Halloween is next week, so to get you in the spirit, we are going to talk about owls! And no, we will not be talking about Hoot the Owl and how great of a seed character he is (the birds go nuts for these characters so check them out)! We will talk about some aspects of owls, why they are great for the food chain, and how you can help them!
Owls are brilliant creatures and have been associated with wisdom and knowledge. They have been a symbol for both of those things in literature and art for centuries. But why? The answer: there is not much reason honestly. Owls are great predators and highly adapted for nocturnal navigation, but their measurable intelligence is relatively low. The only reason owls are associated with education (take a look at the number of graduation cards with owls on them), wisdom, and intelligence is because the ancient Greeks and Romans believed owls were wise due to their large eyes and ability to see through darkness. Their logic was that if the owl's eyes were large, their brains must be large to interpret what they were seeing. They did not know that brain size has little to do with brain capability.
But I do not mean to make owls sound simple or not complex! They are wonderful birds of prey! Owls eat insects, rodents, smaller animals, smaller birds, sometimes fish, and other owls! Their sharp talons allow them to grasp prey quickly when they dive down. They can catch these creatures so efficiently because they have wonderful nocturnal vision.
Grossly enough though, owls have to regurgitate a lot of what they consume into pellets. These pellets look like black oval or cylindrical messes of hair, and if one were to dissect a pellet, one would find lots of bones, feathers, hairs, and some insect parts. Usually finding these droppings is the best way to find owls since owls have such great camouflage. They are incredibly gifted at blending into their surroundings.
I would be remiss if I did not address the common belief about an owl’s head. We all have seen the face of an owl: the sharp beak, the flat face, the heart shaped heart, the big eyes. If you have seen any cartoon that has an owl, you probably saw it rotate its head completely around. This is just not possible! Owls can, however, rotate 270 degrees which is more than most animals! They have evolved and adapted to do this because their large eyes prevent them from being able to move them in their sockets. The only way for an owl to modify their field of vision is to rotate their head.
Owls, like I have said, are great hunters, and we should all appreciate what they do for us. Owls hunt tons of rodents for us and keep our yards (and more importantly our houses) rodent free! They also keep insect populations in check. The smaller owls typically hunt insects. If we suddenly lost all of our owls, we would be in big trouble! The food chain would be completely thrown off.
So owls are pretty great, right? What can you do to help them out? There are houses available for these birds of prey that help owls have successful broods, and keep them safe, warm, and comfortable. They would surely appreciate this, but beyond these houses, we'd encourage you to avoid rat poisons and promote land conservation. Owls, like all birds, need water too so you can provide a reliable water source which I recommend for all your birds. There are several organizations that support owl populations and studies (the nearest is The Avian Conservation Center & Center for Birds of Prey in Awendaw). Consider giving some contributions or some of your time to these organizations. The last thing you can do for owls is simply appreciate their beauty, complexity, and vital role in our ecosystem!
Next week we will really get into the Halloween spirit by talking about one of my favorite animals: bats!
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