its gaze from you or only squints at you, you have darkness within you, whereas if it stares at you with eyes wide, you are a good person. As for barn owls, thinking them to be demonic after hearing the hideous screech they can make is perhaps rather forgivable.
  • 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.
  • The stikini (a.k.a strigini or ishtigini) from Creek and Seminole myth is a witch who turns into a heart-eating owl by vomiting up her organs. You can also turn into one by saying the word "stikini". Go on, say it aloud...
  • Also from North America, among the Algonquian and Athabaskan peoples, owls were heavily associated with another nocturnal flesh-eating monster, the wendigo (the deer-headed wendigo is strictly an invention of modern pop culture). In certain dialects, the word for owl and the word for the monster were one and the same.
  • Some cryptozoologists have argued that the infamous Mothman is actually 'merely' a giant owl from Pleistocene Cuba. They call it Bighoot.
  • In Classical Mythology:
    • While owls are mostly known as birds of Athena, the eagle owl was sacred to Ares instead. To priests who used birds as means of divination, seeing either of those was definitely an Oh, Crap! moment, as both were gods of war.
    • Also the screech owl, better known as the barn owl,note  was sacred to Hades and associated with the Furies and the Underworld. While Hades and the Furies were not evil, they were seen as frightening and not to be trifled with. This led to these owls often being seen as ill omens in avian divination.
  • The Welsh myth of Blodeuwedd has the most beautiful woman ever seen created from a field of flowers. But as she is not human, she has no heart, and is therefore faithless to the man who loves her. She is punished for her infidelity by being turned into an owl — in Welsh, the name is derived from the words "flower-faced" — fated to roam the forests by night, and seeing none of the daylight or sunlight that sustains flowers.
  • The "Bohemian Grove" secret society that pops up in many New World Order conspiracy theories apparently worships the owl goddess Lily.


  • Mr. Willowby's Christmas Tree: The mice are terrified of owls. Fortunately for them, the owls are too busy celebrating their own holiday to notice the mice in their tree.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Age of Aquarius: The owl-like Goetic demon Stolas appears 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, making him comically angry.
  • Dungeons & Dragons:
    • Spellweavers are humanoids with six arms and the heads of barn owls. They're generally benevolent, but they don't talk and look kind of creepy.
    • Subverted with the grim, a 2nd Edition good-aligned monster that often took the form of an owl. It hangs around cursed graveyards and other creepy locales, but does so to help keep evil forces from escaping such places.
  • Exalted:
  • Pathfinder has the syrinx, who are xenophobic owl people who want to enslave all other sapient beings. On the other hand, there's Tanagaar, empyreal lord of vigilance, an unambiguously good — though somewhat solemn and ominous — owllike celestial being.
  • 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.
    • Second Edition expands on the creepiness of the strix by going into their ethos: They are closely tied to the Beast that embodies a vampire's predatory urges. They believe vampires are just corpses pretending to be human, and their actions are often aimed at disabusing vampires of the notions of humanity, which is pretty much the only thing keeping the Beast in check.

  • Macbeth: The shriek of an owl makes Lady Macbeth think of a bellman who makes announcements about death:
    Lady Macbeth: It was the owl that shrieked, the fatal bellman, Which gives the stern'st good-night.
  • In Gilbert and Sullivan's The Mikado, the Abhorrent Admirer Katisha is described as an "ill-omened owl" at one point.
  • Swan Lake: Rothbart is traditionally portrayed as a fearsome owl-like creature, conflating his role with Odette's stepmother, who in the earliest plays appeared as an owl.

    Urban Legends 
  • In the mid-1970s, Mawnan, a village in Cornwall, was hit with a rash of sightings of a large, owl-like creature known as the Cornish Owlman. Some accounts describe it as threatening children and teenagers.

    Video Games 
  • In Advance Wars: Days of Ruin, the symbol for military research company IDS (and thus, by extension Caulder/Stolos) is an owl. His European/Japanese name is a reference to the Ars Goetia demon (see Mythology).
  • Castle in the Darkness: A giant owl named Razor Wing is fought as an Optional Boss twice in the game. It attacks by swooping at the hero and creating strong, cutting gusts of wind with its wings. Though in both endings, Princess Isabelle manages to tame it and use it as a steed either to escape the collapsing castle with the hero in the bad ending or to save the hero's life at the crucial moment in the Golden Ending.
  • Castlevania:
    • Owls are considered creepy enough for them to be a recurring enemy, sometimes accompanied by an Owl Knight (he gets pissed off if you kill his bird and vice versa). They even show up as familiars and a magical transformation you can use.
    • Stolas from the Ars Goetia also appears. He doesn't attack on his own, but summons various other monsters. He is also an example of The Owl-Knowing One.
  • Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze: Skowl the Startling, the second boss. A master of ice magic, summons his owl minions to harass you, and comes complete with a very deep and creepy "WHOOOOOOOO!!".
  • Skyhold, the player character's home base for most of Dragon Age: Inquisition, has a recurring motif of stone owls in several rooms. They're not ominous in and of themselves; however, a codex entry found in the game may make them seem so, when it explains that the owl is an emblem of Falon'Din, the Dalish god of death. This is actually the very earliest subtle hint that Solas, the companion who showed the Inquisitor how to find the fortress, is actually Fen'Harel, the Dalish Trickster God.
  • Endling - Extinction is Forever: Even in this dark future where humans have utterly wrecked the ecosystem, owls are one of the species who managed to survive, and they pose a threat to the Mother Fox’s cubs. They can be found sleeping on the overworld and must be snuck past. If the Mother Fox fails to do so, it will wake up and try to take off with one of the baby foxes unless the Mother Fox fends them off. It's also notable for being (outside of hunger) one of the few ways that she can lose her children during the game.
  • The first animal that Caveman Hero Takkar of Far Cry Primal manages to tame in his journey as the Beast Master is a massive eagle owl that he meets in a Vision Quest. The owl initially just acts as an Animal Eye Spy, but the player can weaponize it by training it to drop rot bane bombs on enemy heads, or just cut out the middleman and have the owl directly dive-bomb enemy heads itself. From the perspective of the opposing Udam and Izila tribes, any time Takkar's owl shows up, she's Ominous Owl played straight.
  • The owls in Fez are of glorious example of this trope, as most characters claim that they are afraid of the owls. They are even somewhat worshiped. This might be because they are able to see all three dimensions by rotating their heads, unlike the majority of the game's characters.
  • The Big Bad of Final Fantasy XIII has a robot owl familiar/pet/something.
  • As you might expect from the name Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams' DLC Rise of the Owlverlord features a vicious Ninja Pirate Owl who kidnaps you and attempts to conquer the dream world.
  • Gotham Knights (2022) centres around the Court of Owls mentioned under Comic Books above.
  • House of the Dead 2 has Moowls. Zombies that resemble owls, they attack the players from the air.
  • In Kid Klown In Night Mayor World, a giant owl serves as the boss of the second level. It attacks Kid Klown by swooping down at him and tossing feathers.note 
  • The Peepsta Hoo Dream Eater in Kingdom Hearts 3D [Dream Drop Distance]. It tends to be little more than an annoyance at first, simply throwing weak, homing feather shurikens at you and trying to perform an Enemy Scan on you. Should it complete the scan, however, it'll start blasting you with high-tier magic and evading your attacks. The creepiness mostly applies to its Nightmare version, thanks to its soulless red eyes and sinister color scheme.
  • Setsuna of The Last Blade has an owl as a pet.
  • Storm Owl from Mega Man X4, who is the commander of Repliforce's Air Force.
  • Miitopia features an owl boss and miniature versions of it called Owlets, which can hypnotize the Miis and inflict nightmares upon them.
  • Monster Hunter:
  • Monster Sanctuary: Stolbies are owl-like, occult-type monsters that were believed to be descendants of a demon prince in the Old World. In the present, some people fear that they're plotting something.
  • Nioh 2 features Tatarimokke as a giant owl Youkai made of rancor-filled souls with three, gleaming, human eyes and powers over darkness.
  • In Octopath Traveler II, Ochette's final boss is a creepy owl if Ochette selected Akala as her Animal Companion at the start of the game. Mahina then becomes corrupted into the Darkling after being tortured and experimented on for ten years. The Darkling has become giant and aggressive thanks to its experiences and went through some major Body Horror. Especially notable since Mahina is normally a Cute Owl if Ochette chooses her instead.
  • One of these serves as an enemy in One Night at Flumpty's 2; it can attack from either vent, requiring the player to figure out which one it's in once it disappears from its usual resting place in order to seal it off.
  • Lechku and his buddy Nechku from Ōkami count, even though, technically, they're not real owls, but they're demonic clockwork owls. With hats. In feudal Japan.
  • Ori and the Blind Forest has Kuro, a large, black owl who attacks the Tree of Light and repeatedly chases Ori. As the game goes on, she becomes a Woobie, Destroyer of Worlds when we find out why she's so angry at the Tree of Light. The sequel Ori and the Will of the Wisps, averts this with her daughter Ku. However, it still gets in its evil owl quota with Shriek, who is so twisted by The Decay that it's difficult to even recognize her as an owl. Like Kuro she has a sympathetic backstory, but outright refuses when offered a hand. Staying a villainous Iron Woobie to the end.
  • In the Outer Wilds: Echoes of the Eye DLC, the Stranger's inhabitants are towering bipedal antlered owl-like aliens, whose "beak" is more of a nose, and the feathers of their neck conceal an unnervingly wide black mouth. Fortunately for you, by the time you're exploring the Stranger, all that's left of its builders are faded portraits on the walls of ruined homes, damaged slide reels explaining their history, and their mummified corpses in hidden rooms. Unfortunately for you, you'll eventually have to enter the ringworld's Lotus-Eater Machine and discover that while the owl aliens are dead in reality, in virtual reality they're still quite alive, and don't like intruders. Much of the latter half of the DLC involves playing hide-and-seek with owl creatures searching for you by lamplight, which is why it comes with the option to reduce the fright factor.
  • Pokémon
    • Hoothoot and Noctowl straddle the fine line between this and The Owl-Knowing One. For one thing, they aren't Dark/Flying type (That was reserved for the Murkrow line). However, they CAN learn a lot of good Psychic-type moves, may have as an ability either Insomnia (prevents sleep) or Keen Eye (prevents lowering of accuracy), and have two immunities. Ghost-types beware!
    • Decidueye, Rowlet's final form in Pokémon Sun and Moon. It's the first Ghost-Type starter Pokémon, and its Signature Move is Spirit Shackle, which prevents opposing Pokémon from switching out by stitching their shadow to the ground.
  • Ragnarok Online brings us an Owl Duke and Owl Baron. They are walking, aristocratically clothed demonic owls that attack you with lighting. And Baron also summons a bunch of Dukes. note 
  • One of the statues the player has to reactivate in Secrets of Rætikon resembles a gigantic owl. It's so large that its wingspan is enough to break apart the walls of the cave it was housed within.
  • The Shin Megami Tensei franchise has Andras, a demon with the body of a human, wings of an angel, and head of an owl.
  • Sly Cooper:
    Sly Cooper, you have escaped my gas chamber and destroyed my death ray. Remarkable, you Coopers always find a way to beat me.
  • In SongBird Symphony, Birb's mentor, the Owl, is benevolent but rather spooky. His overall look is very realistic compared to the rest of the game's cartoonish art style, and as Birb comes closer to fulfilling his goals, he starts creepily staring ahead and wiggling his Feather Fingers in excitement. And then he turns out to be the Big Bad, having manipulated Birb into activating his artifact so he could claim ultimate power over the forest and silence the Lyrebirds once and for all.
  • Silent Forest Act 2 in Sonic Lost World has a spiral layout with a huge robotic owl in the middle, always turning to face Sonic at all times, as well as its three organic minions found at varying points in the stage. The last third of the stage becomes a Stealth-Based Mission where Sonic must avoid the owl's spotlight gaze; failure to do so is instant death. This stage, naturally, ends in a boss fight with the owl robot. The owl robot returns in the boss fight for Silent Forest Act 4, though considerably less creepy as it stays in the background, barely functioning thanks to Sonic's ruining it. It also has to be kept aloft by its owl minions and does not participate in the boss fight at all.
  • Olcadan from the Soul Series is a man with the head and feet of an owl, and is adept in various weapon styles.
  • World of Warcraft players flying in the Skettis area can testify to the truth of this trope. Gods all blast those Monstrous Kaliris....
  • Jack's Mission Control in Pumpkin Jack is an owl sent by the Devil to keep an eye on him.


    Web Animation 
  • In the Thomas & Friends horror series The Horrors of Hawin Lake, the hauntings are heralded by owls.
  • Helluva Boss gives us Stolas, inspired by the owl demon of the same name from the Ars Goetia. His hobbies include astronomy, botany, cheating on his wife with an Imp and scaring the shit out of federal agents.
  • The Twins (2022): When Lake and Lucas hop the fence into the junkyard, eerie music begins to play, the whole scene is awash in blue, and an owl with glowing eyes appears hooting ominously before snatching a mouse in its beak to emphasize the looming danger. When Lake is startled by the owl, Lucas makes fun of him. After Lucas is killed, that same owl retuns, this time with glowing red eyes.

    Web Original 

    Western Animation 
  • Adventure Time:
    • 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.
    • A more straightforward example comes from the episode "Up a Tree", which features a villainous owl as the leader of an animal cult that collects anything (or in Finn's case, anyone) that winds up in their tree.
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender:
    • The Knowledge Spirit, Wan 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 makes a comeback in The Legend of Korra, even less tolerant of humans (especially Aang's descendants) and is even allied with Unalaq.
    • The standard owls in this universe really are cats as birds; one was used to aid in the creepy atmosphere of "The Puppetmaster".
  • The 1960s-era secret agent spoof Cool McCool had a villain named The Owl, seen in the opening credits.
  • 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 audie
  • 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.
  • He has been mentioned already under Comics, but the Owlman of Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths is 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.
  • 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.
  • Molly of Denali: Subverted in "Bird in Hand." The scary sound coming from the dryer turns out to just be a boreal owl. A very cute boreal owl.
  • 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.
  • Used for dramatic effect in Over the Garden Wall. Both Wirt and Beatrice, on different occasions, come across a spooky owl in sitting a dark tree, which serves to make the woods of the Unknown even scarier.
  • The Owl House: Eda is a witch with an owl motif, owning a staff ending in an owl figurine and living in the eponymous Owl House. In one episode, Luz directly asks how she initially got the moniker of Owl Lady; Eda herself claims that it's because she's incredibly wise, while Hooty and King suggest that the connection might be more literal, due to her tendency to cough up owl pellets and hoard shiny objects in a nest. While those are part of it, the main reason turns out to be she's been cursed to turn into a demonic owl creature if she doesn't regularly take an elixir to prevent the transformation.
  • 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.
  • 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...
  • 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.
  • An episode of The Scooby-Doo Shownote  had a Monster of the Week called the Willawaw, whose attacks on a person were heralded by an owl hooting the pending victim's name. In addition, the Willawaw had a pair of Owl Men to act as its minions. Since the episode included Native American characters, the lore was likely inspired by the Native American traditions listed in the "Myths & Religion" folder above.
  • 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.) 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 Star Wars Rebels, the owl-like, long-tailed convor birds that show up here and there in the galaxy aren't malicious in any real way, but when they show up, it almost always means a lightsider is in danger from the Dark Side.
  • In Wakfu, the main villain of season 3, Oropo, has his cloaked appearance modeled after owls, along with his security robots.

    Memetic Mutation 

    Real Life 
  • If you're looking for an animal with a pretty appearance but a hidden dash of eeriness, look no further than the Barn owl; often depicted as being elegant and graceful creatures, they're highly efficient hunters, capable of flying almost silently thanks to their thick feathers acting as natural sound dampeners... but they can scream like a Banshee.
  • Angry owls have been offered up as possible explanations for several reported ghost hauntings or sightings of aliens, specifically the cases of the Kelly-Hopkinsville goblins and The Flatwoods Monster.
  • Macrame owls were horrifying to quite a few children in The '70s. Very much so.
  • 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. Alternately, the owls might have been around every night, but it was only when humans stayed up late for a vigil that they'd actually notice them.
  • Smaller birds (usually corvids) will gang up to mob and harass nocturnal species of owls if they catch sight of them in daylight, when the latter are usually asleep. Certainly they consider owls to be ominous, though for slightly differing reasons.
  • Some moths and butterflies have sizable round markings on their wings that resemble an owl's eyes, the better to emulate this trope when a potential predator comes near them.
  • The Bohemian Grove, a private campground in Monte Rio, California, features a giant creepy owl statue, known as the "Owl Shrine". Because the Grove is frequented only by members of the extremely-exclusive Bohemian Club, conspiracy theories about the place naturally abound.

Alternative Title(s): Owl Be Damned


Owl Beast

The curse on Eda manifests as a horrifying owl-monster.

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