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Explore the myth and mystery behind owl parliaments

Take a closer look at nature’s mysterious nocturnal assemblies



Owls, with their enigmatic presence and nocturnal habits, have always captured the human imagination. These birds of prey possess an aura of mystery, associated with wisdom, keen observation, and silent flight. While their unique features and behaviours have long been subjects of fascination, there’s one aspect of owl society that often surprises and amuses people: the collective noun used to describe a group of owls. Indeed, a group of owls is called a “parliament,” and delving into the reasons behind this quirky name reveals a rich tapestry of folklore and biological characteristics that make owls truly remarkable.

The term “parliament” to describe a group of owls is believed to have its roots in old English and Middle English languages. In these historical languages, the word “pule” or “powl” referred to a loud cry, particularly that of a fowl or bird of prey. Over time, this evolved into the word “pulemet,” which meant a group of roosting birds. Eventually, “pulemet” transformed into “parliament.”

One of the most iconic associations with owls is wisdom, a connection that spans cultures and civilisations throughout history. In ancient Greece, Athena, the goddess of wisdom, was often depicted with an owl companion. The owl’s perceived wisdom comes from its calm,

contemplative demeanour and its seemingly all-seeing, piercing gaze. These characteristics, combined with their remarkable ability to hunt silently at night, gave rise to the belief that owls possessed a profound knowledge of the world.

Owls are known for their acute senses, including exceptional night vision and incredible hearing. Their ability to turn their heads nearly 270 degrees further adds to their mystique. Owls use these abilities to locate prey with pinpoint accuracy, making them highly efficient hunters. This keen perception and hunting prowess have contributed to their association with wisdom and the notion that they hold secrets of the night.

Owls are primarily nocturnal creatures, which means they are most active at night. Their distinctive adaptations for night hunting, such as large eyes that are optimised for low-light conditions, further emphasise their mysterious nature. Owls have specialised feathers that enable them to fly silently, a quality that sets them apart from other birds. These unique feathers break up the turbulent air, reducing noise and allowing them to approach their prey stealthily.

While the term “parliament” is charming and evokes images of owls convening for formal discussions, the reality is quite different. Owls are generally solitary birds, and their gatherings are typically for pragmatic purposes rather than intellectual debates. In the world of owls, a parliament refers to a group of owls roosting or nesting together in close proximity.

During the breeding season, some owl species form loose colonies, where several pairs will nest in the same general area. These gatherings provide safety in numbers, making it harder for predators to single out individual nests. However, even within these colonies, owls remain largely solitary and territorial when it comes to hunting.

Well, the term “parliament” for a group of owls adds a touch of whimsy to the natural world and reflects the deep-rooted human fascination with these magnificent birds. Owls continue to captivate us with their wisdom, nocturnal habits, and silent flight. So, the next time you encounter a group of owls, you can appreciate not only their beauty and mystery but also the linguistic and cultural layers that surround them, making them even more intriguing members of the animal kingdom.

Divya is a Correspondent at Apeejay Newsroom. She has a degree of Masters in Journalism and Mass Communication. She was a former sub-editor at News 24. Her passion for writing has always contributed to her professional and personal growth.