While we are all staying at home, I thought to entertain you by continuing to write about nature’s amazing abundance and variety. I hope you will enjoy this slight diversion from my travel stories.
The title’s quote is from J.K. Rowling, the author of the immensely popular Harry Potter fantasy series. The hero Harry Potter had an owl as a pet – a snowy owl named Hedwig, and he and other owls in the stories delivered mail and parcels in the wizarding world – often without the benefit of having an address.
Taking a little literary license I am claiming this quote refers to my plight, for up until very recently I have had virtually Zero luck in photographing owls. The majority of these fascinating birds are nocturnal so I suppose I have a bit of an excuse, but it has been a singular challenge for me since I began bird photography a number of years a ago. I did have a few successes – like the top photo here of a small Morepork, or Ruru in Maori, which was taken in New Zealand.
I must have finally accumulated enough points with Horus (Egyptian god with an owl head) for to my delight the New York City American Museum of Natural History had a members- only live presentation of owls from all over the world. Before I share photos of these gorgeous birds, here are some general owl facts:
- There are around 200 different owl species.
- Owls are nocturnal – most active at night
- A group of owls is called a parliament.
- Owls hunt insects, fish, small mammals and other birds,
- Owls can turn their heads as much as 270 degrees. Their necks have 14 bones as opposed to human’s 7
- Owls are farsighted. Their eyes are not oval but cone shaped and cannot move within the eye socket – that is what give them their wide eyed stare
- Owl flight is silent due to specialized feathers that reduce noise turbulence.
The owls presented at the museum were from all over the world and their appearance was in size order – so I will do the same here.
ELF – .Also called a dwarf owl, the elf is the smallest (5-6”) lightest (mass 1.4 oz) and most nocturnal. They live in the Sonoran Desert and travel South to Mexico for the winter. The elf owl plays dead when threatened . Just adorable
BARN – The heart shape face is its most familiar feature. The barn owl uses a combination of sight and hearing to find its prey and it has one of the sharpest hearing abilities of any animal. Its ear openings are asymmetrical (not evenly placed) ear openings, the left one being higher than the right one so its ears are more sensitive to sounds from both above and below.
BARRED – Also known as the HOOT owl. It is a very vocal owl and when a male is trying to attract a lady, he starts with a specialized hoot followed by some fancy dancing and wiggling of wings.
HORNED -The “horns” refer to the tufts of feathers on the top of the owl’s head but they are neither horns nor ears. Their neck is very long, even though it appears that the neck is short. The horned owl we met had a way of weaving its body back and forth like a snake, making photos difficult to take – but it was a fascinating bird!
SPECTACLED – I had never seen this owl before in pictures or documentaries. It is a large tropical owl with a habitat ranging from southern Mexico and Trinidad south to southern Brazil, Paraguay and northwestern Argentina. It preys on large mammals such as the three-toed sloth as well as large insects and birds, including smaller owls.
EAGLE – This is the largest and heaviest of the owl species and it’s talons rival those of the bald eagle. It is found in North Africa, Europe, Asia and the Middle East in varying habitats. It is not a nocturnal owl, preferring to hunt during dusk and dawn. Their diet includes. voles, rats, beetles, deer fawns, rabbits, birds, mice, smaller owls, snakes and fish.
Have to say, meeting all these owls was quite a hoot.