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Climate and Environment

The Superb Owl Is Back, And The Crowd Goes Wild

A close-up of a white owl looking at the camera. The owl has its mouth open, so it looks like it has a fuzzy mustache.
Amidst the flood of football content you'll see on your social media feeds this Sunday, you might spot an owl or two.
(Scott Barbour
/
Getty Images)
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This Sunday, football fans will choose sides in Super Bowl LVI between the Cincinnati Bengals and the Los Angeles Rams. But while much of the country is preoccupied with football and a smorgasbord of cream cheese-based dips, many others will spend the day rooting for another team: the owls.

"There are the Super Bowl watchers among us, and then there are the superb owl watchers among us," Ryan Mandelbaum, a science writer and bird enjoyer, told NPR.

If you haven't already figured out the joke, tack the "B" from "Bowl" onto the end of "Super" and you get "Superb Owl."

For birding enthusiasts like Mandelbaum, Superb Owl Sunday is a sacred day, a chance to appreciate the majestic creature by posting owl pics on social media en masse.

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While people have probably been making the same pun long before Twitter, the real birth of the Superb Owl as a meme started in the late 2000s.

Comedian Steven Colbert famously took advantage of it on The Colbert Report in 2014 to cover the Super Bowl without mentioning it by name directly, avoiding what he called "the wrath of a litigious NFL."

"I heard some scurrilous accusations that my Superb Owl coverage is nothing more than a thinly veiled attempt to get huge ratings by talking about Sunday's trademark, let's call it 'sportgasm 48,'" Colbert said. "Why? Just because superb owl contains all the same letters as that thing that's happening on Sunday in the exact same order? Hello! Ever heard of a thing called coin-cidence?"

Since then, what started as a seasonal internet meme has become a mainstream day of appreciation for the owl. It even got its own category on Jeopardy!

So how do you actually celebrate Superb Owl Sunday?

Wings probably aren't on the menu.

Martha Harbison, vice president of New York City's Feminist Bird Club, suggests going out in your own area to see if you can spot some for yourself.

"Just take a walk in nature, especially at dawn and dusk," they said. "It's currently flirting season for owls. So there are a lot of them out there making a lot of noise, either looking for love or trying to defend territory."

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A person in the foreground taking a picture of an owl standing on a piece of wood. The owl's eyes are wide open and yellow.
Seeing an owl in real life can be thrilling, but bird watchers say you need to be careful not to disturb them
(Daniel Carson
/
Getty Images)

Harbison and Mandelbaum both recommend keeping a respectful distance from an owl's nest, though. They're not exactly the wise, kindly creatures you might think.

"They're definitely not wise. I would not attribute wisdom to an owl at all, but I would say they are as smart as they need to be," Mandelbaum said. "They are extremely good at killing and eating. They don't, like, solve math problems. They're not that smart."

If you do want a closer look, you can try to check out #SuperbOwl, but chances are you will find mostly football highlights. Harbison recommends #EthicalOwlPhotography to find photos taken by responsible owl photographers, who are careful not to disturb the owls while appreciating them.

So come Sunday, if you can't bring yourself to root for the Bengals or the Rams, why not hoot for the owls?

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  • Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit npr.org.

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