Owl Facts
Owl Facts

53 Interesting Owl Facts

Karin Lehnardt
By Karin Lehnardt, Senior Writer
Published May 12, 2018Updated September 6, 2019

Do owls have eyelashes? Do they blink? Are owls dangerous? What is a group of owls called? You'll have a "hoot" finding the answers to these questions while learning surprising and little-known owl facts.

  • There are 220 species of owls in the world.[10]
  • Owls can almost turn their heads all the way around, but it's not quite a 360 turn. They can turn their necks 135 degrees in either direction, which gives them 270 degrees total movement.[10]
  • Owls are able to turn their heads without injury or cutting off blood to their brain because they have a blood-pooling system that powers their brain and eyes during a dramatic neck twist.[10]
  • An owl's eyes are so well-developed that they are not balls but rather tubes that are held into place by a bony structure. This means an owl can only look straight ahead. An owl must turn its head to look side to side.[8]
  • Owls ears are placed asymmetrically and are different sizes. This allows them to receive sounds at different times and pinpoint the exact location of the sound.[10]
  • Facts about Owls
    Owls don't have eyeballs. Rather, they're more like eye tubes.
  • An owl's eyes account for 1-5% percent of the owl's body weight.[8]
  • An owl's flattened face funnels sound to their ears so that they can detect even the slightest noise.[10]
  • The smallest owl in the world is the elf owl, which is 5–6 inches tall and weighs just 1.5 ounces.[10]
  • The largest North American owl is the great gray owl, which can reach up to 32 inches tall.[10]
  • The northern hawk owl is able to hear prey as much as 12 inches under the snow.[10]
  • Owls are found on all continents except Antarctica.[10]
  • Not all owls hoot, and those that do also make other noises, such as chirps, whistles, screeches, barks, growls, and shrieks. The "hoo hooo" sound usually associated with owls is a great-horned owl call.[12]
  • On average, female owls are larger than male owls.[10]
  • While owls are depicted as extremely intelligent, they are notoriously difficult to train. Birds as diverse as parrots, hawks, and even pigeons can be taught more easily than owls.[10]
  • Barn owls eat over 1,000 mice per year. The owls swallow their prey whole—skin, bones, and all.[10]
  • When the owl sings, the night is silent. (Quand le hibou chante, La nuit est silence).

    - Charles de Leusse

  • Owl-like birds, like Berruornis and Ogygoptynx, lived 60 million years ago. Owls are one of the most ancient types of bird, along with chickens, turkeys, and pheasants.[10]
  • The great horned owl can curl its talons with a force of about 300 pounds per square inch, which is about the same strength as the strongest human bite.[10]
  • While owls are cute, it is illegal in the United States and most other countries for private individuals to keep owls as pets.[9]
  • In ancient Greece, owls represented Athena, the goddess of wisdom. However, the Romans were terrified of the bird and thought it was the bearer of bad omens.[11]
  • In order for owls to turn their heads 270 degrees, they have 14 vertebrae, rather than the usual seven found in most birds.[10]
  • The Aztecs and Mayans feared and hated the owl and believed the wide-eyed birds were symbols of death and destruction.[11]
  • Fun Owl Facts
    If humans turned their heads as far as owls, they would cut off the bloody supply to their brains
  • If a human were to turn their head like an owl, they would suffer traumatic arterial injuries and blood flow interruptions.[10]
  • The Egyptians believed that owls protected the spirits of the dead as they journeyed to the underworld.[11]
  • While most birds of prey don't hunt owls, owls have been know to hunt and eat smaller owls.[4]
  • The Eurasian eagle owl is one of the largest species of owl in the world. They will also eat anything, including large prey such as full-grown foxes or young deer.[5]
  • In Australia, the Wardaman tribe believes that Gordol the owl created the world.[3]
  • The Ainu people of northeastern Japan have revered the Blakiston's fish owl as "the Emperor of the Night" or the "God that Protects the Village."[3]
  • The great grey owl or great gray owl is the world's largest species of owl by length.[3]
  • The great gray owl has the largest facial disc of any raptor.[3]
  • In Kazakhstan, there is a tribe where only female shamans attempt to connect with the spirit of the owl.[3]
  • In South Africa, owls are associated with witchcraft and bad luck. To call someone an "owl" is the highest insult.[3]
  • Owls are divided into two families: Tytonidae (heart-faced barn owls) and Strigidae (typical or true owls, round-faced owls).[3]
  • An owl has the best night vision of any animal.[3]
  • Owls have zygodactyl feet, which means two toes point forward and two toes point backward. This gives owls the ability to crush wounded prey between their talons.[3]
  • Owl Talon Facts
    Owls use their talons to crush and knead their prey

  • Approximately 1/3 of the world's owl species are either endangered or at risk.[3]
  • While some owls seem to have a talent for swimming, experts point out that swimming is actually the last resort for these birds. They have no way to defend themselves once they are in the water, and they can only take off from land.[6]
  • Owl eyes have more black-and-white detecting rods than color cones, allowing them to see in the dark.[3]
  • Some owls are diurnal, meaning they hurt during the day. This includes the great gray owl, northern hawk owl, and northern pygmy owl.[3]
  • The largest owl on record is Cuba's extinct giant owl. If the 3.6-foot-tall owl could fly, it would have been one of the largest flighted birds in the world.[3]
  • Owls mooch other birds' nests; they don't build their own, but instead use nests or tree cavities left behind by other birds, such as woodpeckers or northern flickers. Even burrowing owls don't dig their own burrows.[3]
  • While owls are usually considered birds of prey, they are closer to kingfishers, hummingbirds, and songbirds than they are to hawks, eagles, and falcons.[3]
  • Amazing Owl Facts
    Owls are also closely related to nightjars

  • An owl's eye color indicates when it prefers to hunt. Owls with orange eyes are crepuscular (active during twilight); owls with dark brown or black eyes are nocturnal; and yellow eyes indicate owls that are diurnal.[3]
  • An owl has three eyelids: one for blinking, one for sleeping, and one for keeping the eyes healthy and clean.[10]
  • Owls are the primary means of communication between wizards in Harry Potter's world.[1]
  • Harry Potter’s pet snowy owl, Hedwig, shares her name with two famous saints. One is Saint Hedwig of Andechs (1174-1243), a former duchess noted for her benevolence and compassionate nature. The other is Saint Hedwig, Queen of Poland (1373-1399). The death of Hedwig in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows represents Harry’s loss of innocence and coming of age.[1]
  • Seven different owls played Hedwig in the Harry Potter movies; their names are Gizmo, Kasper, Oops, Swoops, Oh Oh, Elmo, and Bandit.[1]
  • One of the earliest depictions of owls in art is a long-eared owl that was etched in a cave in France over 30,000 years ago.[2]
  • In 2300 BC, the Sumerians depicted Lilitu, the goddess of death, as a winged woman with feet like an owl's, a crown similar to an owl's ear tuft, and two owls for companions. Her name is derived from an ancient word meaning "night."[2]
  • Owl Trivia
    In Greek mythology, the owl is the symbol for Athena, the goddess of wisdom
  • A group of owls is called a parliament, wisdom, bazaar, or study. A group of baby owls is called owlets.[10]
  • The Jewish Tanakh (the Old Testament in Christianity) includes the Hebrew word lilith, which is translated as "screech owl." According to legend, Lilith was Adam's first wife. She refused to submit to Adam, so God replaced her with Eve.[2]
  • Some ancient Roman carvings depict Jews as owls being mobbed by flocks of doves or sparrows symbolizing Christians.[2]
  • In Macbeth, Shakespeare describes an owl as "a fatal bellman, which gives the stern'st good-night."[2]
  • An owl's eyes take up so much space inside its skull that there is not much room for its brain.[2]
  • Mysterious Owl Facts INFOGRAPHIC
    Owl Infographic

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