Posted by: BibleScienceGuy | August 25, 2021

Owls in the Campground

(3 Minute Read. 25Aug2021)

Owls have long fascinated me, but I have not been able to observe them very often in the wild. But one night last January my wife and I were treated to a pair of Great Horned Owls hooting from their roost in the top of a tall cottonwood tree by our house. The Great Horned Owl is one of the most common owls in North America with a year-round range throughout the continent.

Then at a campground this summer I came across this juvenile Great Horned Owl early one morning. He was sitting very still at the base of a tree. We passed by him several times that day, but by evening he was gone. We learned that it is common for young owls to be on the ground near their nest.

Just as we refer to a herd of cows, a troop of monkeys, or a school of fish, do you know the collective name for a group of owls? Here are your choices, and the answer is at the end of this article.
A) Senate
B) Flock
C) Parliament
D) Hoot

Owl Pellets & Prey Bones
(Click to enlarge. Note quarter for scale.)

We found lots of evidence of owls when we camped along the shore of a lake. Some of the evidence we collected for this picture. After killing prey with their sharp talons and beaks, owls generally swallow their prey whole. Later they regurgitate the prey’s indigestible parts like bones and fur in the form of “pellets.” Due to the size of the pellets we found, I think they were from Great Horned Owls.

At the top right of the picture is an undisturbed furry pellet. In the cardboard box is a pellet partially dissolved by rain. Below the pellets are bones from a variety of small mammals that we extracted from two other owl pellets. Notice jaw bones with teeth, a spinal column, a collar bone, leg bones, and two partial skulls. My wife and I marvelled and were filled with wonder at the detail and precision of these teeny tiny working parts designed by the Great Creator.

Divine Design of Owls

The Great Creator gifted owls some unique anatomical features.

Owls do not have eyeballs. They have eyetubes. These eyetubes provide binocular vision that improves depth perception and facilitates hunting prey. Some owls can see a vole half a mile away.

The eyetubes are immobile, so owls rotate their heads up to 270 degrees instead of moving their eyes. Their flexible necks have 14 vertebrae compared to seven for humans. When their neck rotation cuts off circulation, a blood-pooling system that has collected blood supports their brains and eyes till circulation is restored.

Most owls have asymmetrical ears located at different heights on their heads. This enables them to pinpoint sound locations in preparation for a prey strike. Owls determine the direction of a sound from the tiny difference in time that it takes for sounds to reach their left and right ears. Owls turn their heads until the sound reaches both ears at the same time. Then the owl is directly facing the sound source.

The maximum time difference between ears is only about 30 millionths of a second. Imagine the intricate brain structure the Great Creator designed to enable owls to use such minute differences to locate prey.

The owl’s circular facial ruff of feathers can be adjusted to help focus sounds onto their ears. It is like how sounds are louder and clearer when you cup your hands behind your ears. Owl hearing is about 10 times better than that of humans.

Due to the silent flight of owls, prey usually do not sense owls’ presence till it is too late. Serrated edges on the leading edge of owls’ flight feathers muffle the wing beats. This makes an owl’s flight practically silent.

An owl’s powerful talons and hooked beak are formidable weapons in catching and subduing prey. Owl talons are sharp and curved. Owls kill prey by crushing the skull and severing the spinal cord. The talons of a Great Horned Owl can exert a crushing and gripping force of over 30 lbs.

Owl beaks are short, curved, and downward-facing with a hook at the tip for gripping prey. The sharp upper and lower bills tear prey via a scissoring action. The downward-facing triangular beak directs sound into the ears without deflecting sound waves away from the face. It also leaves a clear field of vision for the owl.

Great Horned Owls eat a vast variety of mammals, from tiny mice and voles to porcupines and possums to rabbits and skunks. They can carry four times their own weight. They also attack and eat other birds like swans, herons, cranes, loons, and geese as well as other raptors like hawks, falcons, and smaller owls. A Great Horned Owl’s menu includes young alligators, snakes (including rattlesnakes and cottonmouths), and carrion. This last item is undoubtedly why owls are classified as unclean in the Old Testament so that the Israelites could not eat them (Leviticus 11:13-18; Deuteronomy 14:11-17).

Mammals are owls’ top prey, and birds are second. But owls will eat almost any small animal. A family of barn owls will consume over 3,000 rodents in a nesting season.

Great Horned Owls (GHOs) are fiercely savage. They have been known to attack bobcats. In a Great Horned Owl vs. Eagle battle, do not bet on the eagle. GHOs have been known to commandeer eagle nests, driving the eagles away. This victory is despite the fact that eagles run about 14 pounds compared to three for GHOs, and an eagle’s wing span is seven feet compared to five for a Great Horned Owl.

Answer to Owl Quiz Question

A group of owls is called a parliament. C.S. Lewis’ description of a parliamentary meeting of owls in The Chronicles of Narnia is the genesis for this term for a group of owls.

Questions to Ponder

1. Did you learn anything new about owls? Did it lift your spirit in awe to praise owls’ Great Creator?
2. Why would an owl need to turn its head 3/4 of the way around?

Share your thoughts on these questions in the comments below. It could encourage or help another reader.

For Christ and His Kingdom. Soli Deo Gloria. Alere Flammam Veritatis.

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©William T. Pelletier, Ph.D.
“contending earnestly for the faith”
“destroying speculations against the knowledge of God”
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(Jude 1:3; 2 Cor 10:5; Phil 1:16)
Wednesday August 25, 2021 A.D.

“Ah Lord GOD! Behold, Thou hast made the heavens and the earth by Thy great power and by Thine outstretched arm! Nothing is too difficult for Thee.” (Jeremiah 32:17)

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  1. Wow. Thank you for this informative article on the GHO.
    We serve a great God.


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