10 Neat Things: About Owls

Snowy owl
long eared owl
Long-eared owl
Snowy owl mom and owlet
Hoot owl fishing
Hoot owl fishing
great grey owl
Great grey owl
northern pygmy owl
Northern pygmy owl

1. Visitor from the tundra.

The snowy owl could also be called the showy owl with its white feathers and black bars. A large bird, with a wingspan of over 52 inches, it weighs about four to five pounds (the female is heavier) and is the heaviest one in Canada. It nests in a hollowed out depression lined with feathers in the ground. In the high Arctic, it feeds on lemmings or even the odd hare. It winters down south in the wide-open spaces of The Prairies.

2. Fast flying takes its toll.

While some, such as the long-eared owl, live up to 27 years, the snowy owl has a life span of only about 14 years. It can cover a lot of ground in that time, being able to fly about 50 mph although its average speed is more like 12 to 15 mph. Unlike most others, snowys hunt by both night and day. Snowy owls are covered in feathers from the tips of their beaks to the tips of their feet.

3. To the manor born (or is it manner?).

The first bird out of the egg shell is heir to all in difficult times. The first born gets the first food, all the food if it’s a bad year, and even its siblings when things are really tough. Snowy owls depend on lemmings and when that population dwindles, egg clutches will shrink from 10 to 12 down to four to seven.

4. Let’s go fishing.

While most of these birds feed on rodents, the hoot owl (also called the barred owl) the one that goes “hoo-hoo-hoo”, is said to be able to wade in water to find fish. Whether or not that’s true, Mr. and Mrs. do enjoy a good bath now and then, even in winter. Mr. is a real “hoot” in that he helps Mrs. with the brooding chores. Most males simply feed the female while she spends long, dreary days in the nest.

5. Provincial owls.

Manitoba, Alberta and Quebec all claim owls as their provincial bird. In Manitoba, it’s the great grey owl, one of Canada’s largest at 2.4 pounds, a 52-inch wingspan and 17 to 24 inches in height. The provincial bird of Alberta is the great horned owl which is known to eat snowshoe hares. Quebec claims the snowy owl.

6. Tiny owls.

Lest you think they are big, bold and brassy, think again. Two very small kinds inhabit our northland. The northern pygmy owl is just seven to eight inches long and weighs only 2.5 ounces, with a wingspan of only 12 inches. The northern saw-whet owl is also very small with a wingspan of 17 inches and a weight of just 2.8 ounces. It can live up to 17 years.

7. Squatters.

These birds don’t build nests, although some, such as the snowy owl, lay their eggs in a hollow. Instead, most look for a nest abandoned by some other bird, fitting the size of the nest to the size of the squatter.

8. Owls have good ears.

They can hear mice from 60 feet away and it is said that the barn owl has a hearing range of 150 feet. In some cases the ears, set behind the eyes in the side of the head, are placed asymmetrically. If sound enters the right ear, they can detect where it’s coming from by the length of time it takes to get to the other ear. By moving its head, it can zero in on the exact location.

9. The better to see you with my dear.

Their eyesight is very acute, specially designed to serve their feeding habit needs. They are long-sighted, finding it harder to see up close, although they do have binocular vision, making them able to see in three dimensions, and they can see some colour. Eyes are very large; snowy owl eyes are as heavy as our own. It can turn its head 270 degrees, that is three-quarters of the way around, so it can see side to side, forwards and even backwards. It has three sets of eyelids: one to clean the eye, one to sleep with and one to blink with.

10. One gulp wonder.

They swallow its food whole, regurgitating bones and fur and other indigestibles in pellets. They also have very interesting feet, with two toes facing forward and two facing backward, which give it a lot of dexterity in catching prey. If you want to find one, look for a perch, perhaps a fence post, and pellets on the ground at the base.

– Dorothy Dobbie Copyright©
Pegasus Publications Inc.    

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