The Owl - cute and cuddly - or not ....?

By Karin Bolcshazy

It is estimated that there are about 250 species of owls in the world.

The world's largest owl is the Blakiston Fish Owl weighing between 6 -9 pounds with a wingspan of 6.5 feet found only in Russia, China, and Hokkaido, Japan. In North America, the largest owl is the Great Horned Owl with a heavy built and a barrel-shaped body, large head, and broad wings with a span of three to five feet and weighing on average 3.5 lb. for females and 2.7 lb. for males. Their feet are the size of dinner plates with extended talons that have a bone crushing pressure of 30 pounds. The smallest is the aptly named Elf Owl with a mean body weight of 1.4 oz These tiny owls are 4.9" to 5.7" long and have a wingspan of 10.5" - the size of a sparrow.

The beautiful Snowy Owl, also known as the Arctic Owl and Great White Owl, is often the image we think of. It weighs from 3.5 – 6.5 pounds and has a wingspan of over four feet. The most famous Snowy Owl is Hedwig; the letter carrier and companion of the fictional wizard Harry Potter.

Some facts about owls:
Many owl species have asymmetrical ears. When located at different heights on the owl's head, their ears are able to pinpoint the location of sounds in multiple dimensions. The eyes of an owl are not true "eyeballs." Their tube-shaped eyes are completely immobile, providing binocular vision which fully focuses on their prey and boosts depth perception. Owls can rotate their necks 270 degrees. A blood-pooling system collects blood to power their brains and eyes when neck movement cuts off circulation. A group of owls is called a parliament. This originates from C.S. Lewis' description of a meeting of owls in The Chronicles of Narnia. Owls hunt other owls. Great Horned Owls are the top predator of the smaller Barred Owl. In fact, owls are insanely good hunters. Barn Owls swallow their prey whole—skin, bones, and all—and they eat up to 1,000 mice each year. Northern Saw-whet Owls can travel long distances over large bodies of water. One showed up 70 miles from shore near Montauk, New York. Not all owls hoot! Barn Owls make hissing sounds, the Eastern Screech-Owl whinnies like a horse, and Saw-whet Owls sound like, well, an old whetstone sharpening a saw. Hence the name. Owls are zygodactyl, which means their feet have two forward-facing toes and two backward-facing toes. Unlike most other zygodactyl birds, however, owls can pivot one of their back toes forward to help them grip and walk.

Cute and Cuddly – not so much.   Fascinating – definitely.

Chesapeake Bay Program
Pittsburgh Zoo and Aquarium
National Audubon Society