The owl—unique and perfect design.  David Burges

FROM ANCIENT TIMES owls have been a source of fascination to mankind. For many cultures the owl’s human-like face, with its large, forward-facing eyes and motionless stare, symbolized wisdom, leading to its being deified; while in others, as a creature of the night with its eerie cries and shrieks, it was considered to be an evil omen. In the Bible, like all birds of prey, owls are classified as unclean, for sound hygienic reasons (Lev. 11:16,17; Deut. 14:15,16); and they are associated by the prophets with the desolate ruins of cities and nations, such as Babylon and Edom, which have been brought low by God (see Isa. 13:21; 34:11-15).1

There are over 200 species of owl, divided into two families: typical owls and barn owls. They occur in most parts of the world, nearly all of them sharing the common features of upright stance, large broad head, binocular vision with the eyes at the front, acute hearing, extremely flexible neck, powerful talons, and feathers specially adapted for silent flight.2 These many unique features of owls are related to their role as nocturnal predators, and function together as an integrated whole in a fashion which speaks powerfully of intelligent design by the Creator.

Unique features

Owls hunt primarily small animals, insects and other birds, and provide a valuable control of rodents. Their hunting strategy relies on stealth and surprise. The dull, mottled coloration of their plumage enables them to blend into the environment, the common barn owl being an exception. In addition, a silent approach is essential in the quiet of the night, and this is made possible by their remarkably designed feathers, which are larger than normal and have smooth edges; tiny serrations on the leading edge of the flight feathers reduce air turbulence and hence noise. The surface of the flight feathers is also covered with a soft velvety structure that absorbs the swishing sound of the wing moving.

This delightful photograph of a Little owl, Athene noctua, shows the forward-facing eyes and down-curved beak typical of owls.

Trebol-a, derivative work: Stemonitis/Wikmedia Commons

The serrations on the leading edge of an owl’s flight feathers reduce noise.

Kersti Nebelsiek, CC-BY-SA-3.0/Wikimedia Commons

The large eyes are tubular, being fixed in bony structures in the head, and are long-sighted, maximizing their light-gathering ability. The image processing in the brain gives them vision far superior to their quarry. However, they are unable to see close objects, and their prey, when caught, are felt with the use of special feathers around the beak and by the feet. Because the eyes are fixed and cannot swivel, the owl must rotate its head in order to see behind, which it can do up to a remarkable 270 degrees. This is and hence noise to a minimum while looking around.

When its prey, such as field mouse or vole, is invisible in the darkness, the owl must rely on its highly sensitive hearing to locate its position. A concave ruff of stiff feathers around the entrance to each ear acts as a dish to focus the sound. In many species, the two ears are placed asymmetrically on the head: the minute time difference between sound reaching the two ears (as little as 30 millionths of a second) enables it to pinpoint the direction and distance of the source of the sound.3

The beak is short and downward-curved so as not to obscure the field of vision or hearing, and the kill is accomplished not by the beak, but by the large and powerful talons, which grasp and crush the prey. These have two unique adaptations: a fully mobile front outer toe that can switch to face rearwards, and a rough, Velcro-like surface on the underside of the feet, both of which help to strengthen the grip.

An integrated whole

The impressive aspect of each of these anatomical attributes is that they combine to form a unique and perfect system designed for a specialised purpose: nocturnal hunting. Rather than being a random collection of features which might have appeared individually, by chance mutations over many millennia, they give every impression of having been assembled as an integrated whole from the beginning, which is the hallmark of intelligent design and the handiwork of God, the Creator: “O LORD, how manifold are Your works! In wisdom, You have made them all. The earth is full of Your possessions” (Ps. 104:24, NKJV).


  1. The translations of the ancient Hebrew names of animals and birds are often uncertain, and different Bible versions render the same original words as ‘owl’, ‘ostrich’, ‘pelican’ or even ‘arrow snake’!
  2. Sources: Wikipedia article “Owl”; The Owl Pages web- site:; James Le Fanu, “Profitable Wonders: All of a piece,” The Oldie, Apr. 2012, kindly supplied by a reader.


  1. This principle, known as amplitude monopulse, was reinvented by radar engineers during the Second World War, and is now incorporated in most radar But the Creator invented it first!

People can pride themselves on their impeccable chastity, self-deprivation, and rigorous adherence to restrictive rules designed to keep one at arm’s length from any contaminant, temptation, or potentially harmful circumstance. But, Paul tells us, with profound insight into human nature, these only promote an appearance of righteousness while failing to address the real issues. Rules fail to connect with the locus of sin, which is a matter of attitude. Rules only constrain behaviour—maybe. Bad behaviour results from bad thinking. Rules cannot counter bad thinking; indeed, as a surrogate for faith they are deceitful impostors. Paul’s  last words of this passage couldn’t come stronger: they (rules) are of no value in checking the indulgence of the flesh.

David P. Levin, The Creation Text: Studies in Early Genesis

From the Testimony magazine March 2015

View all the articles in this excellent series here….

Re-produced here with the kind permission of Bro David Burgess and the Testimony Magazine

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