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Northern Spotted Owl
Scientific classification

An owl is any of about 174 species of solitary nocturnal birds of prey in the order Strigiformes. Owls mostly hunt small mammals, insects, and other birds.

Owls have large forward-facing eyes and ears, a hawk-like beak, and a conspicuous circle of feathers around each eye called the facial disk. Although owls have binocular vision, their large eyes are fixed in their sockets, and they must turn their entire heads to change views.

Despite their appearance, owls are more closely related to whippoorwills and other nightjars or Caprimulgiformes than to hawks. Some taxonomists place the nightjars in the same order as owls, as in the Sibley-Ahlquist taxonomy.

Owls are far-sighted, and are unable to clearly see anything within a few inches of their eyes. However, their vision, particularly in low light, is excellent.

Many owls can also hunt by sound in total darkness. the facial disc helps to funnel the sound of rodents to their ears, which are placed assymetrically to allow better directional location.

Owls are traditionally associated with wisdom and with the goddess Athena, although crows, rooks and many other common birds are more intelligent. In Japanese culture, the bird is a symbol of death and seeing one is considered a bad omen.

Owls powerful clawed feet and sharp beak let them tear their prey to pieces before eating. Their muffled wings and dull feathers allow them to fly almost silently and unseen. Scientists studying the diets of owls are helped by its habit of disgorging the indigestible parts of their diet, bones, scales, and fur in pellet form.

Owl eggs are white and almost spherical, and range in number from a few to a dozen in some owls. Their nests are crudely built and may be in trees, underground burrows or barns and caves.

External Links


  1. North American Owls: Biology and Natural History by Paul A. Johnsgard, ISBN 1560987243, Smithsonian Institution Press, 1997