There is a long-running tradition of using owls as a symbol of knowledge. This might be because their eyes resemble Nerd Glasses, because they are silent and mysterious, or maybe just because Owls Ask "Who?" 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 and contrast Cute Owl (no reason an owl cant be smart and cute; in fact that trope often portrays an owl as Adorkable). Compare to Clever Crows. See also Animal Stereotypes and Woodland Creatures.
- 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 brand potato chips are named after their company's founder, Earl Wise, and feature a stylized owl's eye on their bags as a Visual Pun.
- 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.
- The owl in the ads for the medication Xyzal allergy relief encourages "Be wise all, take new Xyzal."
- The mascot for the eyeglass chain Americas Best is an owl who tells people wearing glasses about the company.
- 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.
- Professor Hoot from Happy Happy Clover appears to be one of the more intelligent characters in the series along with Rambler and Hickory. Professor Hoot even owns an entire book shelf of old and new books one containing the story of Santa Claus (Which he only allows for grown ups to read).
- In Tokyo Ghoul, Big Good Yoshimura is associated with owls. He serves as a surrogate father figure and wise leader to the other ghouls of the 20th Ward, and is well-respected for his knowledge. He doles out advice and information as need be, while guarding many significant secrets. His child, on the other hand, is the other trope, while his right-hand man is associated with Clever Crows. And all of them are ukaku-users.
- Turns out that even his child is this trope as well aside from being prominently known as an Ominous Owl, particularly in the sequel, which they provides one of the most critical revelations in the series, namely the same secrets Yoshimura guarded namely the origins of CCG with the involvment of V, are formed by ghouls, especially jarring from the former's reputation as a ghoul investigator while the higher-ups are known to be ghouls themselves such as the Washuus. And this goes downhill from there...
- Kemono Friends: The library is run by a pair of owls, and treated as the main source of information by the characters.
- 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 reoccurring 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.
- The Owl in Daredevil, a crime lord known for his vast intelligence network. Sometimes he's specifically referred to as "seeing everything", which, of course, is fitting for a recurring enemy to a blind superhero.
- In Zelda and the Manacle of Cahla, Groo, Zelda's sidekick in the vein of Link's Exposition Fairies, is a talking owl who is something of an Insufferable Genius and makes a good parachute. He's actually a wooden figurine of her village's Guardian Entity brought to life. More specifically, brought to life with her late adoptive mother/aunt figure's spirit.
- 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.
- 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.
- Mr. Owl the schoolteacher from Franklin.
- Stolas, a demon in the Ars Goetia.
- In The Adventures of Caterpillar Jones, the Great Owl is regarded as the creator of the meadow, and is very wise and powerful. It ends up being played with, as while he is wise and powerful, he grew up and learned like a normal owl and attributes Mother Nature with the meadow's creation.
- 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, as its name implies, Athens' patron goddess — rather than actual birds.
- The Latin word for owl is "ibis", which is an entirely different species of bird associated with an Egyptian god of wisdom. This probably came about when the Romans, like the Greeks before them, associated aspects of Athena/Minerva with Thoth/Djehuty.
- Inverted in Indian mythology, where owls are often portrayed as stupid because of their blank expression. Owls are also considered a symbol of stupidity in Japanese myth for the same reasons.
- 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.
- John Finnemore's Souvenir Programme features a sketch about how unfair it is on other animals that owls get stereotyped like this just because they look like they're wearing glasses—when those big eyes are actually taking up most of their heads and leaving little room for brains.
- Owls in Magic: The Gathering are always associated with Blue, the color of knowledge and its application. Even owls meant to be more creepy than wise are still Blue, and have card effects relating to card drawing (in flavor meant to represent the player's mind).
- 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 D&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 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.
- Castlevania: The series as whole sometimes features owls as enemies (including in combination with the Owl Knight), as well as pets/weapons of Maria Renard, familiars for Nathan Graves and Shanoa, and even a magical transformation for Charlotte Aulin. However, these aren't really this trope; they count more as Ominous Owl. What does count here, however, is the presence of Stolas, a large, crowned owl-like creature, in the two Sorrow games. Inspired by the Ars Goetia demon of the same name, Stolas is described in the bestiaries as "An aged, wise owl", and "A wise, old creature said to have considerable intelligence". Both enemies are late-game enemies that summon other powerful monsters, and they also have the highest MP in the game — 9,999 in Aria, and 1,500 (still the most MP of any regular enemy; the next highest ones are at 999) in Dawn. They drop two different soul abilities, depending on the game — one, "God's Wisdom", is an intelligence boost; the other, "Concentration", enables you to sacrifice strength for an intelligence boost.
- The Legend of Zelda:
- An owl serves as Link's guide in The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening, with owl statues giving extra hints and backstory all throughout the game. This owl, in turn, seems to have been the inspiration for...
- That annoying owl (Kaepora Gaebora) in The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time and The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask. 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.
- The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword has Zelda's father Gaepora, who is technically a human-like Hylian but has Big Ol' Eyebrows resembling his owl namesake and, along with the other teachers at the Knight Academy, robes resembling those worn by the Rito in The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker. He's also the most knowledgeable person in Skyloft about the old legends of Hylia and her battle against the demons on the surface (other than Fi, who was actually around when that stuff happened).
- The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild has Kaneli, the owl-like elder of the Rito. He's the one known for telling Rito children tales of the Champions of old and the ancient Sheikah Magitek. Despite his knowledge of those tales, he still ends up Entertainingly Wrong about Link's identity, assuming the latter is a descendant of the Hylian Champion rather than the Hylian Champion himself. In addition, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild Creating a Champion explains that the Zonai (an extinct civilization whose ruins can be found in the Faron region) used owls to symbolize the Triforce of Wisdom.
- 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 second line of owl Pokémon Pokémon Sun and Moon's grass starter Rowlet has a notable aversion with its evolved form Dartrix. Dartrix is actually called a birdbrain, and is actually a Brainless Beauty obsessed with its appearance and often bungling things and then making them worse trying to fix them.
- The owls found all over the place in ZanZarah: The Hidden Portal serve as Mr. Exposition.
- Parodied in Simon the Sorcerer, where Simon meets an owl in a tree labeled "Wise owl" but instead of giving useful advice the owl turns out to suffer from dementia and can't finish a single sentence.
- 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. There is also his sister Celeste, who runs the observatory and is the authority on all things related to astronomy.
- 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.
- The tarot card for human mage characters in Dragon Age: Inquisition features a flying owl, to reflect both their mystical nature and the fact that they have more formal education than the other five possible backgrounds.
- The language-learning Edutainment Game Duolingo's mascot is an owl named Duo, likely Invoking this trope. Duo even has a nightgown and monocle as a reward.
- In The Secret World, the hermit witch Cucuvea is popularly known as "The Owl," and has spent many centuries providing wise counsel and magical assistance to the people of Transylvania - and to you, when you finally meet her. For good measure, she's also capable of actually transforming into an owl in order to keep any eye on her enemies.
- 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, his self-imposed exile has left him poorly informed when it comes to human technology and he is 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.
- There was a later Noveltoons character, Ollie the Owl, whom appeared in two cartoons in The '60s. He was a Child Prodigy, complete with oversized eyeglasses. In his first appearance, he uses a detective kit to try and outsmart and arrest a bank robber (and he succeeds), and in his second he goes on a children's quiz show and ends up answering all the tough questions correctly, to the dismay of the TV studio (they were hoping the contestant would not be able to answer the questions so the TV studio wouldn't have to give away the prizes and lose all their money... but all Ollie really wanted was a lollipop.)
- 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: Doctor Bubo from the Hungarian animated series 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.
- Mr Krbec and his Animals: Kukula the Owl resides in the huge library of the castle Kulikov. She's wise and well-read. She's often the target of Ruprecht's mischief. She's not pleased that Mr Krbec was not informed beforehand about the castle being haunted and warns Mr Krbec about Ruprecht.
- DuckTales (2017): Zan Owlson, a businesswoman possibly even more level-headed than Scrooge McDuck himself. She later gains the job of preventing Flintheart Glomgold from ruining his company with his inane schemes.
- 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. This is because owls are an example of Crippling Overspecialization. Their heads are so big because they need good hearing and sight, so much of their heads is just taken up by sense organs and their associated nerves. They're far from being ineffective and some owls are top predators, but they don't have what humans interpret as "intelligence".
- 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.