Owls are the one group of birds living a seclusive and mostly nocturnal life. This makes them hard to find in nature and only a limited number of people have contact to owls on a more regular basis. 


barn owl
Barn Owl


Some Basics on Owls


Basically, owls are birds of prey, because they feed on prey. However, it is because of their mainly nocturnal habits that they form their own order, separated from birds of prey. In the Western Palearctic, three species are diurnal which are Snowy Owl, Hawk Owl, Pygmy Owl and the Short-eared Owl. They feed by catching prey and have binocular vision. 


It is especially their binocular vision, and binaural hearing perfectly adapting them to life in twilight and during nighttime. It must be said that even owls cannot see anything in total darkness. They compensate this by using their phenomenal hearing abilities. Owls have a number of similarities they all share with each other:

  • main activities during twilight and nighttime
  • binocular vision
  • hooked bill
  • bill with cere
  • facial disk 
  • circle of feathers around each eye
  • excellent hearing
  • large eyes are fixed in their sockets and cannot be moved
  • abilty to rotate head by 270°, compensates for fixed eyes
  • large head often with characteristic face pattern
  • dense plumage
  • soft-surfaced plumage allows noiseless flight
  • sharp curved claws
  • sexes similar
  • hunt from perch or out of flight


great grey owl
Great Grey Owl


Ear tufts


Some owls sport ear tufts. Eagle Owl and Long-eared Owl do have the longest ear tufts. Short-eared Owl, Marsh Owl and Scops Owl have rather shortish ear tufts; other owls don't have them at all. 


Ear tufts are a pair of small bunches of 6-8 feathers that can stand upright on the birds head or are draped alongside the forehead and over the eyebrows. These feather bunches are no real ears and mainly stand upright in case of emotons or agitation. The purpose of these feather ears is still unknown. Still four theories have been developed in order to give some sense to that matter:

  • Used as part of camouflage
  • it is part of the courtship display
  • raised in case of aggression
  • it signals bird emotions such as anger, dominance, submission 



The Owls of the Western Palearctic


Within the palearctic range there are 18 species existing. Some are limited to the harsh subarctic conditions of northern Europe, some are native to northern Africa, some to the Middle East:

  • Eurasian Eagle Owl (Bubo bubo)
  • Pharaoh Eagle Owl (Bubo ascalaphus)
  • Brown Fish Owl (Bubo zeylonensis)
  • Great Grey Owl (Strix nebulosa)
  • Ural Owl (Strix uralensis)
  • Snowy Owl (Bubo scandiacus)
  • (Northern) Hawk Owl (Surnia ulula)
  • Tengmalm's Owl (Aegolius funereus)
  • (Eurasian) Pygmy Owl (Glaucidium passerinum)
  • Long-eared Owl (Asio otus)
  • Short-eared Owl (Asio flammeus)
  • Marsh Owl (Asio capensis)
  • Tawny Owl (Strix aluco)
  • Barn Owl (Tyto alba)
  • Hume's Owl (Strix butleri)
  • Little Owl (Athene noctua)
  • (Eurasian) Scops Owl (Otus scops)
  • Pallid Scops Owl (Otus brucei)