- "I don't know if I can explain how deadly these flecks are. It's not just that creatures die from them. To simply die would be easy."
- - Martin, The Burning
Flecks are small fragments of magnetic iron which can interfere with the navigational system of birds (which rely on iron to create a mental compass) and also cause various other disturbances in owls' brains and gizzards. They play a major role in the first six books in the series, where they are weaponized by the Owls of St. Aegolius and later the Pure Ones. The are considered more precious than gold because of their abilities.
Before the Books
St. Aegolius Academy for Orphaned Owls collected flecks from owl pellets and kept them in their library. They had limited knowledge of flecks and ingested them in small quantities to lessen the effects of moon blinking. However, the owls there knew nothing of their magnetic abilities. Even so, the leaders assigned some snatched owls to take the flecks out and add them to the pile in the library, where the leaders would study them.
When Soren and Gylfie were assigned to the pelletorium, they wondered what the flecks were and what they were for. Soren asked what flecks are, but got plucked, as it was strictly against the rules to ask questions. Later, when they were trying to escape from St. Aggie's through the library, Skench came in to attack them wearing battle claws and armor, but the magnetic effect was such that she was slammed into the wall by the magnetic field, which gave the owlets a chance to escape.
Bubo, the chief smith at the Great Ga'Hoole Tree, reveals to Soren that flecks were small bits of iron.
Soren, Gylfie, Twilight, Digger, Eglantine, and Otulissa ended up at the Pure Ones' castle stronghold in a search for their missing ryb at the Great Tree, Ezylryb. Eglantine noticed that three bags of flecks kept in the shrine had gone missing. Otulissa, who had studied higher magnetics, told them about Devil's Triangles. She also realized that the walls were made of mu metal, and Twilight tore some off. She also said that fire could destroy the magnetic powers of flecks. Soren realized the dangerous nature of such thing, so he and the others went out with shields and helmets of mu metal to burn the bags of flecks, upon succeding they also found and saved Ezylryb.
Some of the members of the parliament convened to discuss higher magnetics, a science which was important in the study of flecks. A few, such as Dewlap, wanted to declare the study spronk (forbidden knowledge), as it was complex, and even they were only beginning to understand it. They did not reach a conclusion, but Dewlap removed all the books on higher magnetics from the library without the parliament's approval, one namely Fleckasia and Other Disorders of the Gizzard. However, the band, Eglantine, and Otulissa, who overheard the conversation, agreed that spronk violated the ideals of the Tree. Soon after, Otulissa went into the library and asked for Fleckasia and Other Disorders of the Gizzard, saying that she wanted it to read. Dewlap told her that it had been declared spronk, and Otulissa retorted, "WELL, SPRINK ON YOUR SPRONK!" Dewlap, shocked by the foul curse, fainted. Ezylryb later gave Otulissa the book, but Dewlap took it from her and accidentally dropped it in the sea.
Soon after, the band, Otulissa, Ruby, and Martin were sent to St. Aggie's on a spy mission to see if the Pure Ones, who wanted flecks for their usage in battle, had sent spies there. They saw that Pure Ones were sneaking flecks into nests of unborn eggs. The leaders of St. Aegolius asked the knowledgeable Otulissa about them, and she provided them with a stream of "complete and utter nonsense."
A Pure One spy named Ginger snuck flecks into Eglantine's moss, shattering her (see above). Eglantine got dreams of her mother, Marella (supposed to be dead) living in a new hollow in the region known as The Beaks. She went there and encountered Nyra, disguised as her mother. Primrose, however, her best friend, thought there was something wrong with her. This was proven when Otulissa's fleck dowsing rod, which could detect flecks, revealed many flecks in Eglantine's bedding. Eglantine realized that her gizzard had been still for some time, and saw faults in her "mother." She also realized that she had to "look in her dream mum's eyes, look behind them, and find the truth." Eglantine had, in fact, gone back to The Beaks, and broke free of the effects of the flecks, seeing Nyra for who she was.
At around the same time, Kludd, leader of the Pure Ones, conquered St. Aggie's, gaining the largest supply of flecks in the owl world.
On a journey to the Northern Kingdoms, Otulissa memorized a copy of Fleckasia and Other Disorders of the Gizzard in the Glauxian Brothers' library, gaining much valuable information on flecks.
Soren and Bubo destroyed all the flecks stationed around the St. Aegolius Canyons. Later, with the help of Skench, during the Battle of Fire and Ice, they destroyed the remaining flecks in the library.
The most well-known property of flecks is the ability to confuse and disorient birds' navigational systems, making the affected lose sense of direction. An area of confusion can be generated by placing three bundles of flecks at different places. This is called a Devil's Triangle.
Flecks are also notable for their ability to shatter, caused by exposure to flecks under certain conditions, such as sleeping. The effects of shattering cause the owl to lose its individuality and sense of self, similar to moon blinking. Other effects are that the gizzard becomes like a stone and it becomes harder to sort out emotions. The only known cure for shattering is to have a great enough force of will to break the fleck's hold.
Another known example is of flecks giving special abilities to certain birds at birth; Hortense (also known as Mist) was granted the ability of starsight and turned transparant, and her father was said to be able to see through rock. However, for some it causes disabilities: Hortense's brother was blind, her grandmother lost all her wits, and she herself was exceptionally small, even owlet-sized.
Flecks' effects can be blocked by mu metal, and they and their magnetic abilities can be destroyed by fire.