An Owl is a bird that belongs to a large group of birds of prey that have rounded heads, eyes directed forward and hooked bills. The smallest species of Owl is about 5 1/2 “long while the largest may reach a length of 27 inches. Female Owls are usually larger than the males.
The Owl’s feathers are soft and downy with color that varies depending on the specie. The usual colors are brown, black or gray with bars or spots of white, buff or brownish black. An Owl’s wings are rounded while their tails are short and square. Their long powerful feet have long, curved talons.
Owls can be found all over the world except in Antarctica and on some ocean islands. They apparently do not migrate but some that live in cold, northern climates go south when food becomes scarce. Owls are carnivores or meat eaters.
An Owl’s diet consists mainly of rodents and other small mammals, although Owls also eat small birds, frogs, snakes or insects. Some species eat fish and crabs. Owls are able to swallow their food whole or in large pieces. They would then regurgitate indigestible parts of their meal such as pellets of bone and fur.
Hunting done by Owls occurs chiefly at night. They are not able to see in total darkness but can see quite well by moonlight or starlight. Owls use their very acute sense of hearing and eyesight to locate their prey when it is very dark. It has a binocular vision courtesy of its eyes that are set in front of the head, unlike other birds whose eyes are set in the sides of the head. The Owl needs to turn its head to keep its eyes fixed on a moving object. It flies silently and is able to swoop down its unsuspecting prey due to its soft plumage.
Owls call to one another at night particularly during the mating season. A variety of noises is made, including screams, hoots and laughing or snoring sounds. These calls which are often weird and sounds like mournful calls is responsible for the Owl being known as birds of ill omen.
Owl species that are more familiar are the Barn Owl, Northern Saw-whet Owl and the Eastern and Western Screech Owl. A Barn Owl is a pale Owl with long legs and dark eyes on a heart-shaped face. Its color is rusty brown above with under parts ranging from white to cinnamon. The Barn Owl roosts and nests in dark cavities found in city and farm buildings, cliffs and trees. It has a raspy, hissing screech for a call.
One of the smallest Owl specie in North America is the Screech Owl. The Eastern Screech Owl may either be red or gray while the Western Screech Owl is usually gray with a darker bill. Screech Owls do not screech. An Eastern Screech Owl has a tremulous, eerie cry. The Western Screech Owl has its own rhythmic series of whistles. They would readily nest or roost in large birdhouses.
Another owl specie is the Northern Saw-whet Owl. It has a round head, yellow eyes and a black bill. It measures about 7 – 8” in length. Northern Saw-whet Owls are commonly found in coniferous pines although some have chosen deciduous trees along water courses.