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A Short Description of Owls

The biodiversity of the earth is full of different kinds of flora and fauna. Fauna includes all types of animals as well as birds along with every other type of life form such as reptiles, amphibians, insects, etc. Birds are interesting creatures of the earth with a lot of species. They are the only warm-blooded animals with the exceptional ability of flying. 

Owls are one special category in the bird family. It is famous as a nocturnal bird that hunts during the night. However, some species have been observed to deviate from this general characteristic of the Owls. More than 200 species of Owl have been already identified. They are also exceptionally habitable, found in polar ice caps and lesser-known islands. Another interesting feature of the Owls is their dimorphic behavior. Their favorite diet includes small mammals and rodents which helps the farmers effective protection of their agricultural field. Owls also include fish in their diet and fish hunting is quite a view to observe. They are also known for their peculiar ability to rotate their heads up to 270 degrees. This unique ability is due to the presence of 14 numbers of neck vertebrates. The blood circulatory system is also arranged accordingly. Also, different species of Owls produce different kinds of sounds that help birders in their easy identification. They are mostly lone flyers but also rarely seen in groups that are known as "parliament".

A general pattern seen among Owls is the higher size of the female Owls with more strength. They tend to be more powerful while capturing and killing prey. The reproduction period of owls is limited to a particular time of the year known as the breeding season. Three to four eggs are laid in each breeding season.

Owls also have obtained a special position in the cultural heritage of various religions. In some cultures, Owls are condemned too.

More About Owls

Owls are birds that belong to the order of Strigiformes that are known worldwide for their nocturnal and solitary habits. There are over 200 species of owls that are present in this order. This means that there are 200 different types of owls that are spread worldwide. The typical owl characteristics include an upright stance, a large and broad head, binocular vision, binaural hearing, and feather adapted for their silent flight. 

The owl classification can be further divided from the Strigiformes order into two families: (i) Strigidae - The true or typical owl family and, (ii) Tytonidae - The barn owl family. All the different types of owls belong to these families. One characteristic difference between the two families is that although the true owl family has variation in almost every anatomical feature, the barn owl family mostly have heart-shaped faces.

Even though most owls are nocturnal in nature there are two exceptions to the case. They are the northern hawk owl which is a day-time owl and the gregarious burrowing owl which is dusk until dawn type owl.

Owls are spread all over the world and are so common that they have become part of human culture across all the different continents except antarctica. They have a place either good or bad in every culture that currently exists in the world. And even though they usually have less contact with the humans along with being common they are also unique in that sense. The owl Hedwig in the Harry Potter stories and Bilbo Baggins’s distress call in The Hobbit are a very recent and prime example of owl symbolism and cultural integration.

Anatomy of Different Types of Owl 

The general characteristics of all types of owl include large forward-facing eyes and ear-holes, a hawk-like curved beak and a flat face. They also have a facial disc around each eye. The feathers in these discs facilitate the focusing of the sound from varying distances onto the ear cavities that are asymmetrically placed. This asymmetry has been a part of the natural selection process as it helps the owls to hear better and locate the source of the sound in order to hunt a prey, to understand about the surroundings for territorial defense and to hear a mating call during the breeding season especially during the night time. Not only the hearing but also the in-depth vision of the owl is also quite well developed. The eyes of the owl are larger than their skull and are fixed into a socket in the front. This binocular vision helps them to locate prey even in the darkness of the night. But since the eyes are fixed in sockets they cannot have all-around access. For this reason, the owl has a special evolved 14 neck vertebrate system and adapted circulatory system that allows an owl to rotate its head up to 2700. This not only helps an owl to see better but also to locate the sound source as well. So, when it completely rotates the head and fixates on a particular sound (when both the ears receive the same amplitude of frequency of sound) then it can have the best vision and location of the prey.

Apart from the eyes and the ears another one of the specialised owl characteristics is that of the silent flight. One of the interesting owl features is that an owl can fly and the specially adapted wings reduce the frequency of the sound of its flight above 2 kHz, so much so that the flight sound is even lower than its own capacity of hearing. They cannot only fly silently but also slower than many other prey birds. This quality is assisted by the serrated edges or jagged edges along the owl’s flight feathers that bring down the noise of the flapping to nearly silent mechanism. The velvety structures on the surface of the flight feathers of an owl not only reduce the noise of the flapping feathers but also reduce the aerodynamic disturbances. The only drawback is that the wings are not waterproof and hence the owl cannot fly when having dropped into a water body. Another owl characteristics behavior is the camouflage capability. In that too the feathers provide an advantage to sit still and blend into the environment. 

Talons and beak of the owl species are also specialised. An owl kills its prey using talons that are enormous when compared to its body by crushing the skull and kneading the body of the prey. Due to these talons, an owl can engage a prey of its own body size. The claws of the owl are sharped and carved aiding it in the killing. The beak helps the owl to tear up the tissues and open up the prey. The curved beak has the intended purpose of not providing any hindrance to the vision and also avoid reflecting the sound waves from the face. 

Owl Characteristics Behavior

A well-known information about owl is that it is nocturnal and actively hunts in the night. There are exceptions to this as given above. Another example is the pygmy owl (owl scientific name - Glaucidium) which hunts during dusk and dawn time. The short-eared owl (owl scientific name - Asio flammeus) is an owl along with the northern hawk owl is a day-time that hunts and stays awake during the day. The peculiar owl characteristics aided by the anatomical owl features make them one of the most habitable species on Earth. As mentioned above the more than 200 owl species are present in diverse ecosystems around the world with the exceptions of polar ice caps and few islands. Also, the diets of different types of owls include small mammals, insects and other birds. This is why the owls are used for rodent population control as well. Certains species also specialise in hunting fish. An interesting fact about owl is that a group of owls is known as “parliament”.

Continuation of the Owl Species

Owls are sexually dimorphic i.e. the male and female of the species have different features apart from just different sex organs. The degree of sexual dimorphism amongst these 200 species of owls varies significantly. One common characteristic although in all the owl species is that the females are slightly larger than the males. The exact explanation for this is yet not clear and there are numerous theories regarding it. Most of the theories point that the males have smaller males have been naturally selected due to the reasons of agility which helps them not only in hunting prey and scavenging food but also for saving their own lives in case of danger. On the other hand, the females have more crushing strength than the males for crushing the skull of the prey. But during the breeding seasons, the males usually go out to hunt for the food as compared to females where their agility has a role to play. 

The eggs of the owl are typically white in colour and are spherical in shape. On average three or four eggs are laid during a breeding season by a pair. One interesting owl information regarding reproduction is that in the case of some species of owls the females do not mate with the same male for a lifetime. Female burrowing owls generally travel around to find other mates, while the male stays in his territory and mates with other females.

Owl Symbolism and Mythology

Owls have been so prominent in their existence that they have become a unique part of the cultural heritage across diverse cultures in the world. There are a lot of fun facts about owls that exist because of their distinctive characteristics in human folklore. Owl symbolism is associated with both good and evil in mythological stories. In African cultures, owls are considered to bring death, ill-health, and bad luck. Amongst Kikuyu of Kenya, it is believed that if someone saw an owl or heard its hoot, someone was going to die. Even in Native American cultures, owls are considered to be bearers of supernatural danger. One of the fun facts about owls that stems from this is the warning to misbehaving children that “the owls will get you.”

In native North American cultures of Aztecs, Uto-Aztecs, tribe of Hočągara, the Maya, owls are surrounded by the associations with sorcery, spirits of the dead, no-luck, etc. In Apache and Seminole tribes the hooting of owls is associated with boogeyman stories which were used to keep children indoors at night. 

But this does not mean that owl symbolism is only connected to the negative aspects. In Asiatic and many other cultures owl symbolism is connected to the benign, positive and good omens. One prevalent story about Gengis Khan being saved from enemies because of the hooting of an owl has made owls a benign omen. In Japan, owls are considered lucky and are carried in the form of a charm or a talisman. In Hinduism, an owl is the vehicle of Goddess Lakshmi. The modern west considers owls as a representation of wisdom and vigilance. This idea of owls being wisdom bearers goes back to ancient Greek, where Athena, the Greek Goddess of wisdom was represented by the symbol of an owl. 

In Ojibwe tribes and their aboriginal counterparts believed owls as a symbol of the high status of spirituality along with the consideration of harbingers of death. The Pawnee tribes considered owls to provide protection from any danger in their realms. The Yakama tribes use owls as a powerful totem often to guide through the forest and locate resources and in management of resources. 

All of this owl information goes on to show the close relationship between human culture and owl symbolism.

Conservation of the Owl Species

The international CITES treaty - Conservation on Illegal Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora has listed the owl species in Appendix II (Appendix II: This list includes a list of species that will come under threat of extinction if the trading and markets of these species is not stopped). Usually, there is less interaction between owls and humans owing to their different active schedules. But even then owls have long been hunted by humans and recently the poaching of owls seems to be on the rise. TRAFFIC (The Wildlife Trade Monitoring Network) published reports in November 2008 of the seizure of 900 “oven-ready” owls in Malaysia. The Department of Wildlife and National Parks in Malaysia raided this huge haul of owls which highlighted the start of a new trend in the wild meat in the region. In this raid, the seizure included dead and plucked barn owls, spotted wood owls, amongst other endangered creatures. 

Fun Facts About Owls:

Following are some of the fun facts about owls:

As mentioned above, the eyes of the owls are fixed in the front. Exploring this further, the eyes are not true eyeballs. Their eyes extend into fixed tubular structures which are different from the usual prey birds of the group Strigiformes.

Owls can completely swallow their prey. They then expel the indigestible parts of the prey such as bones, scales and fur in the form of pellets. Barn owls eat up to 1000 mice in a year. Hence, they are also used for rodent population control on the farm.

Not all owls hoot. Different species of owls produce different sounds helping them in finding mates or announce their territorial presence to potential competitors. Barn owls make hissing noises to scare off predators. The eastern screech-owl whinnies like a horse, and a saw-whet owl sounds like an old whetstone sharpening a saw.

Conclusion About Owls

After having gone through this article, it is safe to say that as much as owls are widespread and common they are unique too. Humans and owls have existed for thousands of years so much so that owls play significant roles in human civilization. From their unique features and evolutionarily adapted characteristics to their conservation, the article covers subsequent owl information.

FAQs on Owl

1. Why Owls are known as nocturnal birds?

The unique dietary habits of owls have developed the Owls as the birds of the nighttime. As they prefer small mammals such as rats, frogs and as such which are found in the night time so Owls are more seen during the night time rather than during the day time. With the years of evolution, they also have developed special features which assist them while hunting in the dark. They also prefer to come out at night to avoid any potential danger of getting hunted by any higher predator.

2. What is Ornithology?

Ornithology is the study of birds and their different aspects in relation to the environment they live in. It is essentially a branch of Zoology that is gaining interest by day by day. This word also sometimes refers to the aesthetic appeal of having birds in nature. The study of nature and the habitat of various birds are also an inseparable part of the course of ornithology. With the increasing pollution and habitat degradation, my environment enthusiasts and ornithologists are coming forward for the cause of birds and other animals.

3. Do Owls have the ability to camouflage?

Owls are known more for their steadiness and get blended into their background environment which is quite invisible most of the time. They are also rarely seen to change their body color according to the patterns existing in their surroundings. The best example is the Snowy owl found in the snowfall regions. There are also some Owls identified in the deciduous forest regions of the world that perfectly mimic the look of their habitat. Only their bright eyes tend to be easily distinguished in most cases.

4. Are Owls aggressive in nature and attack human beings?

Owls are infamous for their attacking nature contrary to the fact that they tend to stay away from the human settlement areas. There are also some instances of human beings getting attacked by owls. Being a predator, Owls can be fiercely dangerous with their sharp claws and strong beak. On the other hand, some people have successfully made their pets and enjoy the calm and quiet nature of these nocturnal birds. It is always better to respect the space for every animal out there provided to them by nature.

5. Is it possible to know all about the Owls over the internet?

Owls are a very interesting bird to know and learn about. There are a number of records and studies dedicated to understanding the characteristics of owls. Anybody can easily find these articles on the internet. Previously encyclopedias and catalog books on birds were very good sources of knowledge. The website of Vedantu’s online classes also has several pages describing the features of the bird including Owls. If you want a more detailed study on these beautiful birds then the internet is the best source for this.

6. Why are Owls So Important?

Owls are predatory birds for rodents. They are nocturnal in habits i.e. they are active during the night. Owls generally feed on small mammals, insects and other birds. of these small mammals rodents and rabbits also form part of their dietary habits. Hence, farmers use owls to control the spread of damage to the crops by rodents. A nest box of owls on a property helps to keep the rodent population in check.

7. Do Owls Come Out During the Day?

Most of the species of owls are nocturnal in their habit. This means that most of the species of owls are active during the night time. But there are a few exceptions which can be active during the day. The northern hawk-owl is a day-time owl that is active during the day. But then they are not active during the night. There are some owls such as burrowing owls that are active during the dusk and the dawn.

8. Is an Owl Bad Luck?

Owl symbolism is very popular and common in different human civilisations. In African and native North American cultures and ancient civilizations, owls are associated with sorcery, bad luck, and bad omens. They are considered to be harbingers of ill-health and bad luck in these cultures. But in Asiatic and European cultures owls are associated with wisdom and vigilance. They are considered as the vehicle of Goddess Lakshmi in Hinduism and representation of Athena, the Greek goddess of wisdom. Thus, owl symbolism doesn't have anything to do with the actual species of owls. It is their silent flight, and nocturnal habits that provide the basis for different meanings and interpretations in different cultures.