Do Owl Sightings Have Special Meaning?

What does it mean when you see an owl, and was owl meaning significant to ancient cultures? Learn about owl symbolism and superstitions.

Owl Meaning in Ancient Cultures

253781341 1 Melisssa Morris Bnb Bypc2020, owl meaningCourtesy Melissa Morris
Barn owl

Much like black cats and crows, many cultures have woven the meaning of owls into superstitions about doom and death. Native American tribes such as the Apache and the Cree believed dreaming of owls symbolized death, or that owl calls, if not answered and responded to by the bird, would signify death soon to come.

Other Native American tribes were kinder to owls. Some viewed great horned owls as the returned souls of the brave, or hooted like owls as a war cry in battle. Others still incorporated owls into legends about day and night, farming, and the underworld, believing they helped the souls of the deceased transcend into the spiritual plane.

276003331 1 Phil Gleissner Bnb Bypc 2021, white birdCourtesy Phil Gleissner
Snowy owl

Discover the incredible owl species in North America.

Ancient Romans were largely less fond of owls. They associated the owl with their goddess of wisdom, Minerva, but to hear an owl’s call foretold of imminent death. Dreaming of owls spelled soon-to-come misfortune. Supposedly, Julius Caesar’s death was foretold by an owl, and owls were viewed as a secondary form for evil witches.

owl meaningCourtesy Shelley Ward
Barred owl

Ancient Greeks, on the other hand, valued the owl as a symbol of victory in battle. Athena, the Greek goddess of wisdom, chose it as her favorite bird. In ancient France, owls were viewed favorably as well, as it was said they helped unmarried women find husbands.

Marvel at these outstanding pictures of owls.

Burrowing owl pairCourtesy Mary-Ann Ingrao
Burrowing owls

Of course, it’s worth noting that owls do not cause death, nor are they witches in disguise. They likely won’t assist you in your love life. An owl sighting is a lucky one for birders everywhere, especially since the birds can be notoriously hard to find.

Owls are fascinating, not scary! You should know these 13 fun facts about owls.

The Meaning of Owl Sightings Today

owl meaningCourtesy Brianne Keehan
Great horned owl

When we think of owl meaning and symbolism today, we tend to associate these birds with wisdom—consider how many owls feature on graduation cards. Like cardinals, some view them as the returned spirits of the deceased. Others welcome owl sightings as a sign of new beginnings or a personal achievement.

If you’d like to invite owls to nest in your backyard, follow these tips and tricks.

Owl Sounds in Daytime: A Bad Omen?

“I sometimes hear a hoot owl at noon, 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. in a residential area that has sweetgum and pine trees, plus natural swampy wetlands. Is this a bad omen since owls typically don’t come out during the day?” asks reader Robert Sheffield of Hanahan, South Carolina.

Birding experts Kenn and Kimberly Kaufman: We wouldn’t call this a bad omen; we think it’s wonderful that you apparently have barred owls in your neighborhood. These are beautiful owls, with dark brown eyes that give them a gentle expression.

They are most active at night, like most owls, but they often give a few of their rich baritone hoots in the middle of the day, especially on cloudy days. Barred owls are fairly common in South Carolina and they like swampy spots and big trees, so it sounds as if you have good habitat for them nearby.

Emily Hannemann
Emily Hannemann is an associate editor for Birds & Blooms Digital. Throughout her years with the publication, she has written multiple articles for print as well as digital, all covering birding and gardening. In her role as associate editor, she is responsible for creating and editing articles on the subject of birding and gardening, as well as putting together Birds & Bloom's daily digital newsletter. After graduating from the University of Missouri-Columbia with a master's degree in magazine journalism and undergraduate degrees in journalism and English, she has more than eight years of experience in the magazine, newspaper, and book industries.