Reader’s comment: While the major part of your column of Dec. 27 saddened me. It is unfortunately true.Nevertheless, I was saddened by the change from your usual tone.

Then came the snowy owls and I became happy again.Owls are one of my favorite critters. Once as I walking to my office and going past a big thick bush there was a tremendous racket from a mass of little birds within. As I approached, a great big owl emerged and flew away and in total silence. It was quite eerie. Who or what he was taking away with him I did not know, but he left much consternation.

Of late, we have been hearing owls as we go to bed. My wife and I much approve.They seem to us (but not the native rodents) to make a friendly sound. We are very happy to have them about. They are very lovely birds and to see one (a we have on very rare occasions) is a great treat.

-- Charles, Williamstown

My answer: Owls have always captivated mankind and seems to have been the cause of great fear the farther back we go in many cultures and respect in others. In short, owls have long been regarded with fascination and awe, more so that almost all other creatures.

With certainty, they fascinated an artist enough to etch into solid rock owl effigies as far back as at least 17,000 years (As seen in a cave engraving of a pair of snowy owls and fledgling at their nest from Les Trois Feres in Southern France.) Goddess Athena (goddess of wisdom) is believed to have held the owl sacred, and silver coins were minted bearing the owl as early as fifth century, B.C in Greece. In Rome, the owl was associated with death, and to hear one hoot "presaged imminent death." It is said the deaths of Julius Caesar, Augustas, Commodus Arelius, and Agrippa were all foretold by an owl.

Owls were included in such early works as Aristotle’s Historia Animaliumin about 335 B.C. and Roman scholar, Pliny the Elder, in his Historia Naturalis, about 77 B.C., devoted several chapters to owls. (And I thought my two volume "The Animal Kingdom," illustrated by A. J. Johnson, dated 1867, historic.)

By the middle ages these creatures of the dark became associated with witches, and in early Brittan people would nail an owl to the barn door to protect the structure from lightning and other evils.On a brighter note, alcoholism was treated with an owl’s egg in early English folk cures. American Indians gave honor to the owl; the Zuni believed an owl feather placed in a baby’s bed kept the evil spirits away. And today in England as well as New England, it is good luck to see an owl, especially during Christmas bird counts.

Christmas Bird Count

Preliminary results from the Northern Berkshire Count held on Dec. 21: Six parties, 21 participants of the Northern Berkshire Audubon Club counted 4,771 individuals of 50 species. Highlights (my opinion only) included 20 snow geese,14 common mergansers, 1 hooded merganser, 1 snowy owl, 1 Merlin (falcon), 1 peregrine falcon, 18 red-bellied woodpeckers, 60 tufted titmice, 60 eastern bluebirds, 14 American robins, 1 catbird, 1 mockingbird, 1 American pipit, 225 cedar waxwings, 7 song sparrows, 8 white-throated sparrows, and 13 red-wing blackbirds, among others. We didn’t receive the species reports for the annual Central Berkshire Christmas Bird Count, and the Southern Berkshire Count (Jan. 1) has not yet taken place by this writing.

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