Owl Bird Traits, Adaptations and Surprising Facts

owl bird

An owl bird from the order Strigiformes, which incorporates over 200 species of largely solitary and nocturnal birds of prey typified by an upright stance, a big, broad head, binocular imaginative and prescient, binaural listening to, sharp talons, and feathers tailored for silent flight. Exceptions embody the diurnal northern hawk-owl and the gregarious burrowing owl bird.

An owl bird hunts largely small mammals, bugs, and different birds, though just a few species concentrate on looking fish. They’re present in all areas of the Earth besides polar ice caps and a few distant islands.

Owls are divided into two households: the true (or typical) owl bird family, Strigidae, and the barn-owl bird family, Tytonidae.

A group of owls is known as a “parliament.”

Owls possess giant, forward-facing eyes and ear-holes, a hawk-like beak, a flat face, and normally a conspicuous circle of feathers, a facial disc, around every eye.

The feathers making up this disc might be adjusted to sharply focus sounds from various distances onto the owls’ asymmetrically positioned ear cavities.

Most birds of prey have eyes on the perimeters of their heads, however, the stereoscopic nature of the owl’s forward-facing eyes permits the larger sense of depth notion needed for low-light looking.

Though owls have binocular imaginative and prescient, their giant eyes are mounted of their sockets—as are these of most different birds—so they need to flip their total heads to alter views.

As owls are farsighted, they’re unable to obviously see something inside just a few centimeters of their eyes.

Caught prey might be felt by owls with using filoplumes—hairlike feathers on the beak and ft that act as “feelers”. Their far imaginative and prescient, notably in low mild, is exceptionally good.

Owls can rotate their heads and necks as a lot as 270°. An owl bird has 14 neck vertebrae in comparison with seven in people, which makes their necks extra versatile.

Additionally, an owl bird has variations to their circulatory techniques, allowing rotation without slicing off blood to the mind:

the foramina of their vertebrae via which the vertebral arteries go are about 10 occasions the diameter of the artery, as a substitute of about the identical measurement because the artery as in people; the vertebral arteries enter the cervical vertebrae increased than in different birds, giving the vessels some slack, and the carotid arteries unite in a really giant anastomosis or junction, the most important of any chook’s, stopping blood provide from being lower off whereas they rotate their necks.

Different anastomoses between the carotid and vertebral arteries help this impact.

smallest owl bird—weighing as little as 31 g (1 oz) and measuring some 13.5 cm (5 in)—is the elf owl bird (Micrathene whitneyi).

Across the identical diminutive size, though barely heavier, are the lesser recognized long-whiskered owlet (Xenoglaux loweryi) and Tamaulipas pygmy owl bird (Glaucidium sanchezi).

The most important owls are two equally sized eagle owls; the Eurasian eagle-owl (Bubo bubo) and Blakiston’s fish owl (Bubo blakistoni).

The most important females of those species are 71 cm (28 in) lengthy, have 54 cm (21 in) lengthy wings, and weigh 4.2 kg (9.three lb).

Totally different species of owls produce totally different sounds; this distribution of calls aids owls find mates or saying their presence to potential rivals, and likewise aids ornithologists and birders in finding these birds and distinguishing species.

As famous above, their facial discs assist owls to funnel the sound of prey to their ears. In lots of species, these discs are positioned asymmetrically, for higher directional location.

An owl bird plumage is usually cryptic, though a number of species have facial and head markings, together with face masks, ear tufts, and brightly colored irises.

These markings are usually extra frequent in species inhabiting open habitats and are thought for use in signaling with different owls in low-light circumstances.

Sexual dimorphism

Sexual dimorphism is a bodily distinction between men and women of a species. Reverse sexual dimorphism, when females are bigger than males, has been noticed throughout a number of owl bird species.

The diploma of measurement dimorphism varies throughout a number of populations and species and is measured via varied traits, comparable to wingspan and physique mass.

Generally, feminine owls are usually barely bigger than males. The precise clarification for this improvement in owls is unknown.

Nevertheless, a number of theories clarify the event of sexual dimorphism in owls.

Diversifications for looking

All owls are carnivorous birds of prey and stay primarily on a weight loss program of bugs and small rodents comparable to mice, rats, and hares.

Some owls are additionally particularly tailored to hunt fish. They’re very adept at looking at their respective environments.

Since owls might be present in practically all elements of the world and throughout a large number of ecosystems, their looking expertise and traits range barely from species to species, although most traits are shared amongst all species.

Flight and feathers

Most owls share an innate means to fly virtually silently and likewise extra slowly compared to different birds of prey.

Most owls stay a primarily nocturnal lifestyle and having the ability to fly without making any noise provides them a robust benefit over their prey which are listening for the slightest sound within the night time.

A silent, sluggish flight just isn’t as needed for diurnal and crepuscular owls provided that prey can normally see an owl approaching.

Whereas the morphological and organic mechanisms of this silent flight are roughly unknown, the construction of the feather has been closely studied and accredited to a big portion of why they have got this means.

Owls’ feathers are usually bigger than the common birds’ feathers, have fewer radiates, longer pennulum, and obtain clean edges with totally different rachis constructions.

Serrated edges alongside the owl’s remiges convey the flapping of the wing right down to a virtually silent mechanism. The serrations are extra probably decreasing aerodynamic disturbances, reasonably than merely decreasing noise.

The floor of the flight feathers is roofed with a velvety construction that absorbs the sound of the wing shifting.

These distinctive constructions cut back noise frequencies above 2 kHz, making the sound stage emitted drop beneath the standard listening to the spectrum of the owl’s normal prey and likewise throughout the owl’s personal finest listening to vary.

This optimizes the owl’s means to silently fly to seize prey without the prey listening to the owl bird first because it flies in. It additionally permits the owl bird to observe the sound output from its flight sample.

The feather adaption that enables silent flight implies that barn owl bird feathers should not waterproof. To retain the softness and silent flight, the barn owl bird can not use the preen oil or powder mud that different species use for waterproofing.

In moist climate, they can not hunt and this can be disastrous throughout the breeding season. Barn owls are incessantly discovered drowned in cattle consuming troughs since they land to drink and bathe, however, are unable to climb out.

Owls can wrestle to maintain heat, due to their lack of waterproofing, so giant numbers of downy feathers assist them to retain physique warmth.


Eyesight is a selected attribute of the owl bird that aids in nocturnal prey seize.

Owls are a part of a small group of birds that stay nocturnally, however, don’t use echolocation to information them in flight in low-light conditions.

Owls are recognized for his or her disproportionally giant eyes compared to their skulls.

An obvious consequence of the evolution of a fully giant eye in a comparatively small cranium is that the attention of the owl bird has to turn into tubular in form.

This form is present in different so-called nocturnal eyes, such because of the eyes of strepsirrhine primates and bathypelagic fishes.

Because the eyes are mounted into these sclerotic tubes, they’re unable to maneuver the eyes in any path.

As a substitute for shifting their eyes, owls swivel their heads to view their environment. Owls’ heads are able to swivel via an angle of roughly 270°, simply enabling them to see behind them without relocating the torso.

This means retain bodily motion at a minimal, thus reduces the quantity of sound the owl bird makes because it waits for its prey.

Owls are thought to be having essentially the most frontally positioned eyes amongst all avian teams, which supplies them a few of the largest binocular fields of imaginative and prescient.

Nevertheless, owls are farsighted and can’t concentrate on objects inside just a few centimeters of their eyes.

These mechanisms are solely in a position to perform because of the large-sized retinal picture.

Thus, the first nocturnal perform within the imaginative and prescient of the owl bird is because of its giant posterior nodal distance; retinal picture brightness is barely maximized to the owl inside secondary neural capabilities.

These attributes of the owl bird trigger its nocturnal eyesight to be far superior to that of its common prey.


Owls exhibit specialized listening to capabilities and ear shapes that additionally assist in looking. They’re famous for asymmetrical ear placements on the cranium in some genera. Owls can have both inner or exterior ears, each of that is asymmetrical.

Asymmetry has not been reported to increase to the center or inner ear of the owl. Asymmetrical ear placement on the cranium permits the owl bird to pinpoint the situation of its prey.

That is very true for strictly nocturnal species such because of the barn owls Tyto or Tengmalm’s owl bird.

With ears set at totally different locations on its cranium, an owl bird is ready to decide the path from which the sound is coming by the minute distinction in time that it takes for the sound waves to penetrate the left and proper ears.

The owl bird turns its head till the sound reaches each ear on the identical time, at which level it’s instantly going through the supply of the sound.

This time distinction between ears is a matter of about 0.00003 seconds or 30 millionths of a second.

Behind the ear openings are modified, dense feathers, densely packed to kinda facial ruff, which creates an anterior-facing, concave wall that cups the sound into the ear construction.

This facial ruff is poorly outlined in some species, and distinguished, practically encircling the face, in different species.

The facial disk additionally acts to direct sound into the ears, and a downward-facing, sharply triangular beak minimizes sound reflection away from the face.

The form of the facial disk is adjustable at will to focus sounds extra successfully.

The prominences above an excellent horned owl’s head are generally mistaken as to its ears. This isn’t the case; they’re merely feather tufts.

The ears are on the perimeters of the top within the normal location (in two totally different places as described above).

owl bird


Whereas the auditory and visible capabilities of the owl bird enable it to find and pursue its prey, the talons and beak of the owl bird do the ultimate work. The owl kills its prey utilizing these talons to crush the cranium and knead the physique.

The crushing energy of an owl’s talons varies in keeping with prey measurement and sort, and by the dimensions of the owl bird.

The burrowing owl bird(Athene cunicularia), a small, partly insectivorous owl, has a launch pressure of solely 5 N.

The bigger barn owl bird(Tyto alba) wants a pressure of 30 N to launch its prey, and one of many largest owls, the nice horned owl (Bubo virginianus) wants a pressure over 130 N to launch prey in its talons.

An owl’s talons, like these of most birds of prey, can appear large compared to the physique measurement outdoors of flight.

The Tasmanian masked owl bird has a few of the proportionally longest talons of any chook of prey; they seem huge compared to the physique when totally prolonged to understand prey. An owl’s claws are sharp and curved.

The household Tytonidae has interior and central toes of about equal size, whereas the household Strigidae has an interior toe that’s distinctly shorter than the central one.

These totally different morphologies enable effectivity in capturing prey particular to the totally different environments they inhabit.


The beak of the owl bird is brief, curved, and downward-facing, and usually hooked on the tip for gripping and tearing its prey.

As soon as prey is captured, the scissor movement of the highest and decrease invoice is used to tear the tissue and kill.

The sharp decrease fringe of the higher invoice works in coordination with the sharp higher fringe of the decrease invoice to ship this movement.

The downward-facing beak permits the owl’s sight view to be clear, in addition to directing sound into the ears without deflecting sound waves away from the face.


The coloration of the owl’s plumage performs a key function in its means to take a seat nonetheless and mix into the setting, making it practically invisible to prey.

Owls are likely to mimic the coloration and generally the feel patterns of their environment, the barn owl bird being an exception.

Nyctea scandiaca, or the snowy owl bird, seems practically bleach-white in coloration with just a few flecks of black, mimicking their snowy environment completely, whereas the speckled brown plumage of the Tawny owl bird (Strix aluco) permits it to lie in wait among the many deciduous woodlands it prefers for its habitat.

Likewise, the mottled wood-owl (Strix ocellata) shows shades of brown, tan, and black, making the owl bird practically invisible within the surrounding bushes, particularly from behind. Often, the one tell-tale signal of a perched owl bird is its vocalizations or its vividly colored eyes.


Most owls are nocturnal, actively looking their prey in darkness. A number of varieties of owls, nonetheless, are crepuscular—lively throughout the twilight hours of daybreak and nightfall; one instance is the pygmy owl bird (Glaucidium).

A couple of owls are lively throughout the day, additionally; examples are the burrowing owl bird (Speotyto cunicularia) and the short-eared owl bird(Asio flammeus).

A lot of the owls’ looking technique will depend on stealth and shock. Owls have at the very least two variations that assist them in reaching stealth.

First, the uninteresting coloration of their feathers can render them virtually invisible underneath sure circumstances.

Secondly, serrated edges on the vanguard of owls’ remiges muffle an owl’s wing beats, permitting an owl’s flight to be virtually silent.

Some fish-eating owls, for which silence has no evolutionary benefit, lack this adaptation.

An owl’s sharp beak and highly effective talons enable it to kill its prey earlier than swallowing it entire (if it isn’t too huge).

Scientists finding out the diets of owls are helped by their behavior of regurgitating the indigestible elements of their prey (comparable to bones, scales, and fur) within the type of pellets.

These “owl pellets” are plentiful and simple to interpret, and are sometimes bought by corporations to varsities for dissection by college students as a lesson in biology and ecology.[26]

Breeding and reproduction

Owl eggs usually have a white color and a virtually spherical form, and vary in quantity from just a few to a dozen, relying on species and the actual season; for many, three or 4 is the extra frequent quantity.

In at the very least one species, feminine owls don’t mate with the identical male for a lifetime. Feminine burrowing owls generally journey and discover different mates, whereas the male stays in his territory and mates with different females.

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Conservation issues

All owls are listed in Appendix II of the worldwide CITES treaty (the Conference on Unlawful Commerce in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora).

Though owls have lengthy been hunted, a 2008 information story from Malaysia signifies that the magnitude of owl bird poaching could also be on the rise.

In November 2008, TRAFFIC reported the seizure of 900 plucked and “oven-ready” owls in Peninsular Malaysia.

Mentioned Chris Shepherd, Senior Programme Officer for TRAFFIC’s Southeast Asia workplace, “That is the primary time we all know of the place ‘ready-prepared’ owls have been seized in Malaysia, and it could mark the beginning of brand new development in wild meat from the area. We shall be monitoring developments intently.”

TRAFFIC recommended the Division of Wildlife and Nationwide Parks in Malaysia for the raid that uncovered the massive haul of owls.

Included within the seizure had been useless and plucked barn owls, noticed wooden owls, crested serpent eagles, barred eagles, and brown wooden owls, in addition to 7,000 stay lizards.



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