barn owlTHE “SCREECHING OR DEATH BIRD”

My findings after a research concerning this particular bird on the island of Corfu.
A while ago various members were concerned and wanted to know about the “eerie” sound of a bird at night which brought death in the village or at a particular house.

I thought I would solve the problem mathematically but unfortunately this was not the case! The problem is an anthropological/social one however though, I have learnt many facts and I would like to share them with our members.

I interviewed villagers generally of advanced age at their homes in the villages/hamlets of :

Vitalades, Dragotina, Chlomotiana, Braganiotika, Strongili, Episkopiana, Psara, Stavros, Ag. Deka, Kastelani, Ag.Theodori, Kinopiastes, Kalafationes, Varipatades, Ag. Prokopios, Giannades, Ag. Markos, Porta, Mengoulas, Peroulades, Arkadades, Avliotes, Kavalouri, Nisaki, Strinilas, Episkepsi, Petalia.

I chose these because most of them are still sufficiently removed from tourist and industrial inducements.

The bird is MOST definitely “Tyto alba” which in Greek has the following names : «Ανθρωποπούλι» (Human-face bird), «Χαροπούλι» (Bird of death), «Κλαψοπούλι» (Weeping bird), «Νεκροπούλι» (Bird of the dead), Στριγγλοπούλι» (Screeching bird), «Πεπλόγλαυκα» (Veiled Owl).

After many sleepless nights at a village at the South of the island waiting to see one, eventually one came and I saw its white silhouette disappearing in the darkness!

WHY IS THIS BIRD ASSOCIATED WITH DEATH?

In former times there were no public lights or any electricity at most villages so the nights were totally dark.
If some person was very seriously ill in their “death-bed” or indeed dead, the relatives and sometimes close neighbours stayed up all night with the person concerned with ALL available lights ON! These were usually paraffin/oil and gas lights.
These lights of course attracted owls and other birds who thought that they would find some rats or mice in the vicinity of the house.
It is for this reason that these beautiful “owls” were considered the “birds of death”.
We the humans are to blame and must NOT associate these birds with bad omens because of superstitions!

This “owl” has a very strange and eerie “screech” especially during the mating season (its trying to attract a partner!) and if you hear the sound of their young (I have)….it will certainly chill your blood!
Sometimes it will “hiss” like a snake and other times it will make a “snoring sound”.

I have written “owl” in inverted commas because strictly speaking it is NOT an owl! It belongs to another related family, the family of “TYTONIDAE” and not “STRIGIDAE” which includes all the owls we know, including the “scops” etc.

It has so many different names in English : Barn Owl, Screech Owl, Hissing Owl, White breasted Owl, Monkey faced Owl, Stone Owl, White Owl, Silver Owl, Demon Owl, Ghost Owl, Death Owl, Night Owl, Church Owl and a few more…!

In conclusion I would like to say that after my extensive research : “DON’T BE AFRAID IF YOU HEAR IT”- Nothing is going to happen to you, your family or to any member of your village!

I know it can be very disturbing to hear it but it is because in the back of your mind you have the “picture”…of death!

Only mice, rats and other rodents should be afraid when they hear this unearthly “screech”.

I do hope you find my research helpful and please put your mind at rest. The next night you hear this bird DON’T be carried away by any superstition you may have heard!

Remember that people die anyway, bird or no bird so if somebody died every time this bird screeched the total population of Corfu would vanish in a few months !!!

By Aleko Damaskinos

 

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