Give a hoot

Mysterious, spooky, wise, lovable. Depending on who you ask, owls have quite the reputation. With four of the 19 North American species found in our area – Eastern Screech, Great Horned, Barred and Barn – , it’s likely there are a few living in the woods near you. But what do we really know about these birds of prey? Here are 10 fun facts to unravel some of the mystery surrounding these amazing creatures.

Hunting Facts

Fact #1 Incredible hunters, owls have super-powered hearing that allows them to track prey under leaves, dirt and snow. Their hearing is especially sensitive to high-frequency sounds, like rodent squeaks. Studies have shown that Barn Owls are able to catch their prey in absolute darkness just by picking up the sound of rustling leaves.

Fact #2 Owls can turn their neck up to 135 degrees in either direction – 270 degrees of rotation! 14 neck bones – 7 more than humans – allow owls to swivel back and forth effortlessly. Most mammals would be hindered by the lack of blood flow to the brain and eyes, if they were able to rotate that far. However, owls have a unique type of reservoir system at the base of their head which prevents damage to blood vessels while rotating.

Fact #3 Owls make virtually no noise when they fly. Their wing feathers have comb-like serrations that break turbulence into smaller currents and reduce sound. The soft down feathers also help to muffle noise.

Fact #4 An owl’s eye is not a true eye “ball”. Instead, its tube-shaped and doesn’t move which requires them to rotate their entire head to look to the side. This inconvenience comes with an advantage, though. The binocular vision helps them focus on their prey and boosts their depth perception. Owls may have the most efficient vision of any animal. Depending on the species, their vision is 35 to 100 times greater than humans.

Watch this video to see why owls are such excellent hunters

Food Facts

Fact #5 Owls swallow their food whole and then cough up the carcass. Using their strong talons to crush their prey, owls swallow small animals whole. If too large, they use their beaks and talons to rip prey into smaller pieces. Nourishing parts are digested and parts that can’t be digested, like fur and bones, become compacted into a pellet which the owl later regurgitates

Fact #6

Great at pest control. A single barn owl family will eat up to 3000 rodents within 4 months. A single owl can eat 50 pounds of gophers in a year. Farmers frequently install owl nesting boxes to help with pest control. It’s cheaper and safer than poison, which kills many owls and other predators each year as the poison passes on from the prey.

Fact #7 Rodents aren’t the only thing on the menu. Owls eat insects, earthworms, fish, crawfish, amphibians, other birds and small animals. Occasionally, owls will attack and eat smaller owls. Larger owls, like the Great Horned Owl will attack a Barred Owl, which have been known to attack the Western Screech Owl.

For more ways to help owls, visit here

Fun Facts

Fact #8 Owls have been depicted throughout history, from ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs to the 30,000 year old cave paintings in France. Ancient Greece recognized owls as a symbol of learning and knowledge and were often seen as a companion to Athena – goddess of wisdom. Unfortunately, owls were seen by many cultures throughout history as a symbol of impending death or evil and affiliated with witches or the unnatural. This fear led many cultures to attempt to rid themselves of nearby owl populations.

Fact #9 Not all owls hoot. Barn Owls make hissing sounds, Eastern Screech Owls whinny like a horse and Saw-Whet Owls are named after the sound they make which is similar to the sound of a whetstone sharpening a saw. To hear the various sounds and calls from owls across North America, check out the Audubon Owls Guide for your phone and I.D. owls on the go.

Fact #10 Owls come in all sizes. The largest owl in North America is the Great Gray Owl which can grow as tall as 32“. The smallest is the Elf Owl – 5-6” tall and about a mere 1 ½ ounces in weight. Here in east Texas, you may come across one of the largest owls in North America, the Great Horned Owl. At almost 2’ tall, the Great Horned Owl is adaptable to many habitats, including city neighborhoods, forested areas, coastal areas, deserts and mountains. Listen for the deep, low hoo, hoohoo, hoo that sounds similar to a dove’s call but is deeper in tone.

To contact Environmental Services Department, email enviro@thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov or call 281-210-3800

Walk in the Woods fall series takes off

Join the fun on September 13th for the fall’s first lecture and get a close-up look at some fascinating birds. The folks at Wildlife Revealed will present Birds of Prey and thrill the audience with a flight demonstration featuring vultures, hawks, falcons and owls. Enjoy an evening outdoors at the Amphitheater at the Recreation Center at Rob Fleming Park and get ready to be amazed.

Birds of Prey

Bottom row, left to right: American Kestrel; Red-shouldered Hawk; Black Vulture; Eastern Screech Owl.

Birds of prey, also known as raptors, include several species of bird that are carnivorous. They embody the seemingly opposing qualities of both grace and power—their very name comes from the Latin word rapere, meaning to seize or take by force. While many birds are carnivorous, the raptors are set apart by their:

  • Keen eyesight
  • Powerful, curved talons
  • Hooked beaks

Yet all raptors are not created equal. Each type of raptor has its very own unique features:

Vultures.  They almost always have featherless heads, which help reduce infection when feeding on carrion, their usual diet.

Hawks. There’s a reason they are the root of the saying, “Watch like a hawk.” Their vision is eight times greater than our own.

Eagles. These guys are BIG with a wingspan ranging from six to eight feet.  And their nests are no small matter either. They can measure up to six feet wide and weigh 100 pounds.

Falcons. Falcons are easy to differentiate from other hawks by the distinct stripes below their eyes. They are the most acrobatic of the raptors and can fly at incredible speeds.

The Peregrine Falcon is the world’s fastest bird, flying a whopping 240 miles an hour.

Kites. They appear falcon-like, but have distinctive tails that, like their wings, are long and pointed.

Owls. These nocturnal predators have eyes that are fixed in their sockets—in order to take in their surroundings they have to turn their heads. And most can up to 270 degrees.

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Make this a great night out and join the fun.

Walk in the Woods, Birds of Prey

September 13, 2018
6:00 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
Recreation Center Amphitheater at Rob Fleming Park

This event is free.
Registration is required.

Rob Fleming Amphitheater

To learn more about Houston-area birds including raptors, download Houston Audubon Society’s Common Birds of Houston guide.

Learn more about owls at Houston Audubon Society’s Owl Prowls.

To see the full fall line-up for Walk in the Woods lecture series, view and print the event flyer. To register for this event, click the Register Here link on the event details page of The Woodlands Township website.