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Owls are excellent, stealthy hunters, capable of hunting in darkness and light. Unlike some of their distant cousins, such as crows and vultures who scavenge, owls rely entirely on their skills as predators to feed. Their predatory adaptations are so impressive, that they have provided inspiration for our own technological endeavors.
Flight is a typically noisy affair. Whether it’s a mourning dove creating a distinct whistle as it takes off and lands, or a pigeon rustling its feathers as it ascends to soar, there’s no escaping the fact that beating wings and flapping feathers make a sound. Unless of course, one considers owls, the true masters of stealth. The leading edge of his wing is adorned with serrated feathers that stabilize the bird and also make for quiet, but not silent flight. Any noise made by the feathers is muffled by the tatty feathers on the rear of the wing. These act as a baffle, absorbing the sound of the wing to make owls in flight almost inaudible to their prey.
All owls have large eyes, equipping them with good eyesight in both dark and light. The barn owl provides the best example of superior owl vision. His large eyes are extremely motion-sensitive and enable him to detect even the slightest movement. But what is more impressive is his ability to see exceptionally well in both light and dark. The light-sensitive barn owl can hunt in very low light too and since he typically hunts at night, this is highly beneficial.
As well as exceptional eyesight, owls rely on their highly sensitive hearing for hunting. Barn owls and great grey owls both have distinctively flat faces with disc-like sections on the front. These shape of the faces enables these owls to funnel the sound of their prey moving from the front of the face toward the ear, enabling them to hunt blind.
Tools of the Trade
An owl’s main weapons are its feet and talons. The talons are sharp, strong and long, enabling the owl to both capture and kill its prey. Some owls, notably the tawny owl, use their beaks to deliver a fatal blow to the base of the skull of their victims, but the talons are often sufficiently lethal by themselves.
Hidden from View
Owls possess the vision and hearing to detect their prey in perfect darkness, but they also are pretty good at remaining undetectable themselves. All owls rely on camouflage and their feather coloration is determined by the color of their environment. The Eastern screech owl, for example, has adapted to have a mottled, silver coloration that enables him to blend seamlessly into the bark of the trees in which he sits.
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