Facts About Owls

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Owls belong to a group of birds called Strigiformes, which is divided into two smaller groups, known as families. One family is called Tytonidae and includes barn owls, which have heart-shaped faces. The other family is called Strigidae, and includes all other owls, most of which have round faces.

Owls typically have a large head, big eyes and sharp talons. They also have great binocular vision. Owls also have binaural hearing, which helps them tell the distance and location of almost any sound they hear, from mice scurrying in the snow to other birds’ wing flaps. Owls’ feathers are quite soft and are adapted for silent flight, so they can approach their prey without notice.

Owls have 14 vertebrae in their necks, which is twice the number that humans have. This unique anatomy helps owls to turn their heads 270 degrees. This is possible because their vertebrae have openings that are about 10 times larger than the arteries that carry blood in animals, so with all that space nothing gets trapped.

Throughout history and different cultures, owls have taken on certain symbolism, which we will explore in another article.

Where do owls live?

Different species of owls live in different habitats. Some owls live in wooded areas, rainforests, tundras, grassy plains and deserts. Owls do not make their own nests, choosing to live in trees, hollowed-out logs, a hole in the ground, barns, cacti, or even the abandoned nests of other birds.

Not all owls live in treetops either; some make their homes in bushes, shrubs and tree trunks. The burrowing owl, for example, lives underground in holes dug by other animals. Meanwhile, the barn owl is often found living in barns on several continents.

Most owls stay in their regions, although some are forced to fly between colder and warmer climates to look for food; this is called irruption, rather than migration. When food grows scarce they look for new territories where hunting conditions are better. Their ability to find new nesting and hunting grounds can be challenged by forces too large for owls to handle, such as when human habitat encroaches on their territory; this can cause a decline in some owl populations.

What do owls eat?

Owls are considered birds of prey – also called raptors – which means they actively hunt other animals for food. They typically eat small mammals, small birds, fish, and insects. That said, Niki Owl prefers sushi rolls and cookies.

Though mostly solitary, owls will mate for life with a partner. Most species of owls are monogamous, which means that the male and female owl that choose to be together will not look to be with any other mate. Some owls may change their partner each breeding season, but the general rule within the bird species is that monogamous long-term relationships work better.

How are owls born?

Eggs are usually laid one to four days apart. The female owl sits on the eggs to keep them warm (this is called incubation). During the incubation period, the female loses the feathers on her belly in order to transfer more of her body heat to the eggs. She lies on the nest in the incubation position, with her head low and stomach down, keeping the eggs warm all the time.

Depending on the species, baby owls – called owlets or nestlings – hatch 3 to 5 weeks after the eggs are laid. Since the eggs are laid on different days, the female owl will generally begin incubating the first egg, and the other eggs will hatch in the order they were laid. The first owlets to hatch can be one to two weeks older than the last ones to hatch.

Some owls have been known to live up to 25 years, although their average lifespan is lower. In general, larger species of owls live longer than the smaller species.

Taking care of owls:

You can adopt an owl or support different organisations that care for owls in different regions of the world.

North American Continent (Alaska, Canada, US):
Nature Conservancy Canada
Owl Research Institute
Wild Bird Research
Alaska Wildlife

The Owls Trust
Owl Help
Wildlife Aid
Wildlife Trusts

SEO Birdlife

If you know of any other organisation, please email it to us so we can include it in our list.

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