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Celebrating Everyday Spirituality

Sunflower Seeds

Celebrating Everyday Spirituality


The American writer Henry David Thoreau said, “I rejoice that there are owls.” I do too! So I thought I would say a few words today about God’s gift of owls.

Owls are found almost everywhere on the planet except Antarctica and a few remote

Snowy owl
Snowy owl

islands. Though they tend to be solitary, a group of owls is called a parliament, a word that somehow seems to fit them. Owls are symbols of wisdom in many cultures—probably because of their almost human-like face. But owls actually are not very high on the bird intelligence scale. Crows, jays, and magpies are smarter than owls.

Owls are nocturnal birds of prey. They are very efficient hunters because of a number of physical characteristics. First of all, they have excellent hearing. An owl can detect a mouse squeak a half a mile away. Owls also have great sight, but they are far-sighted, so things that are near are blurred for them. (I guess they couldn’t read the eye chart when it was held too close!) Another remarkable characteristic of owls is their ability to turn their heads 270 degrees in either direction, thus enabling them to look over their shoulder without turning their body. (See how far you can turn your head!) This ability aids owls in their quest for food.

Only two birds have eyes that face forward: the owl and what other bird? (answer at the end)
Only two birds have eyes that face forward: the owl and what other bird? (answer at the end)

But one of the most notable features of owls is the design of their feathers. Owl feathers, unlike the feathers of most birds, have fluffy edges that muffle the sound of their beating wings. I saw this feature dramatized when I visited a Colorado nature center that cared for injured raptors. When the guide held a large hawk’s feather in his hand and quickly moved it up and down in the air, we heard a soft swishing sound. But when he did the same thing with an owl’s feather, we heard absolutely nothing. The flight of an owl is virtually silent. Wildlife writer Warner Shedd calls owls “nature’s original stealth aircraft.”

In some cultures owls are associated with death and misfortune. This association probably arises out of their nocturnal activities and their cries, which range from sadly melancholic to irritatingly screeching. In ancient mythology, owls were often companions for goddesses. In the story of King Arthur, Merlin’s owl, Archimedes, helps teach the young Arthur the way of the birds. More recently, Harry Potter has a companion owl named Hedwig.

Consider yourself fortunate if you have ever seen an owl in the wild, for they are good at

This owl is showing off its majestic wing span.
This owl is showing off its majestic wing span.

hiding. I’ve spotted only a few of them in my lifetime. Once when I was walking near a woods on the first evening of a retreat, a large brown owl swooped down right in front of me and then swooped up and landed in a tree. So I got a good look at him (or her). My retreat director told me this was a very favorable omen for my retreat—and it turned out to be just that. A couple of times on a winter afternoon I have spotted an owl nestled in an evergreen tree sound asleep. Once a small owl even perched on an outside window sill at our provincial center, delighting all who happened to spot her (or him). When I lived in rural Virginia, I often heard the plaintive Whooo! Whooo! Whooo! of an owl as I lay in bed at night. I found the sound amazingly beautiful and surprisingly comforting.

I mentioned we seldom actually see owls in the wild. At the end of this blog (after the song) I’ve put a short video of a young owl learning to fly in a woman’s backyard. She and her son observed the process for about about 3 hours, she says, but the condensed video is only about 8 minutes.

Let us conclude this little reflection on owls with this simple prayer:

God of all Creation, we thank you for owls. We thank you for their presence all over theowl hidingbird-animal-owl-medium world… We thank you for their beauty…whether white, gray, brown or somewhere in between… whether solid, striped, or variegated.  We thank you for their variety in size… from huge to tiny…We thank you for their amazing gifts: their exceptional hearing, their superior eyesight, their flexible neck, their silent flight. But most of all, we thank you for their uncanny ability to own the night… And we thank you for their mystery. Our earthly family is richer because of owls… And we know: even a glimpse of one of them is pure gift. Amen. 

I chose “All Things Bright an Beautiful” (video by John Rutter) for our song today. Although it has no owls in it, it does have that other bird with eyes that face forward: the penguin!


A baby owl learning to fly:

Did you learn anything new about owls?

Have you ever experienced an owl?

What other animals are you especially grateful for–and why?

If you watched the second video, what emotions did you experience as you watched the baby owl learning to fly?

18 Responses

  1. I watched the second video on the baby owl. It was inspiring to watch the baby owl’s parents hovering over it with such care.

    Thanks for sharing Sr. Melanie.


  2. We are very blessed to have 2 owls that actually perch on our roof top! I have been able to take a pictures of them on our roof (at dusk). They “visit” us almost each evening in the winter (we live in Arizona) and, I too, love to hear their hooting as I go to sleep. One of the funny things is, we have a small shed at the side of our house. When these owls feed they drop their prey on the roof of the shed. Ker-plunk!! We’ve even found remains up there. One day, unfortunately, I even came across the head of a small rabbit laying on the ground by the shed. I miss these owls when they move away for the summer. But, they’ll be back!

  3. Nevada, being itself in the “wild”, has many owls. My children and I would park behind our Courthouse waiting for their father to come from work, and in the winter we saw and heard many owls in the tall pine trees there. They certainly are not like any other birds….God made them special.

  4. I am especially thankful for mallard ducks. We had a hen whom I named Miranda choose to nest in our courtyard. Her nest was only about fifteen feet from my glass door and window’
    What did I learn from Miranda? Patience! Ducks lay one egg a day until they’re finished. She sat on her nest once incubation began through snow, high winds, and 20 degree nights. This period lasted 28 days. I would see her watch the sky, waiting for her mate to come and feed and swim with her for an hour in the evening.
    Care and conscientiousness! Each day before Miranda left, that nest was carefully covered. When three eggs did not hatch, she carefully arranged them and left them uncovered on the day of her departure.
    When the temperature did not rise enough, she stayed on her nest and didn’t feed herself in order to keep the eggs warm.
    Neatness! She never once messed on my patio or stones.
    I really could go on and on about all Miranda taught me. She truly was a gift form the Lord at a time when I needed her.

  5. I love all birds. Because they sing a merry tune. My dad loved birds and watched them. We had a hummingbird feeder and delighted to watch them as their wings flutter 100 miles an hour. I think at one point there were babies. They loved bottle brush and red color sugar water. Jesus rejoices at singing so he made birds this way. Also I enjoy butterflies for their colorful wings they love my flowers and often appear in my small yard. God’s beauty. Thank you Jesus .

  6. I too love birds! I didn’t know about their fluffy feathers. I keep a feeder outside my window where my desk is. Love to watch the birds and listen to their sweet tweets! Thanks Sister for an interesting blog, as always. Oh, and I loved the video of the baby owl! Precious!

  7. So funny this came about owls yesterday. My husband and I joined friends for a Triva night and the one question everyone missed was what a group of owls was called. My husband had he nearest wrong answer- congress. We laughed as maybe that was for the U.S. Owls. Enjoyed the music and video. Thanks for your blog.

  8. In our neighborhood at night you can hear woo hoo of the owls, such a pleasant sound….sometimes during the day, you can see them, too….one day I was walking and there was an owl on a street sign post and he followed me with his head as I walked by…..soo cute..

  9. I was anxious for the baby. Also, I was amazed that the mom or dad did not try to rescue the baby. Sometimes I think it’s not good for us parents to always swoop in to rescue our little ones. Our Heavenly Father does not always rescue us in the way we expect, therefore, we learn the lesson…

  10. Thank you, Sister. I, too, love to hear the call of the owl during the night. An extremely early riser (could that be called a “night owl”?) I am often treated to their sound in the wee hours of the morning. I also love the call of the mourning dove, but my favorite bird call is the mockingbird. Such majesty. God never ceases to amaze us with all of His creations.

  11. The video was a reminder of how God watches over us and patiently waits for us to figure out our journey. Thanks for sharing.

  12. Sr. Melannie,

    It was a pleasure to meet you this afternoon at the jubilee! I have an affinity for owls, as well as butterflies, dragonflies and deer. Two summers ago, I had a number of juvenile barred owls hanging out in my backyard. What fun to be home to their playground! Creation has so much to teach us!

    Thanks for this post!

    Mary Lynn

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Hi and welcome to my blog! I’m Sister Melannie, a Sister of Notre Dame residing in Chardon, Ohio, USA. I’ve been very lucky! I was raised in a loving family on a small farm in northeast Ohio. I also entered the SNDs right after high school. Over the years, my ministries have included high school and college teaching, novice director, congregational leadership, spiritual direction, retreat facilitating, and writing. I hope you enjoy “Sunflower Seeds” and will consider subscribing below. I’d love to have you in our “sunflower community.” Thank you!

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