12 Amazing Owl Facts
What The Owl Ears Hear
Owls have spectacular hearing. Since owls are mostly active at night, they have a highly developed auditory system. They are able to hear prey under plants, leaves, snow, dirt, and they can locate their target based on the differences in sound waves.
The range of an owl’s audible sounds is similar to humans, but an owl’s hearing is much more precise at certain frequencies, enabling it to hear even the slightest movement of their prey in leaves or undergrowth.
The ears are located at the sides of the head, behind the eyes, and are covered by the feathers of the facial disc. Some species have visible “ear tufts” which are not ears at all, but simply display feathers.
What The Owl’s Eye See
Owls have binocular vision, but their large eyes are fixed in their sockets, so they must turn their entire head to change their view. Just like most other birds.
The size of their eyes helps them see in the dark, and they’re far-sighted, which allows them to spot prey from yards away. But up close, everything is blurry, and they rely on small feathers on their beaks and feet to sense their prey.
Even though owls are mostly nocturnal, their vision works fine in daylight. Their pupils don’t get as small as ours in bright light, so to block out the extra light, they often close their eyes half-way or more. They may look sleepy or even half asleep when, really, they are wide awake and alert.
The Spinning Owl Head
Owls can’t rotate their heads 360 degrees as some people believe. But they can actually turn their necks 135 degrees in either direction, which gives them 270 degrees of total movement.
They can make this movement without damaging blood vessels or cutting off blood flow to the brain.
The explanation behind this quite unusual feature is that owls have uniquely constructed necks and arterial systems. The latter feeds blood to the brain even while they are twisting their necks to rotate their heads. It’s very useful when the owl needs to get a full vision.
Owl Hoots And Other Sounds
Owls are perhaps most known for their hooting sound. These owl noises are usually territorial and can be heard for several miles.
They also utilize their hoots to attract or communicate with a mate, and to locate owlets on the ground.
Apart from hooting, owls make a variety of calls like screeches, whistles and squeaks. The barn owl hisses when it feels threatened, which can sound quite horrific, if you never heard it before.
Here’s a video with a few less famous owl sounds.
How Fast Do Owls Fly?
Owls fly at an average speed of 30 mph. The great horned owl can fly as fast as 40 mph, and is considered to be the fastest of all owls.
Owls sometimes fly over long distances, but unlike many other birds they don’t migrate to warmer climates at certain times of year. The only reason why they would fly a long distance is if their food supply has diminished and they need to relocate.
The Silent Owl Flight
Owls make almost no noise when they fly. The construction of their wings and the characteristics of their feathers are the secrets behind their silent flight.
They have broad wings with large surface areas that make them float through the air without flapping too much. Less flapping makes less noise.
The most important factor is the uniquely designed leading edges of their primary feathers. Their special feathers break turbulence into smaller currents, which decreases sound.
The silent flight serves a very practical purpose since it helps the owl to sneak up on its prey and take it by total surprise.
Owls’ mating season is late winter. The males who are looking for a mate will do it by sound. The female will only respond if he’s of the same species as her.
Then he’ll try to woo her with showing off his feathers, giving her gifts of food and even perform a ‘sky dance’. If his effort impresses the female, she will follow him and they may become a mating pair.
Most owl species are monogamous and mate for life.
Home Sweet Owl Nest
Owls take over abandoned nests from other birds or simply move into tree cavities, underground tunnels, empty buildings, etc. The choice largely depends on which species it is.
The incubation last 31-32 days and begins as soon as the first egg is laid. Eggs hatch every 2-3 days, normally in the order they were laid. Only female owls incubate eggs, and the male owls hunt and bring food to the nest.
Owls babies are called owlets. Owlets are, just like other birds, born with an egg tooth. Its only purpose is to break through the egg’s surface when it’s time to hatch. It then falls off after a couple of weeks.
Since the eggs hatch over a period of time (up to three weeks) there will be a size difference between the owl siblings. If there’s a limited food supply, the smallest owlets will not survive.
The young owls will stay in the nest about six weeks after hatching. It can vary slightly depending on the species.
Owls are the fastest growing vertebrates. The barn owl is already at full adult weight and feathering at an age of just 8-9 weeks.
What Does The Baby Owl Eat?
Owls always feed the oldest and strongest owlets first. If there’s limited food then the youngest will starve.
Owls hunt their normal prey for their owlets and then tear it into smaller pieces so that the baby owls are able to swallow it.
Owlets start producing pellets as soon as they switch over to eating whole prey. Fur, bones and other indigestible parts are regurgitated (coughed up). This begins about 4-10 weeks after hatching, depending on which owl species it is.
When a young owl leaves the nest, it often lives nearby. Sometimes even in the same tree, where its parents continue to bring it prey during a transition period that lasts between a couple of weeks up til a few months.
Owls’ droppings are watery and mostly white, with smaller portions being darker colored.
The whiteness is caused by uric acid, that is very much like urine. The darker droppings are the owl’s actual poop, which they don’t produce much of. Most of the indigestible food is regurgitated (coughed up) through the beak in form of pellets.
Pellets Are Not Owl Poop
Owls’ pellets are often mistaken for being droppings. This is not the case.
Owls often swallow their prey whole or in larger chunks that they rip off the prey. The indigestible parts are spit out after a few hours when the digestive system has broken down the softer parts. This process is called regurgitation. The result is a pellet, which contains small globs of fur, feathers and bones.
Owl pellets are either black or brown, and odorless. These pellets can be studied by scientists and hobbyists that want to learn more about what owls are eating.
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