Interesting And Fun Facts About Owls For Kids
There are some very interesting facts about owls. To help you and your child understand and appreciate these elusive and mysterious birds more, here are some fascinating owl facts and information.
By Arun Sharma
Shy, elusive, ominous and evil are a few of the numerous adjectives that come to mind when we think of the owl. This predominantly nocturnal and solitary bird features widely in folktales and stories across cultures — being used to describe an individual who is wise and sensible, and associated with both good and evil powers. Despite this, there are some very interesting facts about owls that we do not know. In fact, did you know that while most birds migrate to escape inconvenient weather conditions, the owl never leaves its natural habitat?
Speaking of its habitat, owls are found across the world, except in the icy continent of Antarctica. Their habitat stretches from the Arctic tundra across the grasslands of Africa, deserts of the Middle East and the forests of South Asia.
Read on for some more amazing facts about owls that will change your perspective about this bird which has a unique spooky appearance and mysterious habits.
Owl: Physical features
Owls of all the species have the same physical features, with minor variations. Since owls are birds of prey, or raptors, their physical characteristics have evolved over time to give them excellent hunting ability. Let’s look at the special physical features of owls which have given them the reputation of a fierce hunter:
Face: The owl’s face is flat and round like a disk. It is covered by feathers. The shape of the face, together with the feathers, helps pick up even the faintest sounds and channel them towards the owl’s ears. Also, the shape of the face and the owl’s eyebrows, or supercilium, play a big role in creating the impression of the owl being an intelligent/wise creature.
Eyes: Disproportionately large, the owl’s eyes are positioned such that they face forward. The position of the eyes gives the owl a binocular vision. The large size and the structure of the eyes also help the owl see extraordinarily well in the dark. The eyes have three eyelids to protect and keep them clean. However, the owl can’t move its eyes or roll them, as they are held in place by structures called sclerotic rings. So, the owl can only see straight ahead. To look sideways or in a different direction, the owl must turn its head.
Ears: Being a nocturnal hunter, apart from an excellent eyesight, the owl also has good hearing ability. In fact, the owl’s hearing ability is so developed that it can hear the sound of the slightest movement made by its prey and gauge the direction from which it is coming. The owl’s ears are located on the sides of its head, just behind the eyes. However, the ears are concealed by feathers. In some species of owls, one ear is set at a slightly higher level than the other.
Ear tufts: Quite a few owl species sport ear tufts. These look like horns but are, in fact, made up of feathers. Owls use these to display feelings of agitation, aggression, ownership and so on.
Beak (bill): Owls have a short beak that is curved downward. The lower and the upper bill taper towards the end to take the shape of a sharp hook. This helps the owl grip its prey and tear through the flesh. The shape of the beak also ensures that it does not interfere with the owl’s vision. When the weather is hot, owls cool their body down by panting through their beak.
Nose: The owl’s nostrils are located at the base of its beak. This region is called the cere. Studies have found that owls have a poor sense of smell.
Neck: Most of us can turn our head 90 degrees to the left or right from the centre. Trying to do more than that can damage the arteries which may cause a stroke. However, the owl can turn its neck 270 degrees in either direction without cutting off the blood supply to the brain. This is due to the structure of the arteries which supply blood to the owl’s brain. Also, the holes in the bones of the neck through which the arteries pass are much wider than the artery. So, when the owl twists its neck, the arteries do not get pinched.
Feet and talons: Since owls are birds of prey, like other raptors, their feet have four sharp and powerful claws designed to grab their prey. In all raptors, three claws face forward and one backward. But, an owl’s talons are a little different. It can rotate one of its talons to face backward. This ability helps the owl get a better grip on its prey, which may be struggling hard to break free. The skin on the underside of the owl’s feet are rough, which also helps in getting a firm grip on anything the owl holds in its feet.
Wings: Silence and stealth are a must for a predator to sneak up to its prey. The design of an owl’s wings is such that it can fly without making much noise. The primary feathers of an owl’s wings are serrated, while the secondary feathers are soft and jagged. Both these features help in muffling the sound and reducing turbulence during flight, thus allowing the owl to fly without alerting its prey. The colour and pattern of the feathers also allow the owl to blend in with its surroundings and remain invisible. But, although owls of the same species look similar, the markings on the feathers of each owl is different from the other.
Tail: Owls have a short tail, but it plays an important role in keeping the birds stable during flight, steering themselves in different directions and bringing themselves to a halt and land.
Owl: Species and facts
There are around 225 species of owls living throughout the world. While the smallest owl measures a mere 4.9 to 5.7 inches in length, the largest one measures 26 to 28 inches and has a wingspan of approximately 5 feet. Let’s read some interesting facts about a few species of owls, starting with those found in India.
Owl species found in India
More than 30 species of owls are found in India. From the forests of the Himalayas in the north to those of Kerala and the Andaman Islands in the south, owl habitats are found throughout India. Here is some interesting information about five species of owls.
Andaman masked owl (Tyto deroepstorffi)
- It is also known as the Andaman barn owl. This is a medium-sized barn owl inhabiting the southern part of the Andaman Islands.
- The length of this species varies between 30 and 36 cm and its wingspan measures 250 to 264 mm.
- The facial disk of this species is wine-red in colour while its belly is white with black spots over the breast. Its feathers are orange-brown and its eyes are black.
- Being a nocturnal bird, it rests during the day and becomes active at dusk. Its main diet consists of rodents.
Indian eagle owl (Bubo bengalensis)
- It is also called the Rock eagle owl or the Bengal eagle owl.
- The rock eagle owl is a large bird that is found throughout the Indian subcontinent.
- Its length measures between 50 and 56cm and its wingspan between 358 and 433mm. The females are slightly larger in size than the males.
- The colour of its feathers is a mixture of brown, black and white. The face has a blackish rim and brown ear tufts which stand out. The eyes are orange in colour.
- It hunts reptiles, frogs, birds and insects at night.
- This bird makes its nest both on trees as well as on the ground. It lays about 2–4 eggs which hatch after 35 days.
Brown fish owl (Ketupa zeylonensis)
- Although fish owls are large birds, the brown fish owl is a medium-sized bird.
- An adult owl measures between 48 and 58cm and has a wingspan ranging from 355 to 434mm. The females are larger and heavier than the males.
- Its feathers are rufous brown in colour with streaks of black or brown. The belly and chest are pale brown with dark brown streaks. The eyes are golden yellow colour it has horizontal ear tufts.
- This bird is semi-diurnal. While it usually becomes active a little before dusk, it can also be seen flying on cloudy days. It is usually found near wooded places, where it nests in the hollows of trees.
- Its prey includes small mammals, frogs, reptiles, insects, birds and fishes.
- It grabs fishes by gliding over water and extending its legs to catch one near the surface. It prefers to fish in stagnant water instead of flowing water.
Jungle owlet (Glaucidium radiatum)
- It is also called the barred jungle owlet. It is a small owl with a round head that can sometimes be confused with the collard owlet or the Asian barred owlet.
- Its length measures between 20 and 22cm and has a wingspan of 10 to 136mm. It weighs between 88 and 114g.
- The colour of its feathers is dark brown while its underparts are grey-brown. There are horizontal rufous bars all over.
- It is divided into two subspecies, one of which is found in the foothills of the Himalayas and the other in south-western peninsular India.
- They live in small groups and are most active at dusk and before sunrise. However, they are also active during the day in cloudy weather. They hunt insects, lizards, rodents and small birds.
Indian Scops owl (Otus bakkamoena)
- This medium-sized owl also goes by the name collared scops owl.
- It measures between 20 and 22cm in length, has a wingspan between 143 and 185mm and weighs 125 to 150g.
- There are four subspecies of the Indian scops owl which are found in Pakistan, peninsular India and West Bengal and in Sri Lanka.
- It has a thin border around the facial disk and the feathers are grey to brown in colour. The eyes of this owl species are dark and it has ear tufts. It produces a frog-like sound.
- This bird is completely nocturnal. So, it is rarely seen during the daytime. It preys on insects, lizards, birds and small rodents.
Owl species found in Africa
Itombwe owl (Tyto prigoginei)
- It is also called the African Bay owl and the Congo Bay owl. This small owl is now listed in the rare and endangered category.
- Its size varies between 23 and 29 cm in length and weighs approximately 195g.
- This is a small bay owl found in the Itombwe Mountains of Congo. The species is also found in Rwanda and Burundi.
- Unlike owls of most species which have round facial disks, this owl has a ‘U-shaped’ face.
- The feathers of this bird are chestnut brown while its belly and chest are reddish cream. It lacks ear tufts.
- It lives in grasslands, mountains and bamboo forests.
- Not much is known about the habits of this owl, but it is thought to rest during the day and become active after sunset.
Northern white-faced owl (Ptilopsis leucotis)
- The other common names of this owl are the white-faced owl and northern white-faced scops owl.
- This is a small owl which measures between 24 and 25cm in length and has a wingspan from 170 to 209mm. It weighs around 200g.
- It has a white facial disk which is surrounded by a broad black rim. The chest and belly are covered in grey-brown feathers which have dark streaks. This owl also has ear tufts which are black at their tips. The colour of its eyes varies from deep yellow to orange.
- This owl inhabits areas which are dry and have sparse vegetation. It is also found in areas with semi-desert-like conditions.
- It feeds on small rodents, insects, reptiles and scorpions. To hunt, it scoops down on its prey.
- The female bird lays between 1 and 4 eggs which hatch after approximately 30 days of incubation.
Pel's fishing owl (Bubo peli)
- This species is named after the Dutch governor of Gold Coast, Hendrik Severinus Pel. It inhabits several countries of the African continent.
- It is a large owl which measures between 51 and 61cm long and has a wingspan measuring 423 to 445mm. This large bird weighs between 2,055 and 2,325g.
- This owl has no prominent facial disk. Its feathers are pale rufous and barred. The feathers around the neck are long and loose, which gives it a dishevelled appearance. The eyes are of dark brown colour.
- The sound it makes can be heard up to 3km away.
- This owl is nocturnal and is very active on nights when the moon is shining brightly. Its prey includes frogs and fishes caught from lakes and rivers. It preys on small fishes but being a large bird, it is also capable of catching fishes weighing up to 2kg.
- It lays 1 to 2 eggs when the weather is dry and where the water is shallow, so it can catch fish easily. The owlets hatch after 32 days of incubation.
Pearl-spotted owlet (Glaucidium perlatum)
- This is one of the smaller owls which has three subspecies that inhabit various countries of the African continent. It prefers to inhabit the savannah and the woodlands.
- Its size ranges from 17 to 20cm in length, has a wingspan of 100 to 118mm and weighs 61 to 147g.
- The facial disk is not prominent. However, the eyebrows are white and noticeable. The feathers are dark brown in colour with light rufous bars. There are pearl-like white spots on its feathers above its shoulders. These spots are the reason behind its name.
- There are two black spots behind the head surrounded by a white rim which appears like eyes. These are called false or mock eyes.
- It hunts during both the day and the night, and preys on insects, birds, rodents, bats and reptiles. It also eats fruits from trees.
- This owl lays 2–4 eggs every year and the incubation period is 29 days. Young ones of this owl become capable of leaving the nest when they are just 31 days old!
Long-eared owl (Asio otus)
- This is a medium-sized owl which also goes by the name northern long-eared owl. There are four subspecies of this owl.
- The length of this owl varies from 35 to 40cm and its wingspan measures between 252 and 319mm. It weighs between 210 and 430g. The females of this species are heavier than the males.
- It has a round facial disk with prominent ear tufts and short white eyebrows. The feathers of this owl are brown-grey with vertical streaks. The colour of the eyes varies from orange to yellow.
- Being a nocturnal bird, it hunts only at night over open areas. Its prey includes mammals like deer mice, kangaroo rats, squirrels and rabbits. The long-eared owl also hunts birds, insects, rodents and reptiles.
- This owl lives with its mate during the breeding season and becomes territorial. Females lay between 5 and 6 eggs that hatch after 26 to 28 days.
- This owl has a long lifespan. It can live from 10 to 27 years.
Owl species found in Australia
Barking owl (Ninox connivens)
- This is a medium-sized owl whose call resembles the loud bark of a dog, hence the name. It is also known as the winking owl.
- There are four subspecies of this owl inhabiting the different regions of Australia in the north, east and west.
- It measures between 35 and 45cm in length and has a wingspan of 244 to 325mm. The weight of this species varies between 425 and 510g. The male of this species is bigger than the female.
- This owl has greyish-brown feathers with white spots. There are streaks of white in the belly and chest.
- The barking owl is an aggressive hunter and preys on birds, ducks, bats, rabbits, rats and insects. It becomes active after sunset and likes to bathe in the morning.
- This species of owl prefers to live in pairs. During the breeding season, the female lays 1 to 3 eggs which hatch after 36 days.
Powerful owl (Ninox strenua)
- As the name suggests, this is a large owl found in south-eastern Australia. In fact, it is the largest of all owls found in that continent.
- The length of the powerful owl measures between 45 and 65cm and the wingspan between 381 and 427mm. Its weight varies from 1050 to 1700g. But, compared to its body size, the head of this owl is small.
- The feathers are grey to grey-brown in colour with white bars. On its white chest and belly, there are broad V-shaped lines (chevrons). The eyes are yellow in colour.
- This owl is a nocturnal bird. It hunts tree-dwelling mammals, rodents and birds. A peculiar habit of the powerful owl is that it eats a large prey the night after capture.
- The powerful owl lives with its mate and together they defend their territory. It lays 2 eggs in a season from which the owlets come out after 38 days. The young ones leave their parents’ territory after they are a year old.
Owl species found in America
Western screech owl (Megascops kennicottii)
- This is a small owl that is also called Kennicott’s owl. It is usually found in north and central America. The species name Kennicottii was given to honour the American explorer Robert Kennicott.
- An adult owl measures between 22 and 24cm, has a wingspan of 142 to 190mm and weighs 90 to 250g. The female is larger than the male.
- The colour of its feathers varies from grey to brown with black streaks across its chest and belly. The colour of the underpart is lighter. It has short but prominent ear tufts.
- This owl becomes active sometime after sunset. It hunts rodents, mice, insects and birds usually in open woodlands and fields, and wetlands. It sits and waits for its prey, and swoops down to catch them.
- Owls of this species are aggressive and attack those, including humans, who try to go near their nests.
- This owl lays up to 4 eggs every breeding season from which the owlets hatch after 30 days of incubation. The lifespan of this owl is between 8 and 19 years.
Spectacled owl (Pulsatrix perspicillata)
- This is a medium-sized owl found in the tropical forests of America.
- An adult spectacled owl measures 43 to 52cm in length and has a wingspan of 305 to 360mm. It weighs between 453 and 906g.
- This owl has a round head and its face is brown. Its feathers are dark brown and the belly and the chest are off-white or pale yellow. It has a white streak around its throat. It also has white eyebrows and a streak of white between the eyes and on its cheeks. This gives the appearance of a spectacle, hence the name spectacled owl.
- The spectacled owl prefers to live near water in dense tropical rainforests and woodlands. Its habitat extends from southern Mexico to Argentina.
- This is a nocturnal bird and becomes active only after sunset. It hunts rodents, insects, birds, bats, crabs, frogs and caterpillars for food. Sitting on a high branch, it scans its surroundings for prey. And once it finds it, it swoops on the prey and snatches it.
- It lays 2 eggs in every breeding season from which the owlets hatch after 36 days. The lifespan of the spectacled owl is up to 35 years.
Since the owl is a reclusive bird, not many of us know how it helps us and nature. It keeps the population of rodents and insects under control. However, destruction of its natural habitat is causing a decrease in the population of the owl. So, let us get together and work towards restoring the natural habitat of the owl.
About the author:
Written by Arun Sharma on 9 January 2020
The author was associated with the healthcare industry before becoming a full-time writer and editor. A doting father to two preteens, he believes in experiential learning for his children. Also, he loves mountain trekking and nature trips.
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