- A-Z Animals
Owls are mostly nocturnal birds of prey that belong to the order Strigiformes, dwelling in tall trees and bushy areas. The various owl species can be distinguished by their large, broad head, upright posture, a flat face, large eyes and ears, hawk-like beak, sharp talons, and easily noticeable circle of feathers.
There are approximately 220 to 225 different species of owls in existence today, divided into two families, including True owls or Typical owls (Strigidae) and barn-owls (Tytonidae). Here are some of the different types of owl species that are commonly found:
Size: Owls vary in size from one species to another. The smallest elf owl, Tamaulipas pygmy owl, and long-whiskered owlet measure 5 in (13.5 cm) while the largest Blakiston’s fish owl and Eurasian eagle-owl are 28 in (71 cm) long.
Weight: Their weight varies between 1 oz (31 g) and 9.3 lb (4.2 kg).
Color: Their feathers can be brown, tan, gray, white, and Rufous.
Face: They have oval faces, quite apparent in great gray owls and barn owls.
Ears: These are located at the side of their heads and are not aligned symmetrically.
Feathers: They have two types of feathers, comprising the outer layer of protective contour feathers and an inner layer of insulating fluffy feathers.
Owls are found in all the continents, except for the Antarctic. Some owl species like the snowy owl occasionally wander southward during the winters. Areas, where the most number of owl species occur, include tropical Asia, Africa, and America, along with sub-Saharan Africa, the US, Canada, and Europe.
These birds are found in several different habitats, like forests, prairies, deserts, and the Arctic tundra. They live in trees, barns, caves, and are also found in holes in the ground.
The lifespan varies across different owl species. The barn owl lives for approximately four years while the life expectancy of the great-horned owl is about 13 years. In the wild, the spotted eagle-owl lives for nearly ten years, but in captivity, it can live up to 20 years. Some of the longer-lived owls can have a lifespan of more than 20 years.
Most owl species are top avian predators, and they hunt other animals like spiders, insects, snails, earthworms, crabs, reptiles, fish, birds, amphibians, and small mammals. Some species have food preferences. The scops and screech owls, for example, prefer eating insects, while the barn owls like feeding on voles, shrews, and mice. Larger species like the eagle owl preys upon ducks, game birds, hares, and young foxes. Owls are also opportunistic feeders, meaning they will hunt whatever prey they find in their area.
Most owl species, particularly those found in the sub-Arctic or temperate regions, breed during the spring. The upbringing of young owls or the period of their fledging usually coincides with the time when prey is abundant.
The male generally uses special courtship calls, flights, and food offerings to attract a female. They mate once the female accepts food from the male.
Owls are monogamous, with the pairs consisting of a male and a female and neither of them are involved with the other nesting birds. In some species, like those that are migratory, the pair remains together only during the breeding season. However, in sedentary species like the little owl, the couple stays together all through the year.
They lay between 1-12 eggs, but the number varies across species. In most species, the incubation period lasts for approximately 30 days, after which the eggs hatch every two to three days. The chicks are fed about ten times per day by the male, and they fledge (learn to fly) in about 5-10 weeks after hatching.
Baby owls have thin and weak wings, and their beak appears too big because of sparse feathers. Owl chicks hatch using an egg tooth, a hard protrusion on their beak, which drops off 1-2 weeks after hatching.
Measures have been taken to monitor the owl population and keep a check on illegal trade after a 2008 news report from Asia indicated that poaching of owls might be increasing. All owl species are included in Appendix II of the CITES treaty, and their trade is subject to strict regulations.
1. What is a group of owls called?
Owls are usually solitary, but when they flock together, the group is referred to as a ‘parliament’.
2. How long are the legs of owls?
The average foot span (measured from talon to talon) varies across different species. It is 20 cm in great horned owls, 8 cm in long-eared owls, 18 cm in great gray owls, and 13-15 cm in barn owls.
3. What predators may eat owls?
Eagles and larger types of owls may kill and eat smaller species of owls.
4. What is a baby owl called?
5. How many species of owls are there?
There are over 225 existing owl species in the world today.