Owls are birds of mostly solitary, nocturnal birds of prey. They hunt small mammals, insects and other birds as well as fish. The name for a group of owls is a ''parliament''. Owls are divided into two groups: typical owls and barn owls. Encouraging natural predators to control rodent population is a natural form of pest control along with exclusion of food sources for rodents. Placing a new box for owls on a property can help control rodent populations while maintaining the naturally balanced food chain. Owls are also known to become victims of secondary poisoning by eating mice or rats that have previously been poisoned. In the United States, as with eagle feathers, the possession of owl feathers as religious objects is regulated by federal law.
In many parts of the world, owls have been associated with death and misfortune, likely due to their nocturnal activity and common screeching call. However, owls have also been associated with wisdom and prosperity, frequently being companion animals for goddesses. In Hindu Mythology, the barn owl is considered to be the vehicle of Goddess Lakshmi (the Hindi goddess of wealth) and thus it is considered lucky if an owl resides near your house.
In the culture of the Hopi nation, taboos surround owls and they are associated with evil or sorcery. The Aztecs and Mayans considered the owl a symbol of death and destruction. In fact, the Aztec god of death, Mictlantecuhtli, was often depicted with owls. Some Native American tribes saw the owl as the carrier of the elders' spirits.
In Japanese culture, owls are seen as either negative or positive symbols depending on species. Sometimes owls are seen as divine messengers of the gods, while Barn or Horned owls are perceived as demonic figures.
In Indian culture, a white owl is considered a companion and vehicle of Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth, and therefore a harbinger of prosperity. The owl has been adapted as an emblem to reflect its implications of wisdom by a revered military institution in India known as the Defense Services Staff College. In colloquial use, however, it is commonly used to refer to stupidity. The Hindi word for owl, ulloo is used to refer to a foolish person.
In Africa, the owl is associated with witchcraft and sorcery. To the Bantu the owl is the associate of wizards. In eastern Africa, the Swahili believe that the owl brings illness to children. Zulus in southern Africa view the owl as a bird of sorcerers, and in the western part of the Africa, the bird is considered a messenger of wizards and witches. In Madagascar, owls are said to gather with witches and dance on the graves of the dead.
In Greek mythology, the owl, and specifically the Little Owl, was often associated with the goddess Athena, a bird goddess who became associated with wisdom, the arts, and skills, and as a result, owls also became associated with wisdom. They are even the unofficial mascot of the high-IQ society Mensa. The Romans, in addition to having borrowed the Greek associations of the owl, also considered owls to be funerary birds, due to their nocturnal activity and often having their nests in inaccessible places. As a result, seeing an owl in the daytime was considered a bad omen.
Owl tattoos represent wisdom and knowledge. They can also be symbols for institutions of learning or educators. Owl tattoo elements can be found in death themed tattoos because of their ancient links to the dead and the underworld.