SciSun: Who, Who’s there?

Got a case of the weekend blues?

Is a new week about to begin and you don’ t feel any smarter than you did last week?

Want to amaze your friends and annoy your enemies?

Is that’s what’s bothering you, Bucky?  Then you’ve come to the right place!   This is ScienceSunday (SciSun) – the place for news, updates, and generally interesting stuff related to the Environment and Stewardship.

Today:  Owls!

Owls are very important in our world, and there are many different types than the usual ‘owl sitting on dead tree at night’ variety.   In fact, there are over 250 species of owls!   And they don’t just live in trees – in fact, owls can be found living in abandoned buildings, on cliffs, in burrows in the ground, and even inside cactus!   Most owls are out and about at night, though – they’re hunting their food which is often small rodents, snakes, and large insects.   Owls are not dangerous to man  – as long as you leave them alone.   They have very sharp beaks and talons (claws), so it’s best to observe from a distance.

Photo from our friends at the Oregon Zoo, AZA.  www.oregonzoo.org

Who you talking about? Who, who??

Owls have better eyesight than most humans, but they can’t see in the dark.   They usually come out around twilight, and when it becomes too dark for them to see they depend more on their hearing than their vision.   Notice how the face of an owl is round and ‘flat’?  That’s called a facial disk and it helps direct sound to the ears, almost like a satellite dish.  Even if the food they’re looking for – their prey – is small and quiet or hidden, the owl can usually find it.    And those little tufts of feathers some owls have on top of their head?  That’s not their ears, it’s just for decoration.   Their actual ears are hidden on the sides of their heads, underneath feathers and they don’t have any external ears like we do.

So the next time you see an owl, remember they are specialized to live in the darkness, that they do a very important job by eating small rodents and insects that could be harmful to man, and that they can probably see and hear you before you see them.  But they can’t turn their heads all the way around.   That’s a fable.   Their head will only go around about three-quarters of the way, which is still more than we could ever do!

Dig Deeper!

There are lots of great places to learn more about Owls. Here are a few to get you started:

http://www.sandiegozoo.org/animalbytes/t-owl.html

http://wdfw.wa.gov/wildwatch/owlcam/

http://animals.nationalgeographic.com/animals/birds/great-horned-owl/

And always check out your local library!

 

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