Because of their horrible screaming as they fly along. This species of owl, some people superstitiously believe, attends the windows of dying persons.
Mr. White, in one of his delighful Letters to Mr. Pennant, says, " My musical friend, at whose house, (Fyfeld, near Andover) I am now visiting, has tried all the owls that are his near neighbours, with a pitch-pipe set at concert pitch, and finds they all hoot in B flat. He will examine the nightingales next spring." From what follows this note, it, however, appears that " neither owls nor cuckoos keep to one note."
Because they should not make much resistance or rushing, that they may steal through the air unheard upon a nimble and watchful quarry. - G. White.
Because they may balance their large heavy heads; for, as most nocturnal birds have large eyes and ears, they must have large heads to contain them. - G. White.
Major Head thus describes the biscacho, or coquim-bo, a curious species of owl, found all over the Pampas of South America.
" Like rabbits, they live in holes, which are in groups in every direction, and which makes galloping over these plains very dangerous. These animals are never seen in the day ; but, as soon as the lower limb of the sun reaches the horizon, they are seen issuing from their holes in all directions, which are scattered in groups, like little villages, ail over the Pampas. The biscachos, when full grown, are nearly as big as badgers, but their head resembles a rabbit's, except that they have large bushy whiskers. In the evening they sit outside their holes, and they all appear to be moralising. They are the most serious looking animals I ever saw; and even the young ones are grey-headed, wear mustachios, and look thoughtful and grave. In the day-time, their holes are guarded by two little owls which are never an instant away from their posts. As one gallops by these owls, they always stand looking at the stranger, and then at each other, moving their old-fashioned heads in a manner which is quite ridiculous, until one rushes by them, when fear gets the better of their dignified looks, and they both run into the biscacho's hole."
Because it may rid its plumage of vermin or dirt, by combing.
Wilson, the distinguished American ornithologist, also tells us that the inner edge of the middle claw of the whip-poor-will* is pectinated, and from the circumstance of its being found with small portions of down adhering to the teeth, is probably employed as a comb, to rid the plumage of its head of vermin, this being the principal and almost the only part so infested in all birds. Of another species, called chuck-will's widow, he says, " their mouths are capable of prodigious expansion, to seize with more certainty, and furnished with long hairs or bristles, serving as palisades to secure what comes between them. Reposing much during the heats of the day, they are much infested with vermin, particularly about the head, and are provided with a comb on the inner edge of the middle claw, with which they are often employed in ridding themselves of these pests, at least when in a state of captivity."
* See Foreign Birds.
Because of an erroneous notion that it sucks goats ; a thing, which the structure of its bill renders impossible.