Greece has some of the richest history and national pride. Ancient Greek civilizations paved the way for the country of Greece today. Greece sits between Italy to the west separated by the Ionian Sea and Turkey on the east separated by the Aegean Sea. It borders Albania, North Macedonia and Bulgaria on the northwest and north. The wildlife in the country is quite varied due to the coastal habitats, mountains in the interior (including Mount Olympus) and thousands of islands. Were the people of Greece able to agree on just one bird as their national bird? Does Greece have an official national bird? Is there a bird that is highly respected and often cited as the national bird? Read on the discover the national bird of Greece.
What is the National Bird of Greece?
The national bird of Greece is the little owl. While there is not an official national bird of Greece the little owl has been used throughout Greece’s history on coins, in art and literature. The owl is a symbol of wisdom and knowledge.
What do Owls Mean in Greek Mythology?
In Greek mythology the goddess of wisdom, Athena, is often pictured with a little owl. The story goes that when Athena saw an owl she was so intrigued by the calm demeanor and the big eyes that she kept it and made it a sacred animal. Other myths share that the owl was chosen because it can see in the night and may even be omniscient.
What is the Little Owl?
The little owl (Athene noctua) is a classic looking owl with big yellow eyes and a yellow beak. Their feathers are mostly dark brown with flecks of cream mixed in. Just how little is the “little owl”? They are about 8 inches tall and weigh around 6 ounces. One of the reasons they are so endearing is because they often live near humans, nesting on buildings and in parks. They are also active during the day so they are a common sight in Greece.
Do Little Owls Live as Couples?
Yes. Little owls typically pair up and stay with the same mate. You can see them snuggled up next to each other with the feathers ruffled. They will hunt near each other and can be seen flying together as well. Another reason why the people of Greece are fond of the little owl.
Is the Little Owl Featured on the Greek Flag?
No, the little owl is not on the Greek flag. The flag of Greece has nine equal horizontal stripes of blue and white. In the upper left corner, on the hoist side, is a blue square with a white cross. Some say the nine stripes represent the 9 letters of the word “freedom” and the color blu represents the sky and the ocean.
Is the Little Owl Featured on the Greek Money?
Yes! Ancient coins and banknotes feature the little owl with some dating back as far as 449-413 BCE. The silver tetradrachm had the head of Athena on the front and the little owl on the back. It was used throughout the Mediterranean region. It was sometimes called the Athenian Owl tetradrachm. This combination, of Athena on the front and a little owl on the back was made for 400 years!
Today Greece uses the euro as its money, having adopted the use in January of 2002. Before the euro the money in Greece was called the drachma. The ₯1 coin kept the Athena owl as its symbol. The ₯2 coin features a solider and the phoenix.
What is a Phoenix?
The phoenix is a mythical bird, so while some say the phoenix is the unofficial national bird of Greece it might be more accurate to say it is an honored mythical bird of the Greek people. These birds are said to be immortal and go up in flames before being regenerated and born again. The symbol of the phoenix is used in many cultures and usually includes a large bird with red feathers symbolizing the sun. But the coloration has differed over the years. Many times the phoenix is pictured with a halo, another reference to the sun.
What is the National Animal of Greece?
The national animal of Greece is the dolphin which symbolizes hope, compassion and helping. Images of dolphins are used in Greek art, literature and architecture. There are several species of dolphins that live off the coast of Greece. The common dolphin (Delphinus delphis), bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus), striped dolphin (Stenella coeruleoalba) and Risso’s dolphin (Grampus griseus) can all be found swimming off the coast.
One of the Greek legends is that a fierce storm capsized a boat sending all the sailors into the sea. A group of dolphins (maybe sent by Poseidon or Poseidon himself) rescued the sailors and carried them safely to shore. Dolphins have actually saved swimmers from sharks and have circled around swimmers to escort them to safety.
What other Animals Live in Greece?
Other animals that live in Greece include common animals like deer, wolves and bears as well as wild bison, lynx and lizards. The golden jackal is a wolf-like animal that weighs around 15-30 pounds. The Kri-Kri goat is a unique goat that is native to Greece and has large back-arching horns!
The rare Mediteranean monk seals live in the Aegean Sea and Sea of Crete. These seals are considered endangered by the IUCN with an estimated 350-450 individuals left. Conservationists are working diligently to pull together multiple agencies to continue to protect these seals.
What Other Birds Live in Greece?
Besides the little owl there are Eurasian eagle-owls and barn owls. Other birds of prey are the Peregrine falcon and red-footed falcon. Some of the lakes and wetlands will house blue cranes and purple herons and the Gialova Lagoon is a common place to find flamingoes. Common songbirds include European bee-eaters, goldfinch and bullfinch. Along the coast you will find some sea birds common gulls, upland sandpiper and large pelicans.
Greece is a country that honors their diverse fauna and flora, but the little owl has a special place in the hearts of the Greek people.
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- Britannica, Available here: https://www.britannica.com/place/ancient-Greece
- Animal Diversity Web, Available here: https://animaldiversity.org/accounts/Athene_noctua/
- Coin Week, Available here: https://coinweek.com/ancient-coins/ancient-coins-famous-coin-antiquity/
- European Commission, Available here: https://economy-finance.ec.europa.eu/euro/eu-countries-and-euro/greece-and-euro_en
- Britannica, Available here: https://www.britannica.com/animal/little-owl
- IUCN Redlist, Available here: https://www.iucnredlist.org/species/13653/117647375