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General Owl Physiology

Compiled by Updated 2012-08-29 Created 1999-04-15

Classification:
Domain: Eukaryota (Organisms with complex cells)
Kingdom: Animalia (Animals)
Phylum: Chordata (Having a hollow dorsal nervecord and flexible skeletal rod)
Sub-Phylum: Vertebrata (Having a backbone)
Class: Aves (Birds)
Order: Strigiformes (Owls)

Owls are a group of mainly nocturnal (active at night) birds classified as belonging to the order Strigiformes, a group which is most closely related to nightjars (Caprimulgiformes). The order is divided into two families: Tytonidae or Barn Owls and related species, and Strigidae or Typical Owls.
Click Here to see a full list of the World's Owls.

Appearance: A large, round head and huge, forward-facing eyes are features that make an Owl instantly recognisable. They also have a sharp, downward-facing beak (or bill), and soft, cryptically coloured plumage. Males and Females are generally similar in appearance, although the female is often up to 25% larger.

Adaptations: Owls are Raptors, or Birds of Prey, which means they hunt other living things for their food, using their special adaptations and unique abilities that set them apart from any other creature.
Exceptional vision, and acute hearing play a major part in an Owl's hunting technique. Couple these with powerful talons and beak, plus the ability to fly silently, and you have a formidable predator, using stealth to hunt down prey.

After Eating, Owls regurgitate pellets, which contain the indigestible bones, fur and feathers of their victims. These pellets can be collected by researchers to study Owls' eating habits.

Distribution: Owls are found on all continents except Antarctica, and in a great variety of habitats, from thick forests to open prairies.

Size: The smallest owl in the world is the Least Pygmy Owl (Glaucidium minutissimum) at 12cm (4.5") tall, and the biggest owl in the world is is generally accepted to be the Eurasian Eagle Owl (Bubo bubo) at up to 71cm (28") tall.

Parts of an Owl

owl parts
Parts of a Typical Owl - In this case from the genus Athene.

 


Face of a Long-eared Owl. Not all species have ear-tufts.

 


Side view of an owl head. Not all species have false eyes.

 

owl wing
Wing and tail of an owl shown from the upperside.

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References:

Campbell, Wayne. 1994. "Know Your Owls". Axia Wildlife
Hollands, David. 1991. "Birds of the Night". Reed Books
König, Claus & Weick, Friedhelm. 2008. "Owls: A Guide to the Owls of the World (Second Edition)". Yale University Press
König, Weick and Becking. 1999. "Owls: A Guide to the Owls of the World". Yale University Press
Long, Kim. 1998. "Owls: A Wildlife Handbook". Johnson Books
Mikkola, Heimo. 1983. "Owls of Europe". Buteo Books
 
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