The Rainbow Owl (Strix mendacium) is a rare species of owl found in hardwood forests in the western United States and parts of China. Long coveted for its colorful plumage, the Rainbow Owl was nearly hunted to extinction in the early 20th century. However, due to conservation efforts, recent years have seen a significant population increase, particularly in northwestern Montana.
The adult Rainbow Owl is on average 44 cm long with a 112 cm wingspan. Unlike most owls, which are nocturnal, the Rainbow Owl is crepuscular, a term used to describe animals active during the twilight hours at dawn and dusk, or on bright moonlit nights. They prey mostly on rabbits, mice and squirrels but are also known to eat snakes, foxes, porcupines or other owls.
Like many species of birds, the males have more striking colors then females, who are noticeably duller with more dark barring. Owlets start off with off-white downy feathers before their adult feathers grow in.
The Rainbow Owl can be distinguished from other owls by its peculiar multicolored feathers but also by its unusually melodic call. (A recording of the Rainbow Owl's call can be found here ) Recent research concerning Rainbow Owls also suggests that they are responsive to music and attracted to human singing. A leading Rainbow Owl research team from the University of Montana in Missoula has earned the nickname "The Disco Squad" for their creative use of disco music in the field. "People think it's crazy, but we are about twice as likely to encounter owls in the field if we bring along a portable stereo," says Herman Roark, a doctoral student working with the Disco Squad, "And they are most responsive to disco. So far, we have had the most success with 'The Hustle.'
~ Dr. Claudia Weatherfield, University of Toldeo
The Rainbow Owl was originally discovered by Serbian scientist Milutin Filipovic in 1863 in what is today Jackdaw County, North Dakota. He and assistant George Swinehouse were out looking for kestrels when they "saw a multi-colored object in the distance". Running towards it, they soon saw it "was a Strix sort of owl", and Filipovic sent George to go back and get food to lure it near them. When George came back, the mysterious bird was pecking at Milutin's shirt.
"She seems to have a taste for wool. Also is fond of hardtack."
- Djuka Filipovic, Milutin's wife, 1868.
However, due to their multi-colored feathers, once the bird was discovered by the public, many hunters and trappers wanted the birds' feathers and mysteriously dull talons for trophies.
Upon Filipovic's death in 1929, the general public ad already given out on the Rainbow Owl craze, and the 623 owls that were left in the wild were abandoned. However, since wildlife preserver Roy Harper and his team of ornithologists and one archaeologist have brought them back from the ranks of endangerment, constructing a wildlife reserve, naming it "The Milutin Filipovic Rainbow Owl Protection Center.
Learn more about the Rainbow Owl here: Coming soon!