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Rainbow Owl

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"An Introduction to the Rainbow Owl"
Rainbow Owl

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

Image source: unknown, circulating online

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


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

An Introduction to the Rainbow Owl

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. However, due to conservation efforts, recent years have seen a significant population increase, particularly in northwestern Montana.

The adult Rainbow Owl is on average 44 cm long with a 112 cm wingspan. Unlike most owls, which are nocturnal, the Rainbow Owl is crepuscular, a term used to describe animals active during the twilight hours at dawn and dusk, or on bright moonlit nights. They prey mostly on rabbits, mice and squirrels but are also known to eat snakes, foxes, porcupines or other owls.

The Rainbow Owl can be distinguished from other owls by its peculiar multicolored feathers but also by its unusually melodic call. Recent research concerning Rainbow Owls also suggests that they are responsive to music and attracted to human singing. 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: 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 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.

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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


Last updated 10/07/12

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