One animal that is considered to be one of the wisest of all birds is the owl. There are several different species of owls, and they vary in size and color, but the overall anatomy is very similar. There are more than 20 known species of owls throughout the world. They are found in all regions of the Earth except Antarctica and some remote islands. Some of the most common species include the Great Horned Owl, Barn Owl, Snowy Owl, Barred Owl, Burrowing Owl, Elf Owl, Screech Owl, and many others. The two main categories of owls are typical owls and barn owls.
Great horned owls can swim the crawl stroke with their powerful wings. When an owl swims and gets too wet, it is easier for it to swim than fly with the wet feathers. However, once the bird reaches the shore, the animal fluffs out its feathers to dry.
Most owls are nocturnal or stay awake throughout the night, but some owls are diurnal, meaning they are awake during the daylight hours. Three diurnal owls include the great gray owl, northern hawk owl, and the northern pygmy owl. Their preferred prey includes songbirds or other small mammals.
Owls have 14 neck vertebrae, which is twice the number for humans, and these vertebrate help owls turn their heads 270 degrees. The vertebrates have holes that are ten times the size of the animals' blood-carrying arteries, which gives the owls flexibility to turn their heads because the arteries easily pass through the vertebral holes. In addition, the neck movement is necessary, since owls cannot easily move their eyes to see their surroundings.
Some owls have false eyes or eye spots which may slow down or deter predators coming at them from behind. Predators will usually not attack if their prey is looking at them, so the false eyes help the owls defend themselves against predators. The northern pygmy owl has bright yellow eyes on its face and black-colored feathers on the back of its head that look like watching eyes. All owls have very good hearing and a strong sense of smell.
Owls hunt mostly small mammals, insects, and other birds, although a few species specialize in hunting fish. A pair of owls can eat up to 6,000 rodents a year, though owls tend to live alone. Owls come in a variety of sizes as well. Some of them are only about 4 inches when fully grown with the largest reaching a height of 28 inches. Owls blend in very well with their surroundings.
Owls have very small beaks, though they are very powerful. They are extremely good at stalking their prey, patiently waiting for the right time to swoop down and get them. They can get prey that is in the water, on land, and in some circumstances even underground. With their powerful talons, they are able to pick up food and continue in flight. The food is transferred to their beaks where it is swallowed whole. The owl has to regurgitate pellets about 10 hours after eating with the bones, fur, and other remains that they weren't able to properly digest.
An owl's home usually includes the nests or tree cavities left behind by other birds. They do not build their own nests. Some great horned owls do not dig their own burrows but live in holes abandoned by prairies dogs or badgers. Owls are very territorial and will fight each other for the right to remain in a given location especially during mating season.
During the mating season, the hooting of male owls will increase to learn the locations of female owls. A pair of owls will spend many days together mating. Some species of owls will have the same partner for life. Depending on the species of owl, the female may lay just a few eggs to more than a dozen. The incubation period lasts about 30 days before hatching.
The female uses her beak to help the young as they begin to hatch. However, both the male and female will take turns watching the eggs, tending the nest, and bringing food back to the young. It is unlikely that all the young will survive because they are very vulnerable at birth. Owls usually remain in the nest from 4 to 8 weeks before they venture out on their own. They will be ready to mate when they are about one year old.
Finally, the life expectancy of owls depends on the species. However, most owls can live anywhere from four to about 15 years in the wild, though owls in captivity can live into their twenties or thirties, with some having lived to age 50.
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