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5 Unusual Birds Named After Mythological Figures (Photos)

The naming of birds isn’t solely based on their unique traits or discoveries by individuals; some are derived from mythology, where birds have various associations. Let’s explore some species of birds named after mythological figures and what they represent. Among our listed popular ones is the Owl of Athena, also known as the Little owl, associated with the Greek Goddess of Wisdom. The Harpy eagle is named after the harpies of Greek mythology, which were fearsome creatures with the body of an eagle and the face of a human.

Let’s look into the four birds listed in this category, exploring their special traits and why they were given such names.

1. Owl of Athena

Little owl
Little owl | image by Luiz Lapa via Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Scientific Name: Athene noctua

The Owl of Athena, also known as the Little owl, has a rich history tied to mythology and symbolism. Named after Athena, the Greek goddess of wisdom, this owl represents knowledge and is often depicted perched on her shoulder in ancient art. This connection highlights the mystical qualities of owls, seen as wise and mysterious creatures in many cultures.

This small owl, with a body length of about 22 cm, is known for its mottled brown plumage, distinctive white eyebrows, and bright yellow eyes. Its compact size, short tail, and long legs make it easily recognizable, and its camouflage aids in hunting insects, small mammals, and other prey in open landscapes such as farmland and orchards.

Found across Europe and the Middle East, the Little owl prefers habitats with old buildings or tree cavities for nesting, showcasing its adaptability to human proximity.

2. Strix

barred owl perched on branch
Barred owl | image by Everglades National Park via Flickr

Scientific Name: Strix

Strix is a genus of owls known for their haunting calls and nocturnal habits, often inspiring myths and legends about wisdom and mystery. The name “Strix” itself has ancient origins, associated with magical birds in Roman and Greek mythology that could transform into witches or were considered omens.

Among the species in this genus, the Barred owl, Strix varia, stands out for its distinctive “Who cooks for you?” call. Found in dense woodlands across North America, from Canada to the southern United States, the Barred owl prefers old forests with large trees for nesting. These birds are skilled hunters, preying on small mammals, birds, and insects.

3. Hoopoe

Eurasian Hoopoe 
Eurasian Hoopoe | image by Luiz Lapa via Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Scientific Name: Upupidae

The Hoopoe, known for its eye-catching crest and melodious call, is a bird steeped in history and mythology. The Eurasian hoopoe, a prominent species, inhabits a variety of landscapes across Europe, Asia, and Africa, from woodlands to grasslands. This bird’s unique appearance has not only captivated onlookers but also earned it a sacred place in ancient cultures.

In Ancient Egypt, the hoopoe was revered, and frequently depicted in art as a symbol of nobility and succession.

4. Harpy eagle

Harpy eagle
Harpy eagle | image by Brian Gratwicke via Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Scientific Name: Harpia harpyja

The Harpy eagle, named after the mythical harpies of Greek mythology—fearsome creatures with the body of an eagle and the face of a human—embodies the majesty and power of the tropical rainforests of Central and South America.

As one of the largest and most powerful eagles in the world, it features black and white plumage and possesses talons as large as a grizzly bear’s claws.

This apex predator hunts medium-sized mammals, such as monkeys and sloths, demonstrating its formidable prowess by snatching them from the trees. The Harpy eagle’s preference for vast, undisturbed forests for their territories underscores the critical need for conservation efforts to protect these magnificent birds and their habitat.

5. Calliope hummingbird

Calliope hummingbird (male) | image by Alan Schmierer via Flickr

Scientific Name: Selasphorus calliope

The Calliope hummingbird is the smallest bird native to the United States and Canada, known for its diminutive size and remarkable migratory journey. Males feature striking magenta streaks on their throats, while females have a more subdued appearance with greenish upper parts and white underparts.

This species is named after Calliope, the muse of song, dance, eloquence and epic poetry in Greek mythology, reflecting the bird’s elegant and vibrant display. The Calliope hummingbird breeds in mountainous regions of the western United States and Canada, migrating to Mexico and the southern United States for winter.

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