The Wonderful World of Owls

This screen shot is from the course. It shows the unique talons of an owls. Owls differ from other birds in having two talons face forward and two face backwards. Owls spread the back talons to enhance their grip on the unfortunate prey.

I am excited to learn about Owls through the Cornell University’s Wonderful World of Owls online course. I am joined by several grade 11 biology students and two science teachers. We are completing the course because our school’s sport mascot is the owl. The student council chose that name years ago when there were many owls roosting near the school. Today, sadly, they are no longer around and so we trying to see if we can lure them back and provide good habitat for them. I will be using this blog to highlight my learning and our group’s work.

Variety of Owls: The first two lessons were engaging. There are over 200 different species of owls. They are special birds in that their large, round eyes, small bill, thickly-feathered heads give them a human appearance. They also are the ultimate nocturnal aerial predators because of their exceptional hearing and sight and silent flight. The 234 species of owls show much variety in size, diet and behavior. My favorite owl is Blakiston’s Fish Owl, that is found in Japan and Russia. It is one of the largest owls and hunts exclusively fish and aquatic prey.

Anatomical Features: Owls have large eyes with a huge, rod-filled retina that makes them twice as sensitive to low light as other birds. The facial disk found on many owls helps their hearing by acting as a sound collector. Their ears are slightly off-set to give them precise, location hearing. Owls cannot turn their heads 360 degrees as some people think. Like other birds, they have 14-neck vertebrae that allow them to turn 270 degrees. This is similar to other birds, but with the thick feathers covering the neck, it looks like their head is on a swivel. Many owls have sensitive whiskers that allow them to “see” objects up close, because their vision is designed for long-distance, low-light conditions.

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