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Posted by on Jan 27, 2016 in Tell Me Why |

How Far Can an Owl Turn Its Head?

How Far Can an Owl Turn Its Head?

If you have ever walked around a perched owl, you may have been amused at the way it seemed in danger of twisting its head off as it turned to watch your every movement. Unlike the eyes of most birds, the owl’s eyes point straight ahead.

In order to change the direction of its glance, the owl must turn its whole head. Owls have multiple vertebrae, the small bones that make up the neck and spine, and help them achieve a wide range of motion.

Extra bones in its neck provide such great flexibility that the owl can turn its head a full three-quarter turn. When the owl can turn its head no farther in one direction, it quickly snaps its head around and continues to watch from the other direction.

Owls have backup arteries too, which offer a fresh supply of nutrients when blood vessels get closed off by rapid turning. Their arteries also swell to collect any excess blood created in the process.

Plenty of birds have a similar ability to look behind them. Red-tailed hawks, for example, are almost as flexible as their nocturnal cousins. There are lots of advantages to being able to look over your shoulder and see something coming—if you’re trying to avoid predators or detect prey.

Content for this question contributed by Chris Kinyon, resident of Lower Lake, Lake County, northern California, USA