‘That luminous Barn Owls have been seen before in the same part of Norfolk is certain… We have it on the best authority – namely, from the man himself – that some years ago Frederick Rolfe, gamekeeper now retired, saw what could have been nothing else when stopping up fox-earths at West Bilney. A few nights afterwards he saw the same shining bird again, subsequently shot it, and found that it was a Barn Owl. He said that the bird ‘was emitting a very bright light when near him and that it continued to give out a slight glow for some hours after it was dead’.’ JH Gurney, 1908
David Clarke wrote about luminous owls in Fortean Studies Vol 1 (1994), and it’s been suggested that barn owls’ wings may attract luminous fungi, but this paper proposes that some may be naturally bioluminescent… I’ll take two of them please.
A Review of accounts of luminosity in Barn Owls Tyto alba
by Fred Silcock
The historical anecdotal accounts of luminosity in the Barn Owl Tyto alba, in England and Australia, are reviewed and found to be convincing. There are many eyewitness accounts of unexplained lights behaving like hunting Barn Owls, and some of those lights were seen ultimately to be luminescing Barn Owls. This phenomenon may be a plausible explanation for the Will o’ the Wisp and similar myths in England, and the Min Min Light in Australia.
The cause of the luminescence is more contentious. Contamination of the owl’s feathers by luminescent fungi, from decaying wood within tree hollows, is here considered to be an unlikely cause. Instead, it is proposed that the Barn Owl may be intrinsically bioluminescent. However, this hypothesis requires scientific investigation.
Thanks to Ian Ridpath