Thursday, February 7, 2013

Who Cooks For You: Owl Facts and Trivia

One of the most familiar sounds of the night in the northwoods of Wisconsin, is the Barred Owl. There are 205 species of owls divided into two basic groups: barn owls and true owls. Barn owls have a heart-shaped face, long legs and powerful talons; 16 species make up the class of Barn Owls. There are 190 species of true owls which are characterized by a round facial disc, a short tail and large head. Eleven of these species can be found in Wisconsin including Eastern Screech Owl, Great Horned Owl, Snowy Owl, Northern Hawk Owl, Burrowing Owl, Barred Owl, Great Grey Owl, Long-eared Owl, Short-eared Owl, Boreal and Northern Saw-whet Owl. Barn Owls also call Wisconsin home.

Here are a few interesting fact about owls

Most owls hunt at night to avoid competition with daytime hunters such as hawks and eagles. While this is the norm for most owls, some species such as Burrowing Owls and Short-eared Owls hunt during the day.

An owls' diet consists of small mammals such as mice, voles and rabbits as well as insects and reptiles. Like all birds, owls do not have teeth and don't chew their food. Instead, they swallow their food whole.

Owls have forward-facing eyes and, for the most part, are unable to move their eyes within their sockets so they must turn their entire head to look in different directions.

Many species of owls have special flight feathers that allow them to minimize the sound of flapping their wings.

The feathers on the heads of the Long-eared and Short-eared Owls and the 'horns' of the Great Horned Owl are only for display. These feathers are referred to as 'ear tufts.' An owls' ears are found on the facial disc, concealed by feathers, behind the owls eyes. Their hunting success depends on the owls ability to locate and capture prey using their acute sense of hearing. In some species, such as the Snowy Owl, their ears are unevenly placed on either side of the facial disc which enhances their ability to pinpoint the location of the sound. The asymmetrically placement of their ears allows them to determine the minute different in the that the sound of prey under the snow reaches each ear!

Very few owl species actually build nests; instead, they often take over abandoned nests of other birds. Owl species that breed in open terrain are ground nesters. Snowy Owls will use a hollow in the ground which the female may scrape out and line with plant material. Short-eared Owls often nest in or beside tussocks of grass. Holes in trees are another preferred site for a wide variety of Owls as are abandoned nest of crows and birds of prey. The Barn Owl have adopted man-made equivalent of holes in trees, specifically holes in barns and other outbuildings.

Did you know that owls do more than just hoot? They all have a wide variety of screeches, hisses and screens. Many also communicate through "wing claps." 

Like most owls, the Barred Owls loud, low-pitched vocalizations allows their cries to travel through the night air, allowing them to locate mates and declare their territory.

Owls have long been symbols of misfortune, death, prosperity, wisdom and death.