Owls (of the Strigiformes order) have the ability to fly silently because of their wide wings, lightweight bodies and uniquely soft feathers, giving them an advantage when hunting. They mainly eat rodents or other small mammals, which owls can often swallow whole. Most of these types of raptors are nocturnal, so they mainly hunt and are active at night, and are able to do so because of their exceptional vision and hearing. There are two different ways that owls participate in hunting. The first being perch hunting where the owl sits on a perch and waits until something comes along that it can then swoop down and get. The other is flight hunting, when the owl flies along the ground until it finds something to eat. The bird’s wing size determines whether or not the owl is a perch hunter or flight hunter: Perch hunters have short wings and flight hunters have long ones.
Mating season, for owls, occurs at the same time that food is most available. To attract one another, owls sing, like many other birds. But once they find each other, owls mate for life. All female owls lay white eggs, and in general, the larger species lay fewer eggs, while smaller ones lay more. Once the eggs hatch, chicks need constant incubation until they are old enough to control their own body temperature. So, for several weeks, all the food is provided by the male. By the following winter, however, most young owls are completely independent.
Owls have binocular vision and are far-sighted, so they have trouble seeing things up close. And although they cannot move their eyes side to side (or around in their sockets), owls can turn their head three-fourths of the way around without moving their bodies.
Fun Owl Facts
- There are 19 species of owls in North America, but over 150 species worldwide.
- The tufts of feathers on top of certain species of owl’s heads are for display only.
- Owls have feet with two toes facing forward and two toes facing backward.
- Female owls are heavier than male ones.
- Owls have three eyelids — one for when they blink, one for when they sleep, and one that cleans the eye.
- Not all owls are nocturnal, such as the Snowy Owl.
The Raptor Trust
World Owl Trust