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What is Your Favorite Animal?

Owls

Owl Facts


 

An owl flying

Some cool owl facts. Ok, the coolest one right upfront. Owls have no teeth. So how do they chew their food? Ah, they don’t. They swallow their food whole (think rats, mice, insects, and birds). After digesting it, they throw up the bones & fur (lovely).

owl facts turning head 270 degrees

A short ear owl turning its head 270 degrees.

The second coolest fact is an owl can not turn its eyes, but to compensate they can turn their head 270 degrees. Think about being able to spin your head almost completely around, but with fixed eyes. We can only rotate our heads half that far. Incredible!

And a Zygoodactyl? What is that?

And third, their foot is called a zygodactyl (now that is a fun word). It has 3 toes facing forward and 1 toe facing backward so they can snatch their prey.

owl facts about toes

The foot of a barn owl with the toes facing forward and backward

What is a Group of Owls Called?

One other fun fact. What is the name for a group of owls? If you read the Chronicles of Narnia (which I still love), you might know a group of owls is called a parliament. The term was coined by author C.S. Lewis in the books. And speaking of books (and movies), owls deliver mail at Hogwarts in the Harry Potter films. Which by the way is a myth as owls can not carry mail.

A parliament of owls. Photo: Tom Rogers

 

All 220+ species of owls can be divided into just two families: barn owls and typical owls. But owls are considered mysterious and often bad omens. Another misunderstood animal. Sometimes they are even killed because people are afraid of them. They are rarely seen since most are nocturnal, coming out to hunt at night.

A barn owl

Owls come in all sizes. The smallest one, an elf owl weighs just over an ounce and is found in the Southwest US and Mexico. The largest is the great grey owl found in North America, northern Russia, and Europe with a wingspan up to 5 feet.

Owl facts

A baby owl called an owlet.

Our Experience with Owls


We love seeing owls on our travels but one sighting of a family of three remains very special.

While on our honeymoon in Costa Rica, our guide stopped to show us a mother, father and baby screech owl high in the trees above the road. One week later, as we were leaving, we stopped to see if they were in the same place. Sure enough, the entire family was still there to bid us farewell.

Three screech owls in a tree.

Dale loves carving owls, as they are one of his favorite birds. “Riding the White Wind”, his sculpture of a life-size snowy owl carved from Yule marble is in the permanent collection of Brookgreen Gardens.

stone owl

Riding the White Wind, a stone owl sculpture by Dale Weiler

What Can We Do to Help Owls?

Owls are critical to our environment as apex predators. They control rodent and insect populations naturally without the use of dangerous pesticides that can also pollute our soil and water. One of the biggest threats to owls is rodent poison. If you use poison to get rid of rodents, the owls eat the sick poisoned rodents. As a result, they die from the poison.  Since an owl can eat up to 3 rats a night, they are much better rodent controllers than poison.

An owl hunting for food


You can also support organizations such as

American Bird Conservancy

Audubon

Learn, Learn, Learn!

With 220 species of owls, find out what kind of owls live in your neighborhood. In our North Carolina mountains, we have barn owls, the Eastern screech-owl, great horned owls, barred owls, and the Northern saw-whet owl. Wow. Each owl has a distinctive call at night which you can learn to recognize. Listen to 4 owl calls in the video below. Which is your favorite?

You can also check out all kinds of fun activities online to learn more about owls. Everything from drawing owls to building a nest box is included in a guide from The National Wildlife Federation.

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