The subject of the Concert of Birds was popularized by Flemish artists of the 17th Century (in particular Frans Snyders). The Owl was seen as the wisest of the Birds and so is typically depicted in the centre of the composition directing proceedings. There is a suggestion that they allude to the sense of hearing and certainly it is possible to get a feeling of a cacophany of noise which is barely tolerated by the increasingly irritated looking owl. Generally they are thought to represent the political and social order of the day, be it 17th Century Flanders or 18th Century Russia.
Private Collection, France