New Issue: British owl graces Royal Mail stamps

Britain’s Royal Mail issued 10 stamps in honour of the beloved British owl earlier this month.

From the mostly nocturnal barn owl to the short-eared owl that hunts in the daylight, the stamps depict five species of owls that breed in the U.K. Issued on May 11, the stamps feature adult and juvenile images of the barn owl (Tyto alba); little owl (Athene noctua); tawny owl (Strix aluco); short-eared owl (Asio flammeus); and long-eared owl (Asio otus).

“Owls are among our most iconic bird species, with their soundless flight and eerie calls, and our new stamps celebrate their beauty,” said Royal Mail spokesperson Philip Parker.

There are more than 200 species of owls worldwide and all are deadly hunters—from the tiniest pygmy owl to the most imposing eagle owl—thanks to an array of remarkable physical and behavioural adaptations.

A few owl species are active by day but most hunt between dusk and dawn and so need eyesight that excels in low-light conditions. The typical owl eye is adapted to make the very most of all available light being tubular in shape rather than round.

An exemplary sense of hearing is also essential for a bird that hunts in near-total darkness and whose prey is often concealed under vegetation (or sometimes even snow). All owls have acute hearing, but it is most developed in strictly nocturnal woodland hunters, like the long-eared owl.

Owl communication is primarily through sound, and the various calls they make have distinct meanings. Most familiar are the territorial calls – often a complex series of notes that are analogous to the songs of smaller birds. These serve to announce ownership of a territory to rivals and, in males, also function to attract a mate.

Owls, perhaps more than any other birds, have been regarded with such fascination over the ages. Their haunting calls are often the only clue to their presence and when meeting one face to face, it is possible to see almost human-like expressiveness in that direct, intense gaze.

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