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In many species, these discs are placed asymmetrically, for better directional location. Owl plumage is generally cryptic , although several species have facial and head markings, including face masks, ear tufts , and brightly coloured irises.
These markings are generally more common in species inhabiting open habitats, and are thought to be used in signaling with other owls in low-light conditions.
Sexual dimorphism is a physical difference between males and females of a species. Females owls are typically larger than the males. The exact explanation for this development in owls is unknown.
However, several theories explain the development of sexual dimorphism in owls. One theory suggests that selection has led males to be smaller because it allows them to be efficient foragers.
The ability to obtain more food is advantageous during breeding season. In some species, female owls stay at their nest with their eggs while it is the responsibility of the male to bring back food to the nest.
Male burrowing owls have been observed to have longer wing chords than females, despite being smaller than females.
Another popular theory suggests that females have not been selected to be smaller like male owls because of their sexual roles.
In many species, female owls may not leave the nest. Therefore, females may have a larger mass to allow them to go for a longer period of time without starving.
For example, one hypothesized sexual role is that larger females are more capable of dismembering prey and feeding it to their young, hence female owls are larger than their male counterparts.
A different theory suggests that the size difference between male and females is due to sexual selection: since large females can choose their mate and may violently reject a male's sexual advances, smaller male owls that have the ability to escape unreceptive females are more likely to have been selected.
All owls are carnivorous birds of prey and live mainly on a diet of insects and small rodents such as mice, rats, and hares.
Some owls are also specifically adapted to hunt fish. They are very adept in hunting in their respective environments. Since owls can be found in nearly all parts of the world and across a multitude of ecosystems, their hunting skills and characteristics vary slightly from species to species, though most characteristics are shared among all species.
Most owls share an innate ability to fly almost silently and also more slowly in comparison to other birds of prey.
Most owls live a mainly nocturnal lifestyle and being able to fly without making any noise gives them a strong advantage over their prey that are listening for the slightest sound in the night.
A silent, slow flight is not as necessary for diurnal and crepuscular owls given that prey can usually see an owl approaching.
The serrations are more likely reducing aerodynamic disturbances, rather than simply reducing noise. It also allows the owl to monitor the sound output from its flight pattern.
The feather adaption that allows silent flight means that barn owl feathers are not waterproof. To retain the softness and silent flight, the barn owl cannot use the preen oil or powder dust that other species use for waterproofing.
In wet weather, they cannot hunt and this may be disastrous during the breeding season. Barn owls are frequently found drowned in livestock drinking troughs, since they land to drink and bathe, but are unable to climb out.
Owls can struggle to keep warm, because of their lack of waterproofing, so large numbers of downy feathers help them to retain body heat.
Eyesight is a particular characteristic of the owl that aids in nocturnal prey capture. Owls are part of a small group of birds that live nocturnally, but do not use echolocation to guide them in flight in low-light situations.
Owls are known for their disproportionally large eyes in comparison to their skulls. An apparent consequence of the evolution of an absolutely large eye in a relatively small skull is that the eye of the owl has become tubular in shape.
This shape is found in other so-called nocturnal eyes, such as the eyes of strepsirrhine primates and bathypelagic fishes.
Owls are regarded as having the most frontally placed eyes among all avian groups, which gives them some of the largest binocular fields of vision.
However, owls are farsighted and cannot focus on objects within a few centimeters of their eyes. Owls exhibit specialized hearing functions and ear shapes that also aid in hunting.
They are noted for asymmetrical ear placements on the skull in some genera. Owls can have either internal or external ears, both of which are asymmetrical.
Asymmetry has not been reported to extend to the middle or internal ear of the owl. Asymmetrical ear placement on the skull allows the owl to pinpoint the location of its prey.
This is especially true for strictly nocturnal species such as the barn owls Tyto or Tengmalm's owl. This time difference between ears is about 30 microseconds.
Behind the ear openings are modified, dense feathers, densely packed to form a facial ruff, which creates an anterior-facing, concave wall that cups the sound into the ear structure.
The facial disk also acts to direct sound into the ears, and a downward-facing, sharply triangular beak minimizes sound reflection away from the face.
The shape of the facial disk is adjustable at will to focus sounds more effectively. The prominences above a great horned owl's head are commonly mistaken as its ears.
This is not the case; they are merely feather tufts. The ears are on the sides of the head in the usual location in two different locations as described above.
While the auditory and visual capabilities of the owl allow it to locate and pursue its prey, the talons and beak of the owl do the final work.
The owl kills its prey using these talons to crush the skull and knead the body. The Tasmanian masked owl has some of the proportionally longest talons of any bird of prey; they appear enormous in comparison to the body when fully extended to grasp prey.
The family Tytonidae has inner and central toes of about equal length, while the family Strigidae has an inner toe that is distinctly shorter than the central one.
The beak of the owl is short, curved, and downward-facing, and typically hooked at the tip for gripping and tearing its prey.
Once prey is captured, the scissor motion of the top and lower bill is used to tear the tissue and kill. The sharp lower edge of the upper bill works in coordination with the sharp upper edge of the lower bill to deliver this motion.
The downward-facing beak allows the owl's field of vision to be clear, as well as directing sound into the ears without deflecting sound waves away from the face.
The coloration of the owl's plumage plays a key role in its ability to sit still and blend into the environment, making it nearly invisible to prey.
Owls tend to mimic the coloration and sometimes the texture patterns of their surroundings, the barn owl being an exception. Nyctea scandiaca , or the snowy owl , appears nearly bleach-white in color with a few flecks of black, mimicking their snowy surroundings perfectly, while the speckled brown plumage of the Tawny owl Strix aluco allows it to lie in wait among the deciduous woodland it prefers for its habitat.
Likewise, the mottled wood-owl Strix ocellata displays shades of brown, tan, and black, making the owl nearly invisible in the surrounding trees, especially from behind.
Usually, the only tell-tale sign of a perched owl is its vocalizations or its vividly colored eyes. Most owls are nocturnal , actively hunting their prey in darkness.
Several types of owls, however, are crepuscular —active during the twilight hours of dawn and dusk; one example is the pygmy owl Glaucidium.
A few owls are active during the day, also; examples are the burrowing owl Speotyto cunicularia and the short-eared owl Asio flammeus. Much of the owls' hunting strategy depends on stealth and surprise.
Owls have at least two adaptations that aid them in achieving stealth. First, the dull coloration of their feathers can render them almost invisible under certain conditions.
Secondly, serrated edges on the leading edge of owls' remiges muffle an owl's wing beats, allowing an owl's flight to be practically silent.
Some fish-eating owls, for which silence has no evolutionary advantage, lack this adaptation. An owl's sharp beak and powerful talons allow it to kill its prey before swallowing it whole if it is not too big.
Scientists studying the diets of owls are helped by their habit of regurgitating the indigestible parts of their prey such as bones, scales, and fur in the form of pellets.
These "owl pellets" are plentiful and easy to interpret, and are often sold by companies to schools for dissection by students as a lesson in biology and ecology.
Owl eggs typically have a white colour and an almost spherical shape, and range in number from a few to a dozen, depending on species and the particular season; for most, three or four is the more common number.
In at least one species, female owls do not mate with the same male for a lifetime. Female burrowing owls commonly travel and find other mates, while the male stays in his territory and mates with other females.
The systematic placement of owls is disputed. For example, the Sibley—Ahlquist taxonomy of birds finds that, based on DNA-DNA hybridization , owls are more closely related to the nightjars and their allies Caprimulgiformes than to the diurnal predators in the order Falconiformes ; consequently, the Caprimulgiformes are placed in the Strigiformes, and the owls in general become a family, the Strigidae.
A recent study indicates that the drastic rearrangement of the genome of the accipitrids may have obscured any close relationship of theirs with groups such as the owls.
Some to extant species of owls are known, subdivided into two families: 1. Typical owls or True owl family Strigidae and 2. Some entirely extinct families have also been erected based on fossil remains; these differ much from modern owls in being less specialized or specialized in a very different way such as the terrestrial Sophiornithidae.
The Paleocene genera Berruornis and Ogygoptynx show that owls were already present as a distinct lineage some 60—57 million years ago Mya , hence, possibly also some 5 million years earlier, at the extinction of the nonavian dinosaurs.
This makes them one of the oldest known groups of non- Galloanserae landbirds. The supposed " Cretaceous owls" Bradycneme and Heptasteornis are apparently non avialan maniraptors.
During the Paleogene , the Strigiformes radiated into ecological niches now mostly filled by other groups of birds. By the early Neogene , the other lineages had been displaced by other bird orders, leaving only barn-owls and typical owls.
The latter at that time were usually a fairly generic type of probably earless owls similar to today's North American spotted owl or the European tawny owl ; the diversity in size and ecology found in typical owls today developed only subsequently.
Around the Paleogene-Neogene boundary some 25 Mya , barn-owls were the dominant group of owls in southern Europe and adjacent Asia at least; the distribution of fossil and present-day owl lineages indicates that their decline is contemporary with the evolution of the different major lineages of typical owls, which for the most part seems to have taken place in Eurasia.
In the Americas, rather an expansion of immigrant lineages of ancestral typical owls occurred. The supposed fossil herons "Ardea" perplexa Middle Miocene of Sansan, France and "Ardea" lignitum Late Pliocene of Germany were more probably owls; the latter was apparently close to the modern genus Bubo.
Judging from this, the Late Miocene remains from France described as "Ardea" aureliensis should also be restudied. The taxa often united under Strigogyps  were formerly placed in part with the owls, specifically the Sophiornithidae; they appear to be Ameghinornithidae instead.
For fossil species and paleosubspecies of extant taxa , see the genus and species articles. For a full list of extant and recently extinct owls, see the article " List of owl species ".
Among the Kikuyu of Kenya , it was believed that owls were harbingers of death. If one saw an owl or heard its hoot, someone was going to die.
In general, owls are viewed as harbingers of bad luck, ill health, or death. The belief is widespread even today. In Mongolia the owl is regarded as a benign omen.
In one story, Genghis Khan was hiding from enemies in a small coppice when an owl roosted in the tree above him, which caused his pursuers to think no man could be hidden there.
In modern Japan, owls are regarded as lucky and are carried in the form of a talisman or charm. The modern West generally associates owls with wisdom and vigilance.
This link goes back at least as far as Ancient Greece , where Athens , noted for art and scholarship, and Athena , Athens' patron goddess and the goddess of wisdom, had the owl as a symbol.
Thiselton-Dyer , in his Folk-lore of Shakespeare , says that "from the earliest period it has been considered a bird of ill-omen," and Pliny tells us how, on one occasion, even Rome itself underwent a lustration , because one of them strayed into the Capitol.
He represents it also as a funereal bird, a monster of the night, the very abomination of human kind. Virgil describes its death-howl from the top of the temple by night, a circumstance introduced as a precursor of Dido 's death.
Ovid , too, constantly speaks of this bird's presence as an evil omen; and indeed the same notions respecting it may be found among the writings of most of the ancient poets.
In Hinduism , an owl is the vahana , mount, of the Goddess Lakshmi. People often allude to the reputation of owls as bearers of supernatural danger when they tell misbehaving children, "the owls will get you",  and in most Native American folklore, owls are a symbol of death.
For example:. Encouraging natural predators to control rodent population is a natural form of pest control, along with excluding food sources for rodents.
For this reason, an owl cannot "roll" or move its eyes - that is, it can only look straight ahead!
The owl more than makes up for this by being able to turn its head up to degrees left or right from the forward facing position, and almost upside down.
There are several adaptations that allow this, outlined in the owl skeletal system article. As most owls are active at night, their eyes must be very efficient at collecting and processing light.
This starts with a large cornea the transparent outer coating of the eye and pupil the opening at the centre of the eye.
The pupil's size is controlled by the iris the coloured membrane suspended between the cornea and lens.
When the pupil is larger, more light passes through the lens and onto the large retina light sensitive tissue on which the image is formed.
The retina of an owl's eye has an abundance of light-sensitive, rod-shaped cells appropriately called "rod" cells.
Although these cells are very sensitive to light and movement, they do not react well to colour. Cells that do react to colour are called "cone" cells shaped like a cone , and an owl's eye possesses few of these, so most Owls see in limited colour or in monochrome.
Since owls have extraordinary night vision, it is often thought that they are blind in strong light.
This is not true, because their pupils have a wide range of adjustment, allowing the right amount of light to strike the retina.
Some species of owls can actually see better than humans in bright light. To protect their eyes, owls are equipped with 3 eyelids.
They have a normal upper and lower eyelid, the upper closing when the owl blinks, and the lower closing up when the owl is asleep. The third eyelid is called a nictitating membrane , and is a thin layer of tissue that closes diagonally across the eye, from the inside to the outside.
This cleans and protects the surface of the eye. America C. America S. Home Species Articles About.
Binocular vision in owls. Cross-section of an owl eye.