What is an Owl?

Hungry for awesome owl facts? Before we start owl facts for kids, let us learn what an owl is. Owl is a type of bird that belongs to the order Strigiformes.

There are over 200 species of owl worldwide. Some of the famous owl species are Barn Owl, Great Horned Owl, Eurasian Eagle-Owl, Elf Owl, etc.

Owls look funny and mysterious. Sometimes, humans considered owls as pets and appreciated their intelligence and there were times that poor owls were derided as superstition or pests. It is important to learn about owls before coming to any conclusion. So, let us learn more about owls today in our owl facts article. Shall we begin?

Kingdom: Animalia

Phylum: Chordata

Class: Aves

Clade: Afroaves

Order: Strigiformes

Owl Facts 1-5

1.Owls have big eyes (that are forward-facing), ear-holes, beak similar to that of a hawk. Most of the birds have eyes on the sides of their heads, but owls have their eyes forward-facing because such arrangement of eyes helps them in judging the depth more accurately which is important for hunting at dawn and dusk. 

2. Though they have binocular vision, it doesn’t help much. They have to turn their heads to change views. Owls are farsighted i.e., they can see things that are far away but can’t see things clearly when they are a few centimeters away from them. 

3. Their necks are highly flexible. They can rotate their necks till 270 degrees. They have 14 neck vertebrae whereas humans have only 7. There are few modifications in the circulatory system as well to make the neck flexible.

4. Elf owl is the smallest owl. It weighs 31 grams and is 13.5 centimeters or 5.25 inches long. Two other owl species that are of the same size (not weight) are Tamaulipas Pygmy Owl and Long-whiskered Owlet. 

5. The largest owls are Blakiston’s fish owl and Eurasian eagle-owl. The females weigh 4.2 kg or 9.25 pounds and are 28 inches or 78 centimeters long. Their wingspan is around 190 centimeters or 75 inches long.

Owl Facts 6-10

6. The plumage or fur of owls produces the camouflage effect. However, they have head markings and facial markings like ear tufts, irises that are brightly colored, and face masks. These markings are used to signal other owls in low-light conditions. These markings are seen mostly in the species that live in open habitats. 

7. Female owls are larger than males. The degree of difference between the size of males and females varies with species. Why females are larger than males is not known but there are three theories or hypotheses.

8. The first theory states that since male owls have to bring food, they have to light and hence are smaller than females. Though males are smaller, their wingspan is larger than females. Females, in general, stay at nest for most of the time. 

9. Second theory assumes that due to sexual roles, there is a difference in size. For example, it is believed that a larger female can easily dismember the prey and feed it to the young than a smaller female. 

10. Third theory suggests that larger females can select a mate and violently reject the sexual advances of a male and hence a smaller male has better chances of escaping the violent behavior and mating. 

Owl Facts 11-15

11. Most of the owls (especially the night owls) have the ability to fly without any sound. This feature gives them an edge over their prey. The feathers are longer than the feathers of other birds. 

12. Adding to this, the surface of flight feathers are coated with a waxy, velvety layer that absorbs the sound produced by the wings. This reduces the frequencies below 2 KHz which is below the hearing spectrum of owl’s prey. This frequency is the best hearing range for owls. 

13. It is cool to have silent feathers but there is a downside to this. The feathers are not waterproof. Owls can’t use preen oil or powder dust to keep their feathers waterproof. Hence it gets difficult to hunt during breeding season. 

14. Because the feathers are not waterproof, owls struggle to keep themselves warm. However, high numbers of down feathers help owls retain their body heat. 

15. The eyes of owls are not balls but they are tubular in shape. This type of eye shape is present in other animals like lemurs, loris, and pelagic fishes. 

Owl Facts 16-20

16. As the eyes are locked in one position, they have to move their head to see in a particular direction.

17. The ears of owls are asymmetrically placed in the skull and they are of different sizes. Either the inner ears or the outer ears are asymmetrical. This asymmetry helps in pinpointing the prey. The difference in time of the sound reaching left and right ear is used to determine the direction from which the sound is originating.

18. The time difference between two ears is 30 microseconds. The feathers that surround its face (called facial disk) also helps in focusing the sound. The facial disk can be changed by the owl to focus on sound. 

19. Owls have small, short, downward-facing beak. The beak is hooked at the tip to allow owls to hold and tear the prey. 

20. Like eagles, their hind legs are called talons. They catch and hold the prey while the owl flies and then devours it. They have zygodactyl feet meaning two toes point backward and two toes point forward. The claws of owls are curved and sharp. 

Owl Facts 21-25

21. As we said earlier, the plumage helps the owl in camouflage. They mimic the pattern and coloration of their surroundings except barn owl. 

22. Snowy owl’s feathers are white in color with few black feathers mimicking the snow background. Similarly, mottled wood-owl’s feathers are brown, black, and tan which makes the owl nearly invisible in the surroundings.

23. Most of the owls are nocturnal. However, some of them are crepuscular (active during dawn and dusk). Some of the owls are active during the day like short-eared owls and burrowing owls. 

24. The owls mostly rely on stealth and surprise strategy to kill the prey. They swallow their prey completely including the skin, bones, fur, etc. They are not migratory birds but some species like snowy owl behave nomadic and go to places that are not their habitat or in their range. 

25. Most of the owl species produce three to four eggs but the number can vary from few to a dozen in a season. The eggs are white and are spherical in shape. The eggs hatch in 24 to 32 days. Once born, they leave the nest in three to four weeks. 

Owl Facts 26-30

26. In some species, the female doesn’t mate with the same male in a lifetime. Some of them stay together for a year or breeding season or for their entire life. 

27. Female burrowing owls move out of their territory to find mates and the males stay within the territory. 

28. Eyes of owl’s account for 1-5% of its body weight. Not just that, they take a lot of space in the skull and there is very little room left for the brain. 

29. The largest owl in North America is the Great Gray Owl. It can reach up to 32 inches in length.

30. You can find owls in every continent except Antarctica.

Owl Facts 31-35

31. They produce multiple vocalizations like whistles, screeches, growls, shrieks, screeches, rattles, barks, chirps, hisses, and hoots. Their vocalizations can be heard from one mile during the nesting season. Females have high-pitch voices more than males. 

32. Owls are intelligent but they are difficult to train. Other birds like pigeons, parrots, and hawks can get trained far more easily than owls. 

33. The hearing ability of a northern hawk owl is amazing that it can locate a prey which is 12 inches under the snow. 

34. Barn owls consume around a thousand mice every year. 

35. It is illegal in the US and other countries to keep owls as pets.

Owl Facts 36-40

36. Owls are the apex predators i.e., there is no major predator preying on them. However, bigger owls eat up smaller owls. 

37. One of the biggest owls in the world is the Eurasian Eagle Owl. It can kill and eat young deer and fully grown foxes. 

38. The owls are divided into two groups – true owls or typical owls of the family Strigidae and barn owls of the family Tytonidae. 

39. It has the best night vision in the animal kingdom.

40. Nearly 1/3rd of owl species are either at risk of extinction or endangered.

Owl Facts 41-45

41. As they are nocturnal (most of them), their eyes have more rods than cones. 

42. They use other birds’ nests and tree cavities as their nests. They never build their nests. The burrowing owls also don’t dig their burrows. 

43. They are more closely related to songbirds, hummingbirds, and kingfishers than hawks, falcons, and eagles. 

44. Owls with yellow eye color are diurnal, the ones with orange eyes are crepuscular, and the owls that have black or dark brown eyes are nocturnal.

45. The name of the pet owl of Harry Potter was Hedwig. Seven owls played the role of Hedwig viz. Gizmo, Oh Oh, Oops, Elmo, Swoops, and Bandit.

Owl Facts 46-50

46. Group of owls is called wisdom, bazaar, parliament, or study. Group of baby owls is called owlets.

47. Just like ants and squirrels, owls stash their food in tree branches or under the pile of rocks. 

48. There are few cafes in Japan where you can sit close to owls and enjoy your beverage. They are very tame and you can even touch their feathers. 

49. Owl-like birds like Ogygoptynx and Berruornis lived around 60 million years ago during the Paleocene epoch. The strigidae family broke off from tytonidae during the Miocene epoch (23.03 to 5.3 million years ago).

50. The largest recorded fossil owl is Ornimegalonyx oteroi which dated back to 58 million years ago. The fossil was nearly three feet tall. 

Owl Facts 51-55

51.African cultures, Mayans, Aztecs, other Mesoamerica natives, aboriginal Canadian natives, Puebloan tribes, etc. consider owls as symbols of death, illness, and something evil.

52. In Hinduism, an owl is considered lucky and is the vehicle of Goddess Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth. The Pawnee tribe considered them as a symbol of protection against any evil or danger. 

53. Some of the species are listed as endangered or critically endangered in the IUCN Red List like India’s Forest Owlet, Boreal Owl, and Siau Scops-Owl (seen only in one island of Indonesia). 

54. An owl has three eyelids – one for sleeping, one for blinking, and the last one to keep your eyes clean and healthy. 

55. It has a lifespan of one to thirty years. 


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