Wafting on silent wings from branch to branch while the pale moon shines above, the Woods Owl is a perfect target for the uninspired bard. But don't let its serene and wise appearance fool you, this bird is potentially one of the most effective hunters out there. Mice, rats, smaller birds, even the occasional snake fall victim to this nocturnal predator.
Appearance. The Wood Owl is a squat bird when sitting on the branch. It is maybe half a ped from tip of head to talon and another half fore across. Its wing span is merely 4 fores across. The coloring of the Wood Owl is quite similar to the color of the surrounding hardwood, hence its name, and its feathers are darker to lighter browns of mixing amounts. It camouflages the usually stationary bird quite well. Its talons, about 3 nailsbreadth across, aren't especially sharp, though they are strong. Its spine is not rigid and is loosely connected enabling the owl to rotate its head 180 degrees with little difficulty.
Special Abilities. The Owl is able to fly, out of a dive, at a good 30 strals per hour. It can also waft silently, which makes it difficult for its natural enemies to recognize coming danger in time. The Owl's vision is nothing short of extraordinary, able to see a mouse in the dark, at half a stral away. Using its extraordinary sight and its speed it can get to a mouse and attack in a 40 stral per hour dive and grasp the prey with its claws. The Wood Owl's claws aren't sharp but are very powerful and the prey is usually squeezed to death very quickly. The Owl's loose neck allows it to look for prey in all directions efficiently. Its last special ability is its useful camouflaging, making it appear as a branch or stump.
Territory. This bird is found in almost all hardwood forests, from the Shivering Wood in Sarvonia to the Linfalas Forest at the Crimson Isles of Nybelmar.
Habitat/Behaviour. During the day the Wood Owl sleeps in standing position next to its cage camouflaging away whilst it regains energy. At night it awakes and hunts for the time until dawn usually. It is an incredibly unprotective bird, you have to be inside its nest messing around with its eggs for it to even notice you. This has led to easy close observation by bards and researchers alike. These birds live for perhaps 15 years before they die.
Diet. The diet of the Wood Owl consists of rodents as a rule. On exceptions it eats other things which come into range but for the most part rats and squirrels are in the biggest trouble.
Mating. Wood Owls have a complex mating ritual. First the male will act "foolishly" to get the females attention. So, after the attention is gained, it will resort to the sole of all love in the universe that is commonly called bribery. Dead rats, dead snakes, dead lizards, that kind of romantic thing, and eventually this will put the male in high enough favor that the female will join with the male and they mate. Owls mate for life so the males only have to go through this annoyance once. The eggs are lain, usually around three or four, and we wait for maybe a month and a half to two months for them to hatch. Hatchlings will mature slowly, being taught by mother and father of the ways of the woods. In another three months the babies are mature enough and set out on their own. A female goes into heat seasonally, specifically in the Month of the Singing Bird.
Usages. The Wood Owl is most commonly used by the Llaoihrr Brownies’s Skydiver Clan. Though the pairing may seem a bit strange to an outside observer, as Brownies are a perfect-sized morsel for the predatory owls, the beast is one of the favourite mounts of the Flying Militia as its generally gentle disposition makes it easy to train and work with.
The training procedure for these flying mounts begins even before the hatchlings have emerged from their eggs. As Wood Owls are fiercely protective of their young, the Skydiver clan is required to steal the eggs from the parents’ watchful eye to be properly raised. For eggs produced by domesticated parents, this process usually involves a Brownie rider luring his or her companion away from its nest while other members of the Clan scurry in to roll the eggs away while the beast is distracted.
When the Skydiver’s quota is not met, the Brownies are also forced to take eggs from wild owls residing in the Vale. This process is much more elaborate and usually involves teams of four to six Skydivers. Once the team discovers a nest, two of the Brownies are designated as live bait. Using slings, boomerangs, and thrown stones, it is the job of these two individuals to make the parents perceive them as threats and lure them away from the nest. While their compatriots flee for their lives, the remaining Brownies scale the tree and enter the nest. Using a series of baskets and pulleys, they quickly, but carefully lower the fragile eggs to the ground and haul them back to Council Tree.
Once taken, all eggs are placed in a large room designated specifically for the Skydiver Clan at Council Tree. Lined with fluffy owl-down, the room is consistently kept at a warm temperature and the eggs are carefully monitored until they hatch.
The first regiment of training begins almost immediately after the young owls emerge from their shells. Perhaps best described as a ‘What not to eat’ course, the Skydivers instruct the hatchlings as to what they are allowed to consume and what is off limits. By the end of this segment, the owls are expected to fully understand that they are supposed to eat only the meat provided to them and not the tiny Brownies themselves.
When the birds reach maturity, they proceed to the second phase of their training. Assigned to an experienced Skydiver flight instructor, the young owls are for the first time harnessed with the thick leather collar that provides a grip for the rider. Under the careful tutelage of their Brownie trainer, they are taught to become acclimated to the collar, to understand basic Skydiver flight commands and are worked to build up their strength so they will able to carry a rider for extended periods of time. Only once they have graduated from this course are the owls finally deemed “flight worthy” and allowed to be ridden by the general militia.
Though they are initially ridden by a whole host of different Brownies, it is not uncommon for a Wood Owl to choose a single Brownie companion as it matures. The criteria the owls use for making this selection is still not fully understood, but once their minds have been made up they remain steadfastly loyal. At this stage, the bird makes its preference very clear and requires some coaxing from its chosen Brownie to allow another rider to mount it.
In addition to being of use to the Skydiver Clan, the beautiful browns of the owl’s feathers have made it coveted by the Brightler Clan. Generally, the Brightlers tend to use feathers gathered after they have fallen out of the owls but it is not unheard of for an overly curious Brownie to attempt to pluck a feather from a sleeping bird, usually with unpleasant consequences. The feathers are then used by the Brightlers to craft jewelry and other forms of decoration for sale.
Myth/Lore. The Wood Owl is thought of as wise or knowledgeble, though it is no smarter than any other bird, in many stories. Wood owls have apparantly led lost travelers out of ogre clogged forests, or understandably enunciated the need of a quest to be done to an aimless, soon to be, adventurer. Wood Owls are thought of as intelligent due to their patient nonviolent natures.