Seven Lessons on Work and Life for Night Owls from Actual Owls

Jed Oelbaum

It’s no secret: owls love the nightlife. Most of these winged predators dine late, mate late, and are naturally gifted dancers. From their feathers to their eyes, owls have evolved to be their best after dark—and as it happens, so have many people. “Night owls,” those of us nocturnal humans who take on the mantle of the noble bird, prefer to work, chat, binge-watch, and party our way through the wee hours, shunning the pesky sun and its irritatingly wholesome rays.

Sure night owls are a bit smarter, procrastinate less, and tend to get laid more than most folks. But we’re also prone to vices like drugs, drinking, and smoking, and according to a 2016 New York Times article, being a night owl can put young people “at risk for academic, emotional, and behavioral problems.” Despite these tribulations, night owls can always turn to the inspiring example of their animal avatar.  Here are seven lessons from our favorite flying hunters on how to live, work—and yes, love—like an owl.

Don’t let them see you coming

Owls fly completely silently through the night, surprising their prey. As a night owl, you have a tactical advantage in being able to send people emails, voice messages, and irate texts at 2 a.m., catching them by surprise as they enter their offices, bleary eyed and unready for demands made by a night owl at the peak of her circadian power.

Be useful

This may seem obvious, but it pays to be useful to employers and clients, and the night-owl lifestyle can be a positive force in your career. Farmers and homeowners love owls, and work to attract them, because the birds eat unwanted rodents and pests, and do their dirty work under the cover of darkness, so the humans involved don’t have to witness the nightly carnage. Likewise, as a night owl, consider how a company without a “night shift” could be aided by a task being completed before the rest of the team comes in the morning. Maybe you’re just the owl to make their lives a little easier. As an added bonus, you’ll even beat the peppy early birds to the punch—try not to laugh as you eat their beloved worms for breakfast.

Always be looking ahead

Owls don’t really have “eyeballs.” Instead, these birds sport a pair elongated tube eyes, fixed immovably in their skulls.  And unlike many other birds, whose eyes are on the sides of their heads, owls’ eyes are on the front of their broad, flat faces. To compensate for the locked up lenses, owls necks have a huge range of motion so they can point those creepy peepers in any direction. And yet, in a way, the owl is always looking forward.

The night owl too, has immovable eyes, bloodshot with caffeine, and—depending on what variety of night owl you are—permanently damaged from either staring at a computer screen or exposure to dance-floor strobe lights and fog-machine vapor. Especially for the daytime-averse, it’s always important to be working towards your next big project or goal, looking ahead, and not letting all your long, crazy nights turn into a retreat from the world, or one long, dark chronological blur.

Find a diurnal hawk

Owls and hawks sometimes share the same territories, with hawks hunting the area’s voles, mice, and other creepy crawlies during the day, and owls taking the night shift. As a night owl, you may tend to be smart, but doing a 9-5 job can be a struggle for anyone who’s biological clock just doesn’t line up with the waking world’s schedule.

There is some good advice out there on how to manage a normal day job when you’re a night person. Identifying a hawk with similar appetites to partner up with can also help. Look for the beleaguered parents among your ranks, who often are forced to start work early and leave in the afternoon to meet the harsh schedule demands of their tyrannical children. Perhaps they can assist with chirpy morning clients while you’re on call to help with fellow night owls.

Not all night owls are created equal

The thing about being a night owl is that it necessitates knowing a few other late-night folks, if not IRL then online (and if you don’t, go meet some, because you’ll go nuts passing the wee hours by your lonesome). Some of these are your friends, down for a 2 a.m. 7-11 meetup or G-chatting the night away. Other night owls—like that guy with the bug-eyes loitering on the corner muttering to himself, angry cocaine addicts unable to reach their dealers, Joe Buck and Rizzo from Midnight Cowboy—might not have your best interests at heart, despite sharing your love of the evenings. That’s why it’s important to remember that owls hunt other owls. According to the Audubon Society, “Great horned owls are the top predator of the smaller barred owl.” This is a lesson for both the great horned owls and barred owls of the world, who would both benefit in their own ways from a greater awareness of each other’s presence.

Don’t let success get to your head

According to Inc., night owls make better entrepreneurs, but as darkness-dwelling work vampires, how can we learn to gracefully handle our success? Fortunately, we can draw one nice parable from the follies of the boreal owl, who provides this list’s only negative lesson. “In fat years when mice are plentiful, usually monogamous boreal Owls are apt to be promiscuous,” writes the Audubon Society. “Because easy prey means less work for parents feeding their young, males have been caught mating with up to three females, while females have been seen with at least one beau on the side.”

Sure it seems great while the mice are flowing and everyone’s having a good time. But a few seasons pass, and suddenly times are hard, and Mr. and Mrs. Owl’s old resentments start creeping back in, and Mr. Owl, despite having mated with three other females himself, brings up Mrs. Owls’ one-time infidelity. But frankly, she’s had it with him. “I want a divorce, Frank,” she says. What happened to our lovebirds? Night owls too, could bear to remember that just because they’re rolling in mice right now (or money, whatever you’re into), doesn’t mean you should abandon your convictions or forget that you’re in it for the long haul.

Poop your victims out whole

It’s a rough world out there, and every once in a while, you may find yourself having to destroy someone—maybe they even legitimately deserved it. God knows the owl’s life is one of brutal, nightly massacre and swooping death from above, as the panicked heartbeats of their prey echo through the cold evening air. The wise owl, however, knows that by defecating pellets containing the undigested skeletons of its prey, it is creating a valuable downcycled product that will be used in 7th-grade dissection projects all over the world.

Night owls, too, should heed this example, and make sure when you obliterate someone, either on Twitter or at your local underground, all-night, bare-knuckle boxing concern, you leave just enough of them to still be beneficial. Night owls may sometimes prey on each other, but ultimately, they also need to play a part in maintaining the nighttime ecosystem. Or to put it poetically, as the great Billy Squier once redundantly sang, “Lonely is the night when you find yourself alone”