October’s here at last, which means that age-old debate has been rekindled: Which bird is the spookiest? What single bird best exemplifies the Halloween spirit?
Now, I’ve never claimed to be an ornithologist, but I’ve lost so many hours of my life to spooky bird research on Wikipedia that I just might be a global expert in the field of ranking birds by their overall spookiness. It’s a demanding job, but someone has to do it. Without further ado, allow me to present my findings.
The first stop on our trip through the animal kingdom is The Owl. Regarded as an omen of despair in many cultures, the owl is often depicted as wise and mysterious. Wisdom doesn’t net any bonus points on Halloween, but mystery goes a long way. Additionally, owls are nocturnal (a vocabulary term that means they come out at night), giving them an extra spooky boost over daytime birds like the woodpecker or ostrich. Should you ask an owl if they saw that kid from the viral video on Ellen today, they’d have no idea what you were talking about; owls are always asleep for Ellen. The call of an owl is a distinctive feature on just about every Halloween Sound Effects tape ever recorded. It sounds like this:
Hoot, hoot, I am an owl.
Of course, that last bit is subtextual. Finally, owls can turn their heads around backwards like that scene in The Exorcist. Pretty spooky indeed!
Now, on paper (or your phone), it looks like the owl should be the spookiest bird for Halloween. While they’re certainly spookier than a cardinal or a seagull, owls suffer a drawback that many of their order do not. Baby owls are just straight-up adorable. There’s nothing scary about a tiny owl. If you had a baby owl on your desk at work, nobody would be afraid of it. All your coworkers would just crowd around to watch it fluff out its feathers and slowly close its big, baleful eyes, drifting away to a dream land full of mice and marshmallows. Nothing would ever get done, and your company would close. For the sake of your job, I can’t rate the owl as the spookiest bird.
What can be said about the raven? Their feathers are so dark that we use “raven” as a synonym for black, European folklore depicts them as unhappy ghosts, and Poe wrote a poem that everyone read in middle school about how lonely a raven made him. Ravens are definitely the most gothic birds, but does that automatically make them the spookiest?
Short answer, no. Long answer, well, not really, no. To illustrate my point, compare 80’s goth-rock group The Cure with, say, two Frankensteins. One group is more appropriate for Halloween, and one is more appropriate as a soundtrack for the group of sophomores who skip Algebra to hang out outside the auxiliary classroom and smoke cigarettes that Jake’s idiot stepdad Leon left on the kitchen table. Both are good, but one is spookier. Using this airtight logic, I can’t rate the raven as the spookiest bird of Halloween.
IT SPEAKS WITH THE TONGUE OF A MAN
The crow is the raven’s cousin from the country. It may not be as sophisticated as the urbane raven, but its can-do attitude and folksy wisdom are unmatched. While crows are not as gothic as ravens, they get extra spooky points in other areas. First of all, a group of crows is called a murder. That’s… I mean, that’s incredible. Second, crows make a distinctive “caw, caw” sound that is not only spooky but easy enough to imitate. Additionally, crows are afraid of hay stuffed into overalls and a hat standing out in the middle of a field, just like me! Finally, crows are the namesake of The Crow from The Crow, which takes place right before Halloween and features a song by The Cure (earning back some of those lost goth points).
“Caw, Caw!” -Crows
All of this points to the crow being one of the objectively spookiest birds available, and there certainly aren’t many counterpoints. The number one spookiest bird, though, has a certain X Factor. Before we get there though, let’s take a moment and look at some honorable mentions. These birds might not be spooky enough to land in the top 5, but they deserve to be recognized for doing their best.
Penguins wear all black and live in a frozen wasteland. If black metal were a bird, it’d be a penguin.
What secrets do they hold?
One time a heron walked right by me on the beach, and I was intimidated by its size. Then it made eye contact with me, and that was terrifying.
Ok, yeah, they should probably be on the list but they aren’t.
Now for the main event. Ladies, gentlemen, and distinguished others, allow me to present the Spookiest Bird of Halloween.
Skreeeeeee!!! The bat is undoubtedly the spookiest bird. They’re the birds that Draculas turn into when they get tired of walking around. Because they are nocturnal like owls, bats only exist in the darkness. You might be thinking, “But Mac! How do they find their way around in the dark?” Well friends, allow me to introduce you to echolocation. Echolocation is the process by which a bat screams into the dark (perfect for Halloween) and listens to hear what their environment sounds like. If it sounds like they’re about to run into a tree, they don’t. Furthermore, bats drink blood for real. No other bird can out-spook the bat.
Now, it’s possible that you’re thinking to yourself, “Bats aren’t birds. They’re technically mammals, like people or cats or the echidna.” To which I would reply: that just means that bats are always wearing a costume. Truly, the Spookiest Bird of Halloween is the BAT.
If a spookier bird is ever invented, I’ll update this list. Until then, stay tuned to Nightmare on Film Street, and let us know what bird scares you the most on Twitter, Reddit, and the Horror Movie Fiend Club on Facebook.
Bonus quiz! Which of these vocabulary terms, covered above, means “active at night?” A. Echolocation B. Nocturnal C. Feathers
To score your quiz, give yourself an A+ no matter what you picked. This is Halloween, not Finals Week.