One time, my cousin was driving to work in the early morning. An owl skimmed the windshield and roof of the pickup he was driving. His father, my uncle, had been quite ill, and so his death a few days later was not completely unexpected.
Another time, this time walking through the woods near a battle site between my cousin's and my ancestors and the encroaching white people, I saw an owl in a low-hanging branch. As I was bounding down the trail, I noticed the tiny bird and stopped dead in my tracks (so to speak...). Our eyes locked and I spoke to the owl; s/he waited a few moments, and then flew off. The next morning I was told my grandfather was near death.
On the other hand, I've listened to owls hooting many times as darkness descends in a forested area. Once or twice, I hooted to them and a conversation of sorts ensued. So, I don't imagine that anytime a person hears or sees an owl, it means someone is about to die.
But, I would still get upset and wonder under some circumstances.
My father (Karuk/Chetco/Euro) tells me that owls don't represent death, but that they do symbolize something like mysticism, intuition, wisdom, and a kind of spiritual awareness.
Owls are mentioned in the book, "Spirits of the Earth: A Guide to Native American Nature Symbols, Stories, and Ceremonies", by Bobby Lake-Thom ("a traditional Native healer and spiritual teacher of Karuk and Seneca descent"). He says, "All Owls are a bad sign, but different kinds bring somewhat different messages, and different degrees of power and knowledge....The Owls is considered a bad sign and a bad power by most Native American tribal groups. It is a messenger of evil, of sickness, or a fatal accident. It is also considered a sign of death."
Lately, though, another kind of owl medicine has caught on. My mother (Chinook/Euro) has sent me links to her beloved "Molly McGee", a barn owl of worldwide fame. Live cameras have been put into the owl box she and her mate - and two subsequent clutches of owlets - call home.
It really makes me feel good to know that so many people are tuning in to watch owls do whatever it is owls do. A forum has sprung up around the owl surveillance, and even people who are ill and homebound can cultivate a love for a little winged creature. When I asked Mom what she has gotten out of watching the owls over the past months, she said, "It has kept me from going nuts." (That's debatable. JK, Mom!)
This is the new Owl Medicine. We are not so lost as humans that we can't still be fascinated by our owl relatives. At the end of industrial civilization, how ironic that the only way we can view them is via high-tech computers and internet.