Owl

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.

Owl Scientific Classification

Animalia
Chordata
Aves
Strigiformes
Tytonidae, Strigidae, and extinct ones like Ogygoptyngidae, Protostrigidae, Sophiornithidae, Palaeoglaucidae

Table Of Content

Scientific Classification

Owl

Animalia
Chordata
Aves
Strigiformes
Tytonidae, Strigidae, and extinct ones like Ogygoptyngidae, Protostrigidae, Sophiornithidae, Palaeoglaucidae

Types of Owls

List of Common Types of Owl Species

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:

  • Long-Eared Owl
  • Barn Owl
  • Spectacled Owl
  • Oriental Bay Owl
  • Eastern Screech Owl
  • Snowy Owl
  • Eurasian Eagle Owl
  • Tawny Owl           
  • Great Gray Owl
  • Great Horned Owl           
  • Northern Pygmy-Owl
  • Burrowing Owl
  • Northern Saw-Whet Owl
  • Striped Owl
  • Tawny Fish Owl
  • Western Screech Owl
  • Spotted Wood Owl
  • Collared Scops-Owl
  • Elf Owl
  • Northern Hawk Owl
  • Barred Owl
  • Short-Eared Owl
  • Spectacled Owl
  • Eurasian Pygmy Owl
  • Whiskered Screech Owl
  • Flammulated Owl
  • African Grass-Owl
  • Ashy-Faced Owl
  • Australian Masked-Owl
  • Eastern Grass-Owl
  • Greater Sooty Owl           
  • Lesser Sooty Owl
  • Sulawesi Masked Owl
  • Seram Masked Owl
  • Sri Lanka Bay Owl
  • Andaman Scops Owl
  • Andaman Hawk-Owl
  • Amazonian Pygmy-Owl
  • Black-Banded Owl
  • Buff-Fronted Owl
  • Cape Eagle-Owl
  • Cuban Pygmy-Owl
  • Dusky Eagle-Owl
  • Desert Tawny Owl
  • Fulvous Owl
  • Himalayan Owl
  • Indian Scops-Owl
  • Madagascar Scops-Owl
  • Marsh Owl
  • Mottled Owl
  • Omani Owl
  • Palau Owl
  • Powerful Owl
  • Rufous Owl
  • Ural Owl
  • White-Browed Owl
  • Little Owl

Owl

Physical Description and Appearance

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.

Owl Size

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.

Owl Feathers

Distribution

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.

Owl Bird

What kind of Habitats do Owls live in

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.

Owl Habitat

How long do they live

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.

Owl Feet

What do they eat

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.

Behavior

  • Owls are usually nocturnal hunters (a few exceptions are the burrowing owl and northern hawk-owl) that prey upon animals in darkness. Some owl species, like the pygmy owl, are crepuscular, meaning they are active at dawn and dusk.
  • They spend the daytime roosting and are not easily noticeable. Owls can roost individually, in pairs, or groups.
  • Before leaving their roost, the owls occasionally give a call (particularly in the breeding season).
  • They loosen or fluff up their plumage when relaxed but pull them in tightly when alert. Pygmy owls turn their tail up or flick it from one side to another when excited, and the little owls move their body up and down when alarmed.
  • When defending themselves or protecting their babies against danger, owls display a specialized ‘threat’ posture, in which their feathers are ruffled, with their wings spread out and head lowered, making them appear larger.
  • They have different types of vocalizations, varying from the hoots to screeches, whistles, screams, chitters, hisses, snorts, and purrs. Owls hoot as a territorial call as well as when they are courting.
Owl Claws

Adaptations

  • The feathers of an owl are larger in comparison to an average bird’s feathers. It means owls do not have to flap their wings much to float through the air, thereby bringing down the noise while flying.
  • Owls’ flight feathers also have serrated edges, which together with a velvet-like structure on their feathers’ surface help in absorbing the sound of wing movement. This feature helps them to fly silently and capture prey.
  • They have 14 neck bones that allow them to turn their head 270° in both directions. This ability helps them to swivel their head around and see behind without turning their torso.
  • Their frontally placed large eyes give owls binocular vision that helps them judge the distance of an object, its size, and the speed with which it is moving.
  • The asymmetrical ear positions on their skull allow them to locate their prey with high accuracy. It is especially true for nocturnal species like the barn owl and boreal owl.
  • Their powerful talons are used for crushing the skull and kneading the body of prey. Crushing power varies according to the size of the owl, as well as the size and type of prey.
  • The downward-facing, short, curved beak with a hooked tip is specialized for gripping the prey and tearing flesh. Owls use a scissor motion of their upper and lower bill to kill the victim.
  • Their feather color helps them to blend into the natural environment, making it invisible to their prey. The snowy owl’s bleach-white feathers serve for camouflage in their snowy habitat while the mottled wood-owl has shades of tan, brown, and black which help them hide in the surrounding trees.
Female Owl

Reproduction and Mating

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.

Owl Baby

What do the Baby Owls look like

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.

Conservation

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.

Owl-FAQs

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?

An owlet

5. How many species of owls are there?

There are over 225 existing owl species in the world today.

Interesting Facts

  • The largest female eagle owls have wings measuring 21 in (54 cm).
  • Owls regurgitate the indigestible parts (bones, fur, and scales) of their prey as pellets, which are usually dissected and studied by school students as a lesson in ecology and biology.
  • They have tube-shaped eyes that are completely immobile.
  • Owls have zygodactyl feet, meaning they have two forward-facing and two backward-facing toes helping them to grip and walk.
  • Parent owls feed the strongest and oldest owlet first, which means the youngest baby owl will starve if food is scarce.
  • Owls are nocturnal birds and are associated with mystery, magic, and knowledge. They are also connected to the moon, symbolizing feminine, fertility, and wisdom. In Greek mythology, owls represent the goddess of wisdom (Athena).
  • Owls and humans usually live together peacefully, but there have been occasional reports of owl attacks on humans. An eagle owl, measuring approximately 50 cm, attacked a Scotsman leaving him bleeding heavily and going into shock in January 2013.