Owls are everywhere these days. I can think of at least four series of commercials that use owls as pitch-birds: ones for travel, eyeglasses, higher education, and decongestant. I almost understand the eyeglasses one, since owls have those big eyes, and I figure the university one is on pretty safe ground, given that owls are associated with wisdom. Geico even had an ad featuring an owl, but given that company’s other commercials, it scarcely fazed me. At least it wasn’t as nerve-shattering as the little piggy one.
But the travel advice bird and the one hawking allergy pills baffle me. Owls are not known for migrating, at least not like swallows and buzzards are. And I’ve never heard an owl sneeze, though I think it would be hilarious, except for the owl snot. As far as noncommercial representatives go, owls are also not well known as team mascots, except for the Temple University Owls. I’m told owls are the 17th most popular team mascot in the U.S., but I didn’t actually do the research. I certainly admire whoever did.
But I digress. At least the sinus relief commercial featuring not an owl but a bee with the voice of Antonio Banderas sort of made sense, since bees are associated with flowers, which can trigger allergies. Although Banderas may not have been the wisest choice. I associate Spanish accents with deadly killer bees. And while I would never accuse Antonio B. of such a thing, the subtle note of aggression makes me twitchy.
But I digress again. The subject was owls. Owls have lately been making a comeback of sorts since they became the de facto messenger pigeons of the wizarding set. But in real life, owls are hardly the noble birds that CGI Hedwig portrays on film. While most owls are represented as giving a calm but inquisitive “whoo,” there are also screech owls, which didn’t get that name by being melodious singers. Encounter one of those at night on a camping trip and you’re more than likely to drop your s’mores.
And owls’ eating habits are not, shall we say, dainty. Not devotées of the backyard bird feeder, they like their meat and they like it still kicking. They don’t chew their food, either, like their mama owls should have taught them. Watching an owl chow down on a mouse, snake, or even a rabbit, is stomach-turning. For the owl too, apparently. Because they don’t have crops or gizzards like civilized birds such as chickens, owls pay the price for their gluttony by spitting up (to put it politely) the unpalatable bits – bones, fur, feathers, scales, and such – before they can eat again. Scientists find these “owl pellets” interesting, but they’re really just disgusting. And so are the owl pellets. Apparently, you can buy the repellent pellets on the internet for science classes or some other use I don’t care to contemplate.
Hedwig aside, owls tend to the creepy rather than the cuddly. They have that whole Exorcist thing going on where they can turn their heads backward, a consequence of their having more vertebrae than anyone except a giraffe deserves. Ohio humorist and professional curmudgeon James Thurber had it right when he said, “you could send an owl into my room, dressed only in the feathers it was born with, and no monkey business, and I would pull the covers over my head and scream.”
(He was discussing Gertrude Stein and her literarily famous pigeons on the grass. Evidently, owls had a profound effect on Thurber. He had a book titled The Owl in the Attic and also wrote a fable titled “The Owl Who Was God.” The moral was: You can fool too many of the people too much of the time. I recommend it to your attention. But I digress. You could probably tell by the parentheses.)
The only literary owl that I can view with any sort of affection is the one in Winnie-the-Pooh, who spells his own name Wol and can also spell HIPY PAPY BTHUTHDTH THUTHDA BTHUTHDY, which (in case you can’t tell) means “A very happy birthday with love from Pooh.”
When it comes to real-life owls, though, I prefer to keep my distance. And when it comes to TV commercials, I haven’t been able to stand talking animals ever since that damned gecko with the ambiguous accent. Even that picture of the owl with this post makes me feel like it knows just a little too much about my past and is particularly judgy about it.
Good thing I have enough self-confidence to look that bird in the headlamps and say, “Who, me?”