Birds of Wonder: Weird Owl Facts
Even though we specialize in one particular piece of owl matter, we know there's much more to owls than just their pellets. Owls are fascinating, mysterious and downright weird creatures that are the subjects of a trove of legend and lore, some of which we've touched on before.
However, truth is often stranger than fiction and while we've talked specifically about the things that make barn owls unique, we'd love to share some characteristics of owls in general that go toward keeping us constantly enthralled by these unique birds.
Strange Owl Facts
Heads on a swivel: Falling into the dual category of owl myths and facts is the widely held notion that owls can spin their heads 360 degrees. We grew up accepting that as fact and imagine our surprise when we found out it's technically not true. That said, owls can turn their heads 135 degrees in either direction, giving them 270 degrees of total range of movement. They're able to do so thanks to the magic of evolution, which has seen their blood vessels, bones and vascular network adapt so that they can keep their heads on a constant swivel without cutting off the flow of blood to the brain.
It's an owl-eat-owl world: Unlike many species that don't really feast on their own kind, owls can be a bit ruthless when it comes to scoring a tasty dinner. What we're trying to say is that owls are pure predators that will eat other owls. At the top of the owl food chain are great horned owls, which will sometimes attack and feast on barred owls when the opportunity strikes and hunger is high. But before you start feeling sorry for barred owls, they've been known to seek out screech owls as a tasty snack. Some even think that owl-on-owl hunting could be a cause for the sharp decline among western screech owls. In a similar survival-of-the-fittest vein, owl parents always feed their oldest, strongest offspring first, ensuring their survival. However, if food grows scarce, the youngest, weakest owlets will starve. Game of Thrones has nothing on the owl kingdom.
The tubes have it: Among the many strange owl facts we've learned over the years is that owl eyeballs aren't eyeballs at all. Your eyes do not deceive you—yes, those things peering out of an owl's head are indeed eyes. But while other animals (including humans, of course) have standard-issue spherical eyeballs, owls' eyes are actually tubes that extend back into their skulls. This means they can't rotate their eyes in the sockets like we can, which explains why they need to be able to swivel their heads to such a great extent. As with so many other weird owl facts, evolution is responsible for their tubular eye shape. They've adapted to have superior night vision as well as being able to spot small prey from long distances.
Life imitates art: As mentioned above, owl myths and facts are a rich source of lore. Owls show up often in stories, poems, songs—even commercials. They've occupied that special place throughout history and likely will long into the future. But occasionally the lore and legends concerning owls jump right off the page and make their way into the natural world. In the Chronicles of Narnia, C.S. Lewis wrote about a group of talking owls that would meet at night (because owls are primarily nocturnal) to discuss the state of affairs in Narnia. In The Silver Chair, one of the chapters is even titled "A Parliament of Owls." It's unclear whether Lewis originated that term to describe a gathering of owls, but his hugely popular book series certainly popularized it, so much so that the accepted term to describe a grouping of the birds is now a parliament of owls. That's indeed a weird owl fact, as is the fact that the less-commonly used terms for owl groups is a congress of owls or—our favorite—a stare.
This barely scratches the surface of all the weird owl facts that exist about these magnificent birds. We haven't even touched on such strange owl facts having to do with their toes (zygodactyl), or that the tiniest owl only weighs in at about 1.5 ounces or that some of them live in the ground instead of in trees. When it comes to owl myths and facts, the subject is as endless as it is interesting.