Owls are very captivating. They are among the first birds that children readily identify and distinguish from other birds. When people see or interact with owls they express themselves differently than they probably would with a crow, heron, seagull or chicken. Maybe this is because the owl has a head and face that appears more like our own. Owls have large forward-facing eyes like we do. This means they have binocular vision, unlike other birds, and they are able to focus both eyes on the same subjects, giving them excellent vision for hunting.
Their staring, wide-eyed behavior encourages the imagination to wander. They have become an iconic bird, manifesting in many ways in human culture to symbolize: dread, knowledge, wisdom, death, witchcraft, the spirit world, and other things. The owl is present in the mythologies of Native America, Europe, Asia, Africa and Australia. It is the patron of Athens, Greece representing wisdom and was once the mascot of the powerful Athenian army.
The owl has feathers that help minimize the noise of their flight. Some like the barn owl are near aerodynamic perfection. The feathers on the face of some species also help to direct noise to their sensitive ears. Their ears are not visible but are simply holes in their heads. What looks like ears on some owls are tufts of feathers aiding to direct sound to their ears. Some owls do rely more on their sight than hearing to hunt.
There are regions where competition between species for territory is fierce. For example, in North America a great horned owl may kill and eat a snowy owl that it finds in its territory. The snowy owl may kill and eat another of its own species as well.
The large size of their eyes helps them adapt to nocturnal activities. Their eyes are 100 times or more sensitive to light than human eyes. This allows them to see well on very dark nights and contrary to some myths they see just fine during the day as well. Their sense of hearing is even more acute than their vision.
The Chinese name for the owl is “mao tou ying” or literally “cat head eagle”.
There are 205 living species today. They have been recorded living up to 28 years of age. The do have more forms of vocalizing besides the hooot hooo, like screeching and guttural warbling. They can also be very expressive with their body language, especially when excited, bobbing and weaving their heads while flicking their tales and stepping from one talon to the other.
As for being wise, they have not proven to be as smart as crows and ravens for example.