This post is about the cryptid known as Owlman, not the various DC characters who use the same name.

Sometimes known as the Cornish Owlman or the Owlman of Mawnan, the Owlman is the subject of repeated sightings in the Cornwall area of southern England, particularly in the village of Mawnan.

On April 17th, 1976, two young girls, Vicky (9) and June (12) Melling, had gone exploring in the nearby woods while on a family holiday in the village of Mawnan. They eventually came across Mawnan church, where they witnessed something that would terrify them and cause their father, Don Melling, to cancel the holiday and head home three days early.

Hovering above the church tower was a large, winged creature, as tall as a man, covered in dark feathers, with long feet and talon-like claws.

The girls ran back to their father and told him of what they saw. Don Melling took the girls to the police to report the incident but refused to let either of them be interviewed.
A paranormal investigator named Tony “Doc” Shiels would study the case and be provided with a drawing of the creature by the older sister, June.

The second sighting of the Owlman, as the creature came to be known due to its obvious resemblance of a cross between a man and an owl, happened about two months after the initial encounter, on July 3rd. Two fourteen-year-old girls, Sally Chapman and Barbara Perry, were camping alone in the woods near Mawnan church. That night, Sally stood outside her tent and she heard a hissing sound coming from behind her. When she turned around she was faced with a large owl-like figure, as big as a man, with glowing red eyes and pointed ears. When Barbara came to see what was happening, the creature spread its huge wings and suddenly flew into the air, it’s pincer-like claws coming into view. The girls screamed and took shelter in their tent until morning. These girls would also provide Shiels with drawings of what they saw.

On the following day, there were several reports of a large owl-like creature, describing it’s colour as silvery grey.

A few days later, another girl would claim to have seen a large, feathered creature with red eyes and talon-like feet flying around the same area.

Sightings calmed down after that for the next two years, until June 1978, when a woman known as Miss Opie would claim to have seen ‘a devil’ flying up into the trees around Mawnan church. She described it just as the previous sightings, an owl-like man with red eyes, sharp, talon-like feet, and dark feathers.

In August of the same year, another sighting would be reported. Three French college girls staying in a boarding house in Mawnan would claim to have seen a large, furry bird with a gaping mouth and round, red eyes. Various other sightings would continue in the following years as the legend of the Owlman became more famous.

In 1986, Shiels was accused of inventing the Owlman, an accusation that was not without good reason. Shiels was known for his fondness of hoaxes, and his involvement in the first two reported sightings of the Owlman made people suspicious of its credibility. Also, the girls who reported the second sighting, Barbara and Sally, were already familiar with the story of the Owlman and had read a description of the creature from the first sighting, which may have influenced their own report.

However, in 1989, a researcher named Jonathon Dawes, who was not working with Shiels, claimed to have interviewed a man known as Gavin, who witnessed a creature in the Mawnan woods that he described as “about five feet tall… The legs had high ankles and the feet were large and black with two huge ‘toes’ on the visible side. The creature was grey with brown and the eyes definitely glowed.”.

In 1995, a letter would be sent to a local newspaper, The Western Morning News in nearby Truro. The letter was written by a tourist from Chicago and it detailed an encounter with a creature in Mawnan.

“Dear Sir, I am a student of marine biology at the Field Museum, Chicago, on the last day of a summer vacation in England. Last Sunday evening I had a most unique and frightening experience in the wooded area near the old church at Mawnan, Cornwall. I experienced what I can only describe as ‘a vision from hell’. The time was fifteen minutes after nine, more or less, and I was walking along a narrow track through the trees. I was halted in my tracks when, about thirty metres ahead, I saw a monstrous man-bird ‘thing’. It was the size of a man, with a ghastly face, a wide mouth, glowing eyes and pointed ears. It had huge clawed wings and was covered in feathers of silver/grey colour. The thing had long bird legs which terminated in large black claws. It saw me and arose, ‘floating’ towards me. I just screamed then turned and ran for my life.

“The whole experience was totally irrational and dreamlike (nightmare!). Friends tell me that there is a tradition of a phantom ‘owlman’ in that district. Now I know why. I have seen the phantom myself. “Please don’t publish my real name and address. This could adversely affect my career. Now I have to rethink my ‘worldview’ entirely. Yours, very sincerely scared… ‘Eye Witness’.”

Reports of the Owlman have become less frequent as time goes on, though they do still happen occasionally, nearly always in the area surrounding Mawnan Church.

Explanations of the Owlman range from manifestations of the supernatural energy pouring from underground ley lines that run under the town, to misidentification of actual large owls.

A popular theory that it could just be sightings of an escaped eagle owl, which can have a wingspan of up to 6 ft with a height of up to 3 ft, and is consistent with the reports of large talons and dark brown feathers. These birds can be found in Britain and are reportedly capable of crossing the English channel. It’s not unreasonable to think that these large owls may have been misidentified by scared onlookers who were not expecting to see something soo large and were not aware that regular owls can grow to be that big, especially considering the very first reports were made by young girls, to whom a large owl with its wings spread could look the size of a man.

However, not all reports were made by children, and most people would know an owl when they saw one. I know it’s not quite the same field, but I’d like to think that a student of marine biology can identify an owl when faced with one.

Having said that, the legend itself has likely caused several false reports, making people believe they saw what they expected to see. If you go to the woods looking for Owlman, and in the area where Owlman has been reported to be seen you happen to see a large flying creature, then you will probably assume that it is the Owlman.

Featured Photo by Adnan Shahid on Unsplash

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