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How Can Owls Rotate Their Heads 270 Degrees?

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barred owl

If you are fascinated by owls like we are, one of the first things you’ll notice is their amazing ability to turn their heads almost completely around to see behind them. In fact, owls can rotate their head a full 270 degrees, and one of the most common questions we get is how they can do it without damaging blood vessels and muscles in the neck. The short answer is that they have small air pockets in the vertebrae that help provide enough space for the artery to move around as the owl turns its head but keep reading while we look into it even further to try to provide you with a more complete answer to help you be better informed.

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How Can Owls rotate Their Head 270 Degrees?

Bone Adaptions

Bone adoptions to the owl’s vertebrae help provide additional space that crates air pockets, so the artery supplying blood to the brain and other head parts has room to move as the owl turns its head. Twelve vertebrae have this adaption, and the artery enters the neck at the 12th vertebrae, unlike other birds where it enters at the 14th. The artery entering at this location allows it to have more slack so the owl can turn its head further in either direction.

The vertebrae in the human neck hold the artery snug, which is one of the reasons we can’t turn our heads nearly as far as the owl.

Owl Closeup
Image Credit: LoneWombatMedia, Pixabay

Blood Vessels

The blood vessels in the owl’s neck operate significantly differently than humans. As we turn our heads, the blood vessels in our necks shrink, and if we continue to turn them as far as an owl does, it will cut off circulation. However, owls are completely the opposite, and their blood vessels increase in size as they turn their heads. They also have a vast network of blood vessels that allow blood to flow even if an extreme head twist block some of them.

Why Do Owls Need To Turn Their head So Far?

Humans and many other animals have spherical eyes. We can move these eyes and our head to see almost completely around our body without needing to move our head as far as an owl does. The owl’s eyes are cylinders or elongated tubes, and they don’t move. These elongated tubes provide the owl with binocular eyesight, but the bird must move its head to point the eyes at any object it wants to see. Hence the need for a head that can turn 270 degrees.

great grey owl
Image Credit: Pixabay

Related Read: How Intelligent Are Owls? Here’s What Science Says

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In Conclusion

There are two primary reasons that an owl can turn its head so far. The first reason is that the vertebrae in the owl’s neck provide enough room for the artery to move around as the owl turns its head without getting pinched so it can continue to operate correctly. The second reason is that the blood vessels in the neck below the chin of the owl increase in size as it turns its head. A complex network of vessels also ensures that blood continues to flow even if an extreme head turn manages to block some of the vessels off.

You might also be interested in: Why Do Owls Hoot? 4 Reasons for This Behavior

Featured Image Credit: Pixabay

About the Author Ed Malaker

Ed Malaker is a veteran writer who contributes to a wide range of blogs covering information on computer programming, pets, birding, tools, fitness, guitars, and optics. Outside of writing, Ed is often found working in the garden or performing DIY projects in the house. Ed is also a musician, spending his time composing music for independent films or helping people repair their guitars.