Owls are a global creature, being found worldwide, with the exception of Antarctica and some parts of Greenland. Owls are very distinct in their appearance with a big round head and large eyes. They have a hawk like beak and soft plumage. Interestingly the female owls are almost always bigger than the males, sometimes up to 25% bigger. At 12cm the Least Pygmy Owl is the world’s smallest while the largest owl, up to 71cm, is the Eurasian Eagle Owl.
What do owls eat and how do they digest
What do owls eat? Since owls are birds of prey they need to hunt and kill other animals to survive. Their diet mainly includes fish, reptiles, amphibians, birds, small animals and insects. The type of food really depends on the species of owl. For example, the Asian Fish Owl and the African Fishing Owl are highly specialized at catch fish while the barn owl is specialized in catching mice. Having said that, just because an owl prefers one type of food and has adapted its behavior to capturing it, it doesn’t mean that the owl will give up opportunities when they arise. At the end of the day all owls are opportunistic predators. Not only have owls adapted their behavior to aid in capturing prey, they have also adapted physically to make themselves efficient killing machines. Their keen eyesight and sensitive directional hearing helps them locate their unsuspecting prey. They have even adapted their wings to muffle the sound of air going over the tops to be able to surprise their prey.
Owls, like other birds are not equipped to chew their food, as a result small prey are often swallowed whole, while larger prey will be torn to shreds for consumption. Owls differ to other birds in that they do not have a crop (a loose food storage bag in the throat) and cannot store their food; as such the food enters the digestive tract straight away. An owl’s stomach has two parts; the first part of the stomach begins digestions by producing enzymes and acids. The second part of the stomach is the gizzard which essentially filters all of the indigestible material like bones, fur and teeth. Owls will regurgitate this material, called the pellet, several hours after they have eaten.
Interesting facts about owls
Owls generally spend the day roosting. During the breeding season they will usually roost alone or with another owl, outside of the breeding season they may form a flock (a group of owls is called a parliament). Owls can be very expressive. Often owls may look as though they are interested in something because they are bobbing and weaving their head. In fact, the owl is actually doing this to improve its three-dimensional perception of its surroundings. Owls’ feathers often look as though they are ruffled and fluffy when they are relaxed; as soon as something scares them they will pull the feathers in tight to the body. When owls are being defensive they can become very aggressive and have been known to attack humans.
Owls usually breed in the spring, the upbringing of their brood will coincide with an abundance of prey in the area. Males will try to attract a female by calling, performing courtship flights and offering food. Most owls are monogamous, changing partners every season – the Tawny Owl is an exception and will remain faithful to the one partner for life. Owls do not build nests; rather they just take over abandoned nests. While they usually lay between 3-4 eggs, a female owl can lay up to 13 eggs in the breeding season, depending on the species. Incubation will last 30 days after which the chicks hatch. Younger chicks will often starve or are killed by the other chicks in the nest; it is rare for all of the brood to survive the season as preference is given to the stronger, larger chicks. Male owls will deliver food to the female and chicks up to 10 times a day.