Any owl, Strigidae family, Chouettes et Hiboux.
Screech-owl: probably the Barn Owl Tyto alba, Chouette effraie.
36 occurrences (21 owl, 2 owls, 1 owls', 4 screech-owl, 2 screech-owls, 2 night-owl, 1 night-owls, 1 night-owl's, 1 owlet, 1 howlet's)
TMP 5 1 90 There I couch when owls do cry.
LLL 4 1 140 I fear too much rubbing. Goodnight, my good owl.
LLL 5 2 879 p compiled in praise of the owl and the cuckoo?
LLL 5 2 884 p the one maintained by the owl, the other by the cuckoo.
LLL 5 2 909 Then nightly sings the staring owl;
LLL 5 2 918 Then nightly sings the staring owl;
MND 2 2 6 The clamorous owl, that nightly hoots and wonders
MND 5 1 362 Whilst the screech-owl, screeching loud,
TN 2 3 59 p Shall we rouse the night-owl in a catch
R2 3 3 183 For night-owls shriek where mounting larks should sing.
1H6 4 2 15 Thou ominous and fearful owl of death,
2H6 1 4 18 The time when screech-owls cry, and ban-dogs howl,
2H6 3 2 326 And boding screech-owls make the consort full!
3H6 2 1 130 Our soldiers', like the night-owl's lazy flight,
3H6 2 6 56 Bring forth that fatal screech-owl to our house,
3H6 5 4 56 Go home to bed and, like the owl by day,
3H6 5 6 44 The owl shrieked at thy birth - an evil sign,
R3 4 4 507 Out on you, owls! Nothing but songs of death?
TRO 2 1 92 p I bade the vile owl go learn me the tenor of the proclamation,
TRO 5 1 61 p a lizard, an owl, a puttock, or a herring without a roe,
TRO 5 10 16 Let him that will a screech-owl aye be call'd
TIT 2 3 97 Unless the nightly owl or fatal raven:
MAC 2 2 3 It was the owl that shriek'd, the fatal bellman,
MAC 2 2 15 I heard the owl scream, and the crickets cry.
MAC 2 4 13 Was by a mousing owl hawk'd at and kill'd.
MAC 4 1 17 Lizard's leg and howlet's wing,
MAC 4 2 11 Her young ones in her nest, against the owl.
HAM 4 5 42 p They say the owl was a baker's daughter.
LR 2 4 208 To be a comrade with the wolf and owl,
CYM 3 7 66 The night to th' owl and morn to th' lark less welcome.
TNK 3 2 35 The moon is down, the crickets chirp, the screech-owl
TNK 3 5 68 The one he said it was an owl,
TNK 3 5 69 There was three fools fell out about an owlet
VEN 531 The owl, night's herald, shrieks, 'tis very late;
LUC 165 No noise but owls' and wolves' death-boding cries;
LUC 360 The dove sleeps fast that this night-owl will catch;
There are six species of nocturnal birds of prey in Britain. Shakespeare's "screech-owl" must be the barn owl that shrieks and hisses and snores! This species, as its name indicates, lives close to man, and it is not surprising judging from the various noises it produces that it gave rise to many superstitions. "The clamorous owl, that nightly hoots" (MND 2 2 6) must be among the "hooting species": either the long-eared Owl Asio otus, Hibou moyen-duc; or the Short-eared Owl Asio flammeus, Hibou brachyote; but more probably the Tawny Owl Strix aluco, Chouette hulotte (Chat-huant).
A quotation from Macbeth sets the tone:
In the cauldron boil and bake;
Eye of newt, and toe of frog,
Wool of bat, and tongue of dog,
Adder's fork and blind-worm's sting,
Lizard's leg and howlet's wing,
For a charm of powerful trouble,
Like a hell-broth boil and bubble.
(MAC 4 1 13-19)
The owl is in good company among the ingredients of the "hell-broth" of the three witches. This gives a precise idea of the place of the owl in Elizabethan folklore. SEAGER quoting Batman uppon Bartholomew (Bk. 12 § 5), describes its place in Elizabethan natural history.
The owl is a wild bird charged with feathers, but she is always with holden with sloth, and is feeble to fly, and dwelleth by graves by day and by night, and in chimes. And diviners tell that they betoken evil; for if the owl be seen in a city, it signifieth destruction and waste. The chough fighteth with the owl and taketh the owl's eggs, and eateth them by day, and the owl eateth the chough's eggs by night. The crying of the owl by night tokeneth death. The owl is fed with dirt and with other unclean things.
This theme is not new, Chaucer in The Parlement of Foulys (l. 343), says: "The oule ek, that of deth the bode bryngeth". In Shakespeare's work, nine quotations are devoted to this: "Thou ominous and fearful owl of death" (1H6 4 2 15) for example. But again it is in Macbeth, during and after Duncan's murder, that this owl image takes its full dimension.
It was the owl that shriek'd, the fatal bellman,
(2 2 3, emphasis added)
I have done the deed. - Didst thou not hear a noise?
I heard the owl scream, and the crickets cry.
Did not you speak?
(2 2 14-6, idem)
The night has been unruly: where we lay,
Our chimneys were blown down; and, as they say,
Lamentings heard i'th' air; strange screams of death,
And, prophesying with accents terrible
Of dire combustion, and confus'd events,
New hatch'd to th' woeful time, the obscure bird
Clamour'd the livelong night: some say, the earth
Was feverous, and did shake.
'Twas a rough night.
(2 3 53-60, idem)
In Hamlet, Shakespeare's reference is much more obscure:
They say the owl was a baker's daughter.
(4 5 42)
In the notes of his edition (p. 532), Harold JENKINS, explains that:
A folk-tale of which there are several versions tells how, when Christ asked for bread, the baker's daughter took care that he should not be given too much and was thereupon turned into an owl. [...]
What we may certainly perceive is that the associations of the mournful bird are appropriate for Ophelia. A widespread belief is that the owl sings only in winter (e.g. Owl and Nightingale, II. 411-16); and hence, contrasting with the cuckoo (cf. LLL V. ii. 878-9) and notoriously with the nightingale, birds of the mating season, it is readily regarded as mourning the death of love, as Ophelia's songs do now. [...]
Baker's daughters were traditionally women of ill repute: the Marian martyr John Bradford said of Philip of Spain that 'he must have three or four in one night ... not of ladies and gentle-women, but of baker's daughters, and such poor whores' (Strype, Eccles. Memorials, 1822, iii (pt 2), 352). Hence their identification of the owl as having been a baker's daughter may connect the end of love with the loss of chastity, recalling what Hamlet has said about the transformation of honesty (III. i. 111-2) and leading on to Ophelia next song.
But even if we must be aware of what Harold JENKINS said himself about "the fanciful explanations in which commentators too readily indulge" the elements he provides us with are typical of those linked with bird imagery: an ancient story, mythological or religious, contrasting species and a hint at the psychology of the characters.