Whooo is that? With their large eyes and trademark hoot, owls are extremely popular among kids visiting the zoo. But out in the woods, they’re highly skilled assassins.

In a mountain forest in the dead of a moonlit night, it feels as if all the world’s asleep. The only noise is the chirping of insects and a faint rustle through the leaves. A lone mouse hesitantly pokes his head out from his hiding place, nose sniffing the air. Satisfied that the area is clear of danger, he crawls out and begins rummaging for food. Suddenly, a dark shadow silently swoops down and snatches the mouse with its deadly talons.

Owls, like Eugene, the Eurasian eagle-owl I care for, are a special part of God’s creation. They are one of the few bird families that hunt at night.

While owls may eat the same food as eagles or hawks, their ability to look for prey at night helps them avoid competition with animals that are active during the day. Hunting at night also means that they need special tools—tools that allow them to find and capture prey in the dark.

Did You Know?

  • Unlike most birds, owls’ feathers are not waterproof. To avoid getting wet, they don’t hunt in the rain.
  • Owls will swallow their food whole. Once they digest their prey, owls cough up pellets of what they couldn’t break down (called boluses)—similar to a cat’s fur balls.
  • Owls rarely, if ever, build their own nests. Normally, they use another bird’s old nest or just move into a hollowed part of a tree.
  • While Eurasian eagle-owls are found only in parts of Europe and Asia, other species of owls can be found on every inhabited continent of the world.
  • Eurasian eagle-owls are the largest owls in the world. The smallest owl is the elf owl. Elf owls range from 5 to 5.5 inches (13–14 cm) tall with a wingspan of 13 inches (33 cm).
  • While they generally live solitary lives, the term for a group of owls is a parliament.

Class: Aves (birds)

Order: Strigiformes (owls)

Family: Strigidae (typical owls, including screech owls, whiskered owls, and horned owls)

Genus: Bubo (horned or eagle-owls)

Species: B. bubo (Eurasian eagle-owl)

Length: 23–30 inches (58–76 cm)

Wingspan: 63–74 inches (160–188 cm)

Diet: Small mammals, reptiles, frogs, fish, invertebrates, birds, and occasionally carrion. The Eurasian eagle-owl can kill foxes and small deer.

Habitat: Owls typically live in deciduous or coniferous mountain woodlands with rocky areas, but because of their adaptability they can also be found in some parks and cities in Europe.

Silent Flight

The challenge is that mice can hear even the slightest sound in the dead of night, and birds in flight are no exception. While mice would be able to detect the approach of most birds because of the sound created by their flight feathers, Eugene is not like other birds. He, along with all other owls, was built for the night. When he flies, no one can hear him because of the unique structure of his wings. Each feather is bordered by tiny “combs,” a fringe that breaks up the air currents that cause noise.

The combs not only keep unsuspecting animals from hearing the owl, but they also allow the owl to hear quiet sounds that would otherwise be lost in the whoosh of his wings.

The Eyes Have It

Owls have flexible neck bones.

Another distinction between Eugene and other birds of prey is his striking appearance. An owl’s eyes are huge. If Eugene were the same size as a person, his eyes would be the size of softballs!

These huge eyeballs provide several advantages. First, the owl has larger pupils to absorb light. The larger it is, the more light a pupil can absorb, just as a bigger window allows more light into a room.1 With large pupils, owls can easily see even when very little moonlight is shining.

Another advantage is clearer vision. Just as an oversize photograph provides more visible details, owls can see more details than birds with small eyes. Owls’ eyes are unusual among birds in that they face forward rather than located on the sides of their head. This helps them zero in on their prey since they can see more area with both of their eyes.

Do the Twist

Flexible muscles and extra neck bones allow owls to turn their faces in just about any direction.

Another impressive design feature of the owl is its ability to twist its neck in various configurations. While Eugene cannot turn his head all the way around (360 degrees), he comes pretty close. In fact, an owl can turn his head so far (approximately 270 degrees) that he can see directly behind himself.

And if that isn’t amazing enough, an owl can also turn its face upside down (with the beak on top and the eyes on the bottom). It can even put its head back so far that it rests between the shoulders!

As part of God’s unique design for these night hunters, owls have twice as many neck bones as you or I. Combined with strong and flexible muscles, the extra bones allow them to twist their necks and turn their faces in just about any direction they like.2

Wise Old Owl

In Western cultures owls are typically seen as symbols of wisdom. Like other creatures in God’s creation, they perform the tasks that God designed them to do and bring glory to His name in the process (Psalm 148:7–13).

This magnificent bird with all his unique features is a clear testimony to the wisdom and care of the eternal Creator God, who designed the owl for success in a fallen world.

Dan Breeding is the founder of Creatures of Creation and Wild Animal Encounters. Dan has a degree in Wildlife Education and Animal Training and has made numerous appearances with his animals on television and at the White House.

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Footnotes

  1. L. Evert and W. Lynch, Birds of Prey: Eagles, Falcons, Owls, Vultures (Minnetonka, Minnesota: NorthWord, 2005). Back
  2. S. Markle, Animal Predators: Owls (Minneapolis, Minnesota: Carolrhoda Books, 2004). Back