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53 Fascinating & Fun Owl Facts You Never Knew

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great grey owl

There’s a study that found out that the fear of predators is not instinctive. Animals, especially those found at the bottom of the food chain, are not born with this fear. So if you’ve witnessed other animals or birds run for the hills whenever they see an owl in their vicinity, it’s not because that’s the natural thing to do. They all developed that fear the moment they noticed owls keep feeding on them anytime they share the same space.

But this piece isn’t about all those prey species, or what they have to endure out there in the wild. Today, we’re here to talk about the owl, and what makes this species quite the specialized predator.

The following is a list of facts that we managed to collect while we were out there studying and having fun!

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The 53 Most Interesting Facts About Owls

1. In total, we have 250 owl species on this planet.

Scientists have attributed this high number to the rapid change in climate, and they’ve even gone further to explain how — unlike other birds that just go extinct — owls quickly adapt to the different changes in their surroundings, by changing their biological structures.

barn owl
Image Credit: Pixabay

2. An owl can turn its neck 135 degrees in either direction.

That means they only cover a total movement of 270 degrees, and not 360 degrees as many people like to believe. The blood vessels found around their neck region have contractile reservoirs, allowing them to keep turning their heads, without having to cut off the blood being supplied to the brain.

3. Some owls have tufts that can easily be mistaken for ears.

You’ll be forgiven for thinking these tufts are actually ears because they really do look like ears. And even though nobody really knows what exactly they do, some researchers believe one of their prime functions is to relay messages to other owls. For example, if the bird feels sad, that emotion will be communicated through the tuft.

4. The owl’s ears are asymmetrical, different in size, and hidden behind the eyes.

These are the things that make it possible for the bird to collect and transmit sound to its tympanic membrane at different frequencies before the information gets funneled to the brain for interpretation.

close up Eurasian eagle owl
Image Credit: Pixabay

5. Compared to other birds, the owl has incredible binocular vision.

 “Binocular Vision” is a phrase typically used by researchers to describe two-eyed animals or birds that have coordinated eye movement. You’ll never find one eye looking north while the other focuses on objects that are to the east.

That ability can only be observed in birds that have monocular vision. They always have one eye looking at objects straight ahead, while the other is focused on objects positioned at 45 degrees to their side.

6. The eyes of an owl are tubular in nature.

And… held rigidly into place by a bony structure known as the sclerotic ring. Birds that have spherical eyeballs don’t have sclerotic rings, hence their eyeball movement isn’t restricted.

7. The Great Horned Owl has the largest set of eyes.

And those eyes come with incredibly large lenses that enable the bird to draw more light from its ambient light surroundings, should it feel the need to hunt at night. Some researchers say both of them are heavier than 0.25 ounces, which is the total weight of the human eye. 

Great Horned Owl
Image Credit: Pixabay

8. An owl prefers eating its prey whole.

However, if the said prey is too big to be swallowed as-is, it will first rip it into bits using its bill and claws.

Its digestive tract has the ability to put aside parts that cannot easily be digested so that they can be regurgitated later on, and be fed to the kids.

9. Some owl species are not afraid to hunt down and kill prey that are twice their sizes.

A good example is the eagle owl. On several occasions, they’ve been sighted grabbing small deer.

10. An owl will eat an owl. 

Have you ever heard of owl-on-owl predation? Not of the same species though, because that would be insane.

The Barred owl, for instance, cannot share the same space or even habitat with the Great Horned owl. You see, in the eyes of the Great Horned owl, the Barred owl is food.

In fact, ornithologists are starting to think that in some parts of the world, the populations of certain owl species are on a sharp decline not because of human interference or habitat loss, but due to owl-on-owl predation.

11. A baby owl is called an owlet and sometimes nestling.

The babies usually hatch three to five weeks after the eggs have been laid. They always look cute, but if you spend some time with them, you’ll realize they are stubborn as well.

owlet on a person's hand
Image Credit: Pixabay

12. Owls are proponents of the “Survival of the fittest” school of thought.

When it’s time to feed the babies, the parent owl will start with the oldest or strongest babies, before moving on to the youngest or weakest. If there’s not enough food, the latter will be left to starve and probably die.

13. The parent owl will still take care of a juvenile.

Once the owlet learns how to fly, it will leave the nest and look for a home nearby, in the same tree. But the parent will still hunt and bring it food to eat, making sure it’s well-fed.

14. An owl’s camouflage game is on a league of its own.

The markings and coloration on its feathers usually help it blend in very well with any surrounding. And it’s okay to assume that owls are cognizant of this fact since they always look at peace while sleeping during the day.

15. Hooting is the owl’s way of communicating with other owls in the vicinity.

If they want to claim a particular territory, they’ll hoot. If they sense danger from predators or other owl species, they hoot. And if they wish to scare away or prevent an intruder from disturbing their peace, and that of their brethrens, they hoot. 

16. Frequent hoots are a sign that it’s mating season.

An owl can hoot for several reasons. But if the hoots are more frequent than they normally are, that could only mean one thing — they are sending invites to their female partners.

17. Not all owls hoot.

The Barn owl doesn’t really hoot but instead hisses. If the male hisses, he will be calling out to its lifelong partner to go inspect its preferred nesting site. If the female does it, she will be asking him to go look for food because she’s starving. But if they both hiss at the same time, that’s a sign that there’s a predator or intruder nearby.

18. Owls usually have feathers all the way down to their toes.

Ornithologists believe these feathers are meant to protect the bird from small ice splinters and the cold, while they are hunting in the snow.

19. Owls have zygodactyl feet.

The total number of toes that an owl has is four. Three will be at the front, and one at the back. However, the way one of the front toes has been positioned, makes it look like a thumb. And whenever it catches its prey, that “thumb” moves backward.

barn owl
Image Credit: Pixabay

20. The Elf Owl is the smallest of the owl species.

It’s normally found in southwestern parts of the United States, but there have been sightings in the northern part of Mexico.

Related Read: 15 Proven Ways to Attract Owls to Your Yard

21. An owl is natural pest control.

Farmers like to install owl-nesting boxes in their farms, so as to attract owls that would help them get rid of rodents such as gophers. A single family of owls can consume up to 3000 rodents in one breeding cycle.

22. In ancient Greece, an owl was a symbol of knowledge and wisdom.

Some people also saw it as the protector of armies, seeing as it was a close companion of the warrior goddess, Athena. Greek soldiers would let out a cry for victory mid-battle if they saw an owl pass by.

23. In other cultures, owls are associated with death and everything evil.

In Rome, for example, people talked about how an owl prophesied the death of their Roman General, Gaius Julius Caesar. Their beliefs were so strong that anybody who tried to convince them otherwise, would be seen as a prophet of doom. Consequently, being ostracized from the community.

tawny frogmouth owl
Image Credit: Pixabay

24. Egyptians believe that owls are spirit guides.

The Egyptians used to believe that only the owl could guide the dead spirits trying to journey the underworld or a world of unknowns. Some of them still do.

25. Owls are intelligent and sociable birds.

These traits make them get along well with humans, thus explaining why they keep popping up in old France paintings, and Egyptian hieroglyphs. But that’s not to say they won’t defend themselves whenever they feel threatened.

26. Owls are actually good swimmers.

They swim better than most birds, but prefer staying on land since they can’t defend themselves in water.

27. Not all owl species are nocturnal.

The Northern Pygmy, Northern Hawk, and Great Gray owl are all diurnal. They have no problem hunting, preying or even breeding during the day.

great gray owl flying
Image Credit: Pixabay

28. Owls are distant relatives to songbirds, hummingbirds, and kingfishers.

Being birds of prey, a lot of people like associating them with falcons, eagles, and hawks. But according to scientists, their genome indicates that they’re a lot closer to songbirds, hummingbirds, and kingfishers, than they are to other birds of prey.

29. Owls are the worst birds to have as pets.

Even though they are sociable, they don’t like being cuddled or stroked. Not to forget the whole thing about barfing, and poop that smells really bad.

30. The eye color of an owl can give you an idea of when they prefer hunting.

Although this technique isn’t foolproof, conservationists argue that it’s helped them more times than they can count.

If you spot an owl that has dark brown or black eyes, it’s an indication that they’re less active during the day, and more active under the cover of darkness. The pigment that makes their eyes appear that dark is meant to help them camouflage from prey.

Owls that have yellow eyes mostly hunt in broad daylight, while those with orange eyes prefer going to work at dawn or dusk.

barn owl with black eyes
Image Credit: Pixabay

31. An owl’s flight doesn’t produce any sound.

This could be attributed to how their feathers are distributed throughout their bodies. Most birds are heavily feathered in the lower regions, but the owl’s undercoat is to a great extent made up of downy.

It’s the downy together with the comb-like flutings found along the edges of their wings that make their flights silent, by cutting through the air with less to no resistance.

Related Read: 24 Fascinating & Fun Eagle Facts You Never Knew

32. The Northern Pygmy owl and the Songbird don’t see eye to eye.

First off, the Northern Pygmy owl has a different style of hunting. Rather than chase, it likes to just sit, and wait for prey to fly by. And because it prefers hunting during the day, most of its victims are songbirds that are oblivious to the danger lacking in the shadows.

The good thing is, these antics are nowadays well known to the songbird, and that’s why more often than not, they’ll move around in mobs.

That mob will include hummingbirds, wrens, blackbirds, jays, and every other small bird that feels threatened in any way. Should they spot the Northern Pygmy owl nearby, they’ll harass it until it leaves them alone.

33. The Northern Hawk Owl can hunt any prey from an insane distance.

We know this might not be shocking to most of you, given these birds are predators, but the minute you see it in action you’ll be really impressed. Ornithologists have even documented Northern Hawk owls that spotted and tracked down prey that were as far as half a mile away.

Northern Hawk Owl
Image Credit: Pixabay

34. Some owls have facial features that resemble that of a cat, and they even sound like them.

The perfect example is the long-eared owl, which has unique ear tufts right above its head. And the reason why they are sometimes referred to as cat owls is that they’ll give out these screeches that sound like those produced by the rambunctious cat.

35. The Spectacled Owl’s facial features will make you think it’s wearing a pair of spectacles.

They are mainly found in Central and South America, and have white colorations around their eyes. Funny thing is, owlets are the complete opposite as they have dark colorations.

36. Owls are primarily monogamous.

Some owls prefer mating with one partner for life, and they usually have a very complex courtship ritual. If you’ve noticed there’s one that has changed its partner, chances are the previous partner is no longer with us here, in the land of the living.

couple of owls
Image Credit: Pixabay

37. There are two scientific owl family groups.

In general, we have two types of owls. There’s a group that falls under the Tytonidae family, and the other one is classified as Strigidae. Most owls fall under the Strigidae group, seeing as the group contains approximately 224 species. The Barn, together with 20 other species, are categorized as Tytonidae.

It’s easy to tell the difference between a Strigidae and a Tytonidae because their faces are shaped differently. Your typical owl will have a face that appears round, while the heart-shaped faces belong to species found in the Tytonidae family.

38. You have to be really close to an owl to be able to see his or her legs.

They are always well hidden, and that could be the reason why most people often think owls have short legs. The only time that you’ll be able to see how long the legs are is during flight when they are both left hanging and exposed.

39. All the owl species molt their feathers every year.

This process is meant to help them replace the old and damaged feathers with new ones, and it usually takes at least three to four months to complete. Also, if you’re a keen observer, you’ll notice it all happens simultaneously throughout its body.

40. Owls have three eyelids.

If you get the chance to study it up-close, you’ll be able to see the upper eyelid, the lower eyelid, and a third one, which is translucent.

The upper lid is useful for blinking, the lower one covers the eyes while the owl sleeps, and the third one — also known as the nictitating membrane — is tasked with ensuring the eyes are well protected from external damage and moistened to maintain visibility.

elf owl eyes
Image Credit: Pixabay

You might also be interested in: 10 Best Binoculars for Bird Watching

41. A Great Horned Owl’s grip is unrivaled.

It’s estimated that the force drawn from the talons of the Great Horned owl could be more than 300 pounds per square inch (psi). And just to put that into context, scientists believe that there’s no human bite that can generate a force that’s even close to those figures.

So what that means is, the Great Horned owl can instantly kill its prey just by latching onto them.

42. A group of owls is referred to as a parliament.

But you’ll hear some people call them a flock, congress, or even the state. It doesn’t really matter what you prefer calling them, as all these names are acceptable.

43. Having an owl as a pet in the United States is illegal.

There’s an Act called the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, that federally protects the bird from people looking to cause them harm. This law is so strict that even if you’re found with a single feather in your home, without any permit from the Fish and Wildlife Service, you’ll be punished for violation.

44. Owls are one of the oldest bird species on Earth.

A group of scientists found the remains of some prehistoric birds in some cave, and after studying them, they learned that those birds had traits that were very similar to those of an owl. The birds were from the Ogygoptynx and the Berruornis family, and they existed over 60 years ago.

Owl Birdbath_Pixabay
Image Credit: Wayne Overholt, Pixabay

45. The Blakiston’s fish owl is a giant bird.

At the moment, the largest owl in the world is the Blakiston’s fish owl. The Japanese community gave it the moniker the Emperor of the Night, and it has the body size of a small kid, with a wingspan that covers over 72 inches.

This species was first spotted in Hakodate, one of the areas located in Hokkaido, Japan. They prefer living close to different water bodies, especially those that rarely freeze during winter, and are located next to large, old trees. The trees serve as their nesting grounds.

46. Some cultures believe the owl is a god.

There’s an indigenous tribe in Australia that has always maintained that the owl is in fact the spiritual being that created the world. The Wardaman, who live in the South West region of Australia’s Northern Territory, have never believed otherwise.

Related Read: Where Do Birds Go To Die? What Happens To Them?

47. Owls fear traveling long distances if it means they have to travel over a large water body.

The northern saw-whet is one of the smallest owl natives of North America, and the only species capable of traveling long distances over a large water body. Ironically, they are among the few owl species that have been pigeonholed as non-migratory.

snowy owl flying
Image Credit: Pixabay

48. The spirit of the owl is worshiped in some communities.

If you get the chance to travel to Kazakhstan, you might come across a tribe that worships the “spirit of the owl.”

And that’s not all, as those who’ve been fortunate enough to meet the tribesmen from that community have been told that only the female shamans were allowed to conduct the rituals, with the hope of connecting with the spirit.

49. The Eurasian Eagle Owl is gluttonous in nature.

In the eyes of the Eurasian Eagle-owl, an animal like a fox is a great meal, while a hummingbird is only a snack. So if it feels hungry, it will only hunt prey that’s the same size as a fox or larger. It doesn’t really care if the prey is a reptile, a mammal, an amphibian, or even a raptor.

50. Owls are classified as apex predators.

An owl is the prime example of an Apex Predator. Apex predators, sometimes called alpha predators, are animals or birds that are found at the very top of the food chain or web. They have no natural predators and do play critical roles in different ecosystems.

51. Some owls have ears that are so evolved.

Some owl species, like the Northern Hawk Owl, rely more on their hearing abilities to hunt prey. Their ears features are so evolved that they can hear anything that’s 12 inches underneath snow. The minute they sense prey, they’ll use their feathered talons to dig and grab it without having to worry about the cold.

long-eared owl
Image Credit: Pixabay

52. The population of most owl species are on a decline.

Most owl species are considered endangered. We’ve all witnessed their population dwindle over the past couple of decades, and that’s largely due to viral diseases, human interference, loss of habitat, lack of prey, and owl-to-owl preying.

53. Owls mostly see black and white.

 The total number of color cones in an owl’s eyes is fewer than the black and white detecting rods. Meaning, if you’re trying to camouflage yourself from an owl, don’t wear black or white. Try other color hues like red, which has been recorded by researchers as being too intense for most owls to see.

54. The Ornimegalonyx was the heaviest owl.

The Ornimegalonyx used to be the largest and heaviest owl ever recorded. It’s now extinct, but it was discovered by the Cuban Vertebrate paleontology expert, Arredondo De La Mata.

You might also be interested in: 6 Types of Bird Feathers

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In Conclusion

We hope you found these facts fascinating, and maybe even learned something worth sharing with your friends. If you feel like there are still a few more facts that have been left out, feel free to reach out. But until next time, bye!

Featured Image Credit: Pixabay

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About the Author Robert Sparks

Robert’s obsession with all things optical started early in life, when his optician father would bring home prototypes for Robert to play with. Nowadays, Robert is dedicated to helping others find the right optics for their needs. His hobbies include astronomy, astrophysics, and model building. Originally from Newark, NJ, he resides in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where the nighttime skies are filled with glittering stars.