Monday, October 11, 2010

Red Breasted Owl

Ah, the Red Breasted Owl. What a strange creature. Sporting an elephantine trunk, a mohawk-like tuft of feathers on the top of its head, and a pair of antlers, the Red Breasted Owl is a disturbingly strange creature. In fact, much like the bumble bee, the owl's unique combination of physical deformities is a paradox that is currently unexplainable using traditional science.

The owl's trunk is sensitive enough to pick up a single blade of grass, yet strong enough to rip the branches or peel the bark off a tree to get at insects. No grub, caterpillar, or worm is safe from the insane ravages of a Red Breasted Owl in full-on munchie mode. Although not normally carnivorous, the owl's powerful trunk can also strangle a rabid squirrel or even snap the neck of an overly curious fox.

Living exclusively in a remote section of the upper Michigan penninsula, the Red Breasted Owl is also notable for its mating ritual, which involves male and female owls pairing up and literally tying each other into knots. Exceptionally passionate owls can tie themselves into knots for hours, to the point where they can't get free. They then starve to death or become prey for predators. Sometimes, however, they can lead a bizarre, pretzel-like existence for years, feeding and nesting as a pair of aviary Siamese twins.

You may well wonder why this unusual owl, which features a mohawk-like tuft of feathers, an elephantine trunk, an ash colored spot on its forehead, and a pair of antlers sticking out of its brow is called the Red Breasted Owl and not something more exotic. The reality is that the first owl was named by a 19th century hermit named Manley Johnson. Born with both a tail and a pair of extravagant buck teeth, Johnson had escaped to the Upper Penninsula to get away from ridicule and scorn. Spotting the Owl outside his house one morning, he focused not on its freakish snout, its bizarre antlers, or its sharp pseudo-pinhead - he saw only the patch of beautiful scarlet feathers on its breast. He described the owl (to much ridicule initially) in a series of essays on country living in a small nature journal, and the name was adopted when the owl's existence was confirmed years later.

The Owl is not featured much in the arts or entertainment. A number of scientific studies have been done by scientists to try to trace its evolutionary ancestry, but it remains a mystery. Local Michigan folklore maintains that individual Owls, if captured at midnight on Halloween, have the capacity to grant wishes - wishes that almost always end badly. An episode of South Park featured a running joke involving a Red Breasted Owl using its snout in a particularly rude way, and the show Warehouse 13 had an episode that featured a stuffed Owl having the power to grant wishes that always ended perversely if the owner rubbed its snout. In music, the punk band Dick Nixon's Face used a cartoonly image of the Owl as their icon.

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