In many cultures, owls are omens of death, destruction and harbingers of bad luck. Fortunately in our Western culture, we see owls as a symbol of wisdom. Their image is used often in our art. And the ‘scary’ Barn Owl is associated with Halloween. The Barn Owl is white and hunts at night taking on a ‘ghostly’ quality in moonlight and their screech ends abruptly sounding like someone just died. Good time to find out more about owls!
It turns out there are 19 species of owls in the U.S. and over 200 species in the world. Many of them like the climate and terrain of Arizona. I’ve seen only a few because they hunt during the night and rest during the day. Just opposite of my activities!
|Great Horned Owl - Portal AZ|
Owls have large round heads, forward facing big eyes (about the size of ours), sharp beaks and long strong talons. The placement of their eyes allows them to see straight ahead (binocular vision) as well as incorporating the side vision of each eye giving them about a 110 degree field of vision. The binocular vision allows them to see things in 3 dimensions and judge distance much like we do. No wonder their eyes are so fascinating to us.
Their ears are behind the eyes and are covered with feathers – ear tufts in most species. The feathers are used for displaying and not hearing. Their ability to fly silently combined with their acute hearing make them great predators on night hunts.
Some owls have feathers covering their feet –protection from cold weather and maybe help with sensing their prey when they attack. Each foot has four toes and as you would expect three toes face forward and one backward making it easy to perch on a branch or clutch their prey. What I did not know is that the outer front toe on each foot swivels to face the rear because of a flexible joint. Isn’t that convenient for them?
If an owl is relaxed, his feathers are fluffy and if he is on alert, he and his feathers will become streamlined.
There is a Great Horned Owl that lives at the local Lowe’s in Prescott. We’ve named him Otis and always look for him when we go there. He has a female friend and I understand they have had several clutches of babies. Great Horned Owls can be 2 feet tall, weigh 3 pounds and have a wing span of 55 inches. Big!
|Two Burrowing Owls - CA.|
The Burrowing Owl is a small owl that lives underground. He is often seen on fence posts and in dirt fields. We always look for them along the banks of fields as we drive through farm country in Arizona and California. There is a program to save them from housing developments and an interesting video you might enjoy. http://www.azgfd.gov/video/BurrowingOwls.shtml
|Northern Saw-Whet Owl - Tucson AZ|
The Northern Saw-Whet Owl is found in high elevations in Southeastern Arizona. We were very fortunate to find this small owl tucked in a tree on one of our walks in much lower elevation. Their call sounds like the whetting of a saw. When they are threatened, they elongate their bodies to look like a tree branch.
One night, we were having dinner at a friend’s house in Tucson and spotted a Western Screech Owl that was roosting under the eaves. That was a great conversation booster and of course, I had to take a picture.
|Western Screech Owl - Tucson AZ|
Owls are beautiful birds