Skip to main content Skip to Search Box

Definition: owl from Philip's Encyclopedia

Bird found worldwide, except at extreme latitudes. Owls have round heads, hooked bills, large eyes, and long, curved talons. Soundless in flight, most are nocturnal and feed on small birds and mammals. The order (Strigiformes) is divided into two families: barn owls (Tytonidae) and typical owls (Strigidae).

Summary Article: owl
From The Hutchinson Unabridged Encyclopedia with Atlas and Weather Guide

Bird of prey of the order Strigiformes. The majority of owl species are nocturnal or crepuscular (active during twilight hours), although a small number are diurnal. Owls are characterized by hooked beaks, heads that can turn quickly and far round on their very short necks, and forward-facing immobile binocular eyes, surrounded by ‘facial discs’ of rayed feathers. Owl feathers have adapted to allow for silent flight and owls have an acute sense of hearing. Owls comprise two families: typical owls (family Strigidae) and barn owls (family Tytonidae). There are over 200 species of owls and they can be found in any temperate or tropical region of the world.

Owls feed mainly on rodents, but sometimes also eat reptiles, fish, and insects, and some species have been seen feeding on carrion. All species lay white eggs, and begin incubation as soon as the first egg is laid. They regurgitate indigestible remains of their prey in pellets (castings).

Owls are distinguished from all other birds of prey, except the osprey, by the tarsus (ankle bone) being half the length of the tibia (shinbone), while the outer toe can be turned backwards or forwards at will. Another distinction is the absence of the aftershaft present in the feathers of all other hawks; this is a small accessory plume which springs from the underside of the main feather.

The tawny owl (Strix aluco) is a brown-flecked species of Europe and the Middle East.

The little owl (Athene noctua) is the Greek symbol of wisdom and bird of Athena, found widely near human homes.

The snowy owl (Nyctea scandiaca) lives in the Arctic.

The largest of the owls are the eagle owl (Bubo bubo) of Europe and Asia, and the powerful owl (Ninox strenua) of Australia, both up to 0.75 m/2.25 ft long.

The worldwide barn owl (Tyto alba) was formerly common in Britain, but is now diminished by pesticides and loss of habitat. In Malaysia, it is used for rat control.

The long-eared owl (Asio otus) is distinguished by its ear tufts, which are about 3 cm/1 in long. It feeds on small rodents and frequently birds up to thrush size, and is notorious for its habit of occupying other birds' nests.

The short-eared owl (Asio flammeus) of North America, South America, Europe, and Asia is a streaked tawny colour, about 38 cm/15 in long; it hunts at dawn and dusk and roosts mainly on the ground.

The great horned owl (Bubo virginianus) of North and South America measures 56 cm/22 in, has long ear-tufts, and lives in forests, grasslands, and deserts.


barn owl

barn owl


barn owl

Guangzhou street market

owl, snowy

short-eared owl

© RM, 2018. All rights reserved.

Related Articles

Full text Article owl
Word Origins

[OE] (Old English) Owl has several relatives in the other modern Germanic languages (German eule , Dutch uil , Swedish uggla ), which...

Full text Article strich
The Chambers Dictionary

the screech owl. [L strix, prob modified by scritch]

Full text Article Owls
Black's Veterinary Dictionary

There are five species in the Order Strigiformes resident in the British Isles and they are NOCTURNAL birds of prey: barn owl (Tyto alba), tawny owl

See more from Credo