Huberman Eagle owlBruce's scops owl

Barn owlHume's tawny owl

  • Issue: February 1987
  • Designer: A. Glaser
  • Stamp size: 40 x 30.8 mm
  • Plate no.: 25 - 28
  • Sheet of 15 stamps Tabs: 5
  • Printers: E. Lewin-Epstein Ltd.
  • Method of printing: Photolithography

The owls are birds that subsist entirely on live prey, which they capture by means of their powerful claws. With few exceptions, they are nocturnal creatures, active mainly during the hours of darkness. Indeed, for these reasons, the Hebrew name for the order is "Oorsei Layla", meaning literally "Tramplers of the Night". Their body structure is superbly well-suited to their life habits:

The enormous eyes enable the birds to sight their prey under night-time conditions of poor visibility. Unlike most other birds, owls have their eyes situated at the front of their heads, lending them what might be considered to be a "human" expression. For this reason, the owl was thought to possess great wisdom (hence the expression "Wise as an Owl") and the Ancient Greeks chose the image of the Little Owl (Athene noctua) as the symbol of their Goddess of Wisdom, Athena.

Owls also possess a keen sense of hearing. Their auditory capabilities are sufficiently sharp to detect the sound of a mouse in the grass. Their silent flight is achieved by means of a soft plumage which enables them to cut throught the air and swoop down on their prey entirely unheard.

The owl is commonly regarded in a most negative light. The bird has long been considered as a bad omen and a symbol of wickedness. In all classical depictions of the witch, brewing her potion in a boiling cauldron, we find the image of the Tawny Owl or the Long-Eared Owl looming ominously in the background.

The frightful, repetitive vocalizations of the Barn Owl, resulting from powerful exhalations, serve to add to the sinister image of owls in general. The voice of the owl is widely considered to be a portent of evil. According to legend, the cry of the Little Owl accompanied and proclaimed the murder of Julius Ceasar.

Apparently, the terrifying vocalizations and the silent flight through the darkness of night have combined to create the notorious perceptions and metaphors with which owls have been associated. In reality, however, owls play an important role in the control of harmful pests. Studies have revealed that a pair of barn owls is capable of eliminating upwards of 2,000 mice in a relatively small area in a single year. Farmers, all too often unaware of the importance of these birds, made use of large quantities of pesticides to rid their fields of rodents. Although these measures were partly effective in controlling the pests, owls that fed on the poisoned rodents were concomitantly destroyed in the process.

Ten different species of owls are found in Israel. All are protected by law, and it is strictly forbidden to harm them in any way.

Eagle owl (Bubo bubo)

With a wingspan of upto 140cm., the Eagle Owl is the largest of Israel's owls. It typically nests among steep slopes in rocky areas, in the desert regions as well as in the northern part of the country. With its powerful claws, it can easily snatch up hares. One of its favourite prey items is the hedgehog, which it manages to devour without being injured by the creature's spines. Its Latin name (Bubo bubo) brings to mind the rhythmic sound of the hoots which it utters at night.

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Bruce's scops owl (Otus brucei)

Nesting in the trunks of hollow trees, the Bruce's Scops Owl is the smallest of our owls. The status of this bird's population in Israel has not been precisely established. Its plumage matches and blends well with the colour of tree bark, providing it with excellent camouflage, while the lemon-yellow tint of its eyes stands out prominently against the greyish background of its feathers.

Its close relative, the Scop Owl (Otus scops), breeds in the summer in the northern and central regions of the country.

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Barn owl (Tyto alba)

As its name indicates, the Barn Owl prefers to dwell in the vicinity of human rural habitation, in attics or deserted cisterns, or among the rafters of cattle-sheds and chicken-coops. It is rightly considered to be among the farmer's best friends, inasmuch as it devours troublesome rodents in great numbers. In years when rodents are abundant, female Barn Owls will lay as many as ten eggs, and will sometimes breed two or even three times a year.

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Hume's tawny owl (Strix butleri)

Generally considered to be among the world's rarest desert birds, the Hume's Tawny Owl is actually quite common in Israel's Judean

Wilderness and Negev Desert, where it can be found in almost any steep - sloped ravine where water is available. Appropriately, it is regarded as one of Israel's 'natural treasures", and thousands of bird-watchers from all parts of the world flock to En Gedi to view the bird at close range. This owl is capable of consuming venomous scorpions, as evidenced by the remains of these creatures which have been found in its pellets.

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Biblical birds II Owls