Class: Aves (Birds)
Strigidae (typical owls)
Tytonidae (barn owls)
Size: typical owls–5 to 28 inches (13 to 71 centimeters); barn owls–9 to 21 inches (23 to 53 centimeters). The smallest owl is the elf owl Micrathene whitneyi, while the largest is the Eurasian eagle-owl Bubo bubo. Females are usually larger than males.
Weight: typical owls–1.5 ounces to 9 pounds (42.5 grams to 4 kilograms); barn owls–0.5 to 3 pounds (0.23 to 1.36 kilograms)
Life span: 20 years or more
Number of eggs: depending on the food supply, can range from 1 to 14 eggs, although usually 2 to 6
Development: eggs hatch after 15 to 35 days, depending on the species. Nestling period for chicks can be up to 56 days.
Conservation status: 7 owl species are at critical risk, including forest owlet Heterogalux blewitti, Christmas Island hawk owl Ninox natalis, and Siau scops-owl Otus siaoensis
the Arctic has owls, where the cold tundra is home to snowy
owls Nyctea scandiaca. Thick, warm feathers cover even
their bills and toes, providing effective insulation against
roaring winds and freezing temperatures.
Many owl species also have a thick covering of feathers on their legs and feet, which actually protects them from snake and rat bites.
If you saw a young owl next to its parent, they would not look the same! For example, adult spectacled owls Pulsatrix perspicillata have a white face surrounded by dark feathers while in the chicks the colors are reversed.
Most owls live in trees, but burrowing owls Athene cunicularia actually live in underground burrows.
Listen to a great horned owl!
continent except Antarctica
What is it about owls that makes them so mysterious to us? They have had a powerful hold on the human imagination across centuries and cultures, appearing as warnings of doom or as symbols of wisdom. Of course, we know they are nocturnal, and their nighttime habits may make them seem scary or spooky to us. We think of them flying silently over churchyards, and their eyes seem to glow in the dark. But there’s nothing supernatural about their acute hearing and sight. Far from fearing owls, we should appreciate them as competent predators that hunt mice and other rodents, helping to maintain a balance in nature.
Owls, owls everywhere
Because there are owls living everywhere, there’s a good
chance that there are several different species of
owls living near your home. Some owls prefer cold climates, while
others live in deserts or
rain forests. Some, like barn owls Tyto alba, hunt in
wide open spaces. Others, like long-eared owls Asio sp.,
make their home in the forest. A small wingspan on
a chestnut-backed owlet Glaucidium castanonotum helps
it to navigate around trees in a tropical rain forest, but the
longer wings on a barn owl are ideal for cruising over open fields.
Owls compete with each other for territory and food, but fortunately owls of different species can coexist by hunting at different times of the day or night. The great gray owl Strix nebulosa, the ural owl Strix uralensis, and the tawny owl Strix aluco all live in the same range, but the great gray owl is a daytime hunter. It prefers voles as prey. The tawny owl also hunts voles, but only at night, and the ural owl hunts larger prey, such as squirrels.
Name that owl
While most of us have no problem identifying an owl—just look for that round face, sharp, hooked bill, and large eyes—it’s not as easy to distinguish between different kinds of owls. Even scientists have trouble in placing some species in family groups. You have to look carefully at the facial discs (for example, all barn owls have a heart-shaped facial disc), their feet, and whether or not they have ear tufts. Look for owls near your home and see if you can identify local species.
Everything about an owl’s body makes it the ideal bird for night living. They have the best night vision of any animal and their hearing is nearly as acute.
Hearing— Did you know that an owl can hear a mouse stepping on a twig from 75 feet (23 meters) away? This is because they have two huge holes in their skulls for their ears, along with facial discs that channel sound into the ear openings. They don’t look like our ears but they are incredibly good at picking up sounds.
Vision— Animals that are active at night usually have large eyes, which lets them make use of any available light. With owls, the eyes are so big that they can’t move in any direction. This means that an owl must move its entire head to follow the movement of prey, but it also gives it better focus with both eyes looking in the same direction. And even though it seems that an owl can twist its head completely around, most owls actually turn their heads no more than 270 degrees in either direction.
Feathers— Another important adaptation for owls is silent flight. Where other birds have stiff feathers that make a whooshing sound when they fly, owl feathers have soft edges that allow them to fly silently. This is important for owls, allowing them to swoop down on prey without being heard. (The only exceptions are the fishing owls, because hunting over water does not require this adaptation.) In the darkness, owls don’t soar like eagles or hawks but rather fly low to the ground as they look for prey, from small rodents to fish. Larger owls have been known to carry off young deer, weasels, and foxes.
owls is interesting because they must first overcome a natural
fear of one another. Male owls may bring offerings of food, dropping
the item near the female to catch her interest. Even so, it may
be several hours before she loses her fear and moves closer to
him. The number of eggs that are laid depends on the food supply.
If prey is scarce, only two or three eggs may be laid; if food
is easily available, then six or more eggs may be laid. Chicks
generally hatch two days apart, with the oldest chicks getting
the most food. This ensures survival of
at least a few chicks if food is scarce.
Young owl chicks get the best of care from their mother for about three months. They are fed, protected from predators, and learn to fly and hunt so they can leave the nest and find territories of their own. Fathers are also often involved in rearing the chicks, including sitting on the eggs and bringing food back for the family. By about six months, most owl chicks look like their parents.
Owls as neighbors
Whether you live in the city or the country, owls help us by
controlling rodent and insect
But we often treat owls as enemies, and they fall victim to poison
when fields are sprayed to kill weeds, insects, and rodents.
We can help owls by finding other ways to control pests:
for example, let owls and other predators do this job. They also
need open spaces and trees if they are to survive. Each owl species
has different needs: some need forests, like the spotted owl Strix
occidentalis, while the largest owl, the Eurasian eagle-owl Bubo bubo, needs
large territories and large prey.
If we set aside wilderness areas, we will help owls. Then laws need to be enforced so owls are not hunted or poisoned. And if we live in cities, nest boxes can be put up that make it possible for some owl species to live in populated areas. We need to remember that owls play an important role in nature, and we need to ensure a promising future for them wherever they live