|Athenian tetradrachama, 5th cen. B.C.|
|Athena with Owl, Louvre|
Owls have large, forward-facing eyes. When we do see a live owl, it appears alert. It surveys its realm with attention and vigilance. It looks intelligent. It looks “wise as an old owl.”
But are owls wise? One writer put it succinctly: “To put it kindly, owls are no wiser than they need to be, i.e., not very.”
Owls are wise enough not to “rotate their heads through 360 degrees as is commonly supposed and which would in the event result in owls heads coming clean off and bouncing about all over the place.” (owlpages.com ) Owls cannot rotate their eyes in their sockets and have compensated by developing extra vertebrae in their necks which allow them to turn their heads about 270 degrees. However, they rarely turn their heads more than 180 degrees. In other words, an owl can look to its left by turning its head to the right but prefers not to.
Owls are primarily night hunters and are superbly equipped for their task Their eyes and ears are adapted to finding prey in the dark. Their feathers are designed for silence. They are the stealth flyers of the bird world.
Owls cannot “see” in the dark. A dead mouse in a totally darkened room went undiscovered by a Barn Owl. But an owl can see in light levels so low that we would be rendered totally blind. Light is measured in “lux”. The lowest number of lux in which humans can see is 37,000. Experiments on a Tawny Owl revealed that the lowest number of lux at which it was able to see was seven!
Or, consider the ears: The ears are asymmetrically located in the skull. The right ear is higher than the left ear. The ear openings are differing shapes. This means that sound reaches each ear a split second apart, enabling the owl to “triangulate” the location of its prey, pinpointing a sound to within ten millimeters with no aid from sight whatsoever. The flat face of the owl, formed by feathers, acts like a satellite dish to capture and direct sound to the ears. Some owls are capable of finding prey by sound alone. An experiment put live mice in a totally darkened room with a Barn Owl. Using hearing alone, the Barn Owl caught the mice every single time.
Daytime sightings of the Barred Owl are uncommon, but not unusual. It happens most often in the winter when food may be scarce, or under deep snow cover, or both. A Barred Owl active during the day is a hungry owl. It may also be a young owl which did not have time to hone its hunting and survival skills before winter arrived to make the task of finding food even more difficult.
The Barred Owl is one of the few owls which will reveal itself to humans. In “The Atlas of Breeding Birds of Vermont,” 1985, the Barred Owl is described this way: “A gentle creature with an engaging personality, the Barred Owl can be quite tame and curious even in the wild. One individual raised at the Vermont Institute of Natural Science’s raptor care facility in Woodstock returned there each winter for four years after his release, greeting his former benefactors with hoots, and swooping down to pluck mice from their hands.”
|Great Horned Owl|
|Great Horned Owl - John James Audiubon|
Fishers often get blamed for the disappearance of domestic cats, but it could just as well be the work of a Great Horned Owl. They rule the night, with no natural enemies. Outside of your home, both of these predators are in their home. Your cat is no match for either. The best way to protect your cat is to keep it indoors.
One early winter morning, I heard through my open window distant hoots: “Who’s awake? Me, too. Who’s awake. Me, too.” The Great Horned Owl was probably calling for its mate, but he also told me that the night belonged to him. I was glad to let him have it. I rolled over and went back to sleep.