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Owls So Cute, Who Cares If They're Wise?

As children we learn that owls are wise, but who knew they could be this cute:

So adorable, that one is willing to accept the truth from bird photographer and naturalist Paul Bannick: that despite their massive eyes and aristocratic beaks, owls aren't actually that smart.

"Ravens and crows are probably smarter," he offers over the phone.

Regardless, Bannick, who has spent years tracking down all 19 species of owls in their various states of life, is as enamored as it gets. And apparently so is the Picture Show. Noticing, a few weeks ago, that we'd coincidentally featured projects involving owls two days in a row (here and here), we decided to dedicate a post entirely to those glorious head-whipping carnivores. It was easy because Bannick just came out with a book, The Owl and the Woodpecker, aimed at raising awareness about the iconic birds' importance as environmental indicators.

Bannick's photos highlight the humanness of these (mostly) nocturnal creatures. Ultimately, the book feels less nature document than portrait series; each birds' face and stance captivatingly distinctive.

How does one go about tracking down dozens of owls? With a full-time day job and only one year to put the book together, the key for Bannick was research and patience.

In search of the great gray owl, for example, Bannick planted himself in the snow of the boreal forest for so many hours that his limbs went numb.

"I couldn't feel my fingers. When it flew by, I had to use my whole hand to pull the shutter," he recalls.

Chasing a bird does not make for a good photo — so anticipating its behavior in this way was necessary.

Bannick's images don't have the glossy, polished feel of some nature photography — and that is intentional. A environmental purist, he doesn't believe in using flash (despite photographing nocturnal birds) or doing much of anything in Photoshop.

The message when you change a photo, he laments, "is that you have to improve nature" and he prefers to leave it as is.

You can see more of Bannick's work and listen to the sounds owls make, here.