The Rainbow Owl

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Rainbow Owl

Rainbow Owl
Netlore Archive: Photo circulating via social media purports to depict the rare rainbow owl, an almost-extinct species native to China and the western U.S. Supposedly. Unknown, circulating online

Description: Viral image / Hoax
Circulating since: March 2012
Status: Fake (details below)

Text example:
As shared on Facebook, March 26, 2012:

The Rainbow Owl is a rare species of owl found in hardwood forests in the western United States and parts of China. Long coveted for its colorful plumage, the Rainbow Owl was nearly hunted to extinction in the early 20th century. ... A leading Rainbow Owl research team from the University of Montana in Missoula has earned the nickname "The Disco Squad" for their creative use of disco music in the field. "People think it's crazy, but we are about twice as likely to encounter owls in the field if we bring along a portable stereo," says Herman Roark, a doctoral student working with the Disco Squad, "And they are most responsive to disco. So far, we have had the most success with 'The Hustle.'"

~ Dr. Claudia Weatherfield, University of Toldeo


Analysis: Rainbow owl? You've been pranked. The photo above, which in its original form depicted a comparably stunning but rather less colorful member of the owl family known as a barred owl (Strix varia), has been digitally altered for online consumption.

There's no such thing as a rainbow owl. Nor is there a "rainbow owl research team" at the University of Montana, much less one that uses recordings of disco music in its research. I could find no record of the existence of a zoologist, biologist, or owl expert named Dr. Claudia Weatherfield, nor of a "University of Toldeo" [sic].

There is a University of Toledo in Ohio, of course, but you won't find any professors named Weatherfield on the faculty list there. In short, everything stated in the viral article excerpted above is pure fiction.

Beautiful owls

While the rainbow owl is a fantasy, there do exist in the real world some species of owl with very interesting — that is to say, beautiful — markings.

The barn owl, for example, has a white face with tan-to-gold trim and wings, and a random speckled pattern on its abdomen. The feathers of the eastern screech owl, though mostly light brown, have an interesting pattern one is tempted to call calico (though strictly speaking it is not).

The long-eared owl has what is sometimes described as a "camouflage" pattern on its body and light-tan-to-dark-brown coloring. True to its name, the snowy owl can be almost entirely white, though it may also have dark brown mottled patterns on its wings and torso as well. In 2016, photos of a stunningly beautiful snowy owl caught on video by a traffic cam went viral online.

Sources and further reading:

What Is a Barred Owl?
About.com: Birding

Barred Owl (Strix Varia)
The Owl Pages

Obed Wildlife Gallery
U.S. National Park Service, 7 August 2010