Ask Us Anything: Great Horned Owl Live Cam

2022 season

An adult Great Horned owl perches in a willow tree above a stick nest. It is partially hidden behind branches.

Have a question about Great Horned Owls, or something you saw on the Explore.org Great Horned Owl Live Cam?


Submit your question here:


Once a week, we'll go through submitted questions and post answers on the cam chat board, so check back for answers! We'll also post them here so we can all learn together about these amazing birds!

 

Owl Characteristics

Question: How do they turn their heads all the way around? How are they able to move their necks anywhere they want?


Answer:

Owls are able to move their heads about 270 degrees- which is almost all the way around, but not quite- more like 3/4ths. They can do this because they have extra neck bones and strong neck muscles. They also have special circulatory adaptations so they don’t cut off blood flow when they turn their head so far. They have 14 neck bones, compared to the 7 in humans.

Being able to turn their heads so far lets them see behind them without moving their torso or the rest of their body, which helps reduce the amount of sound they make—which helps them stay unnoticed and hidden from any potential prey or from any birds that might want to mob them.



Diet and Feeding

Question: What do they eat?


Answer:

Great Horned Owls eat all sorts of things, including (but not limited to): small mammals (like voles, mice, and squirrels), larger mammals, like rabbits or skunks, birds like songbirds, gulls, herons, ducks, or pheasants, reptiles, amphibians, fish, and insects. They do seem to eat more mammals than anything else, followed by birds. It varies based on what prey is around, and that they can catch.


Question: How do Great Horned Owls not choke when swallowing large prey?


Answer:

The trachea is separate from the esophagus, so the food goes down the esophagus into the proventriculus, where digestion starts. The esophagus can expand quite a bit, and muscle contractions force the prey down. The trachea is a small opening behind the tongue where the owl breathes. It is surrounded by the glottis, which is the entrance to the trachea. The glottis reflexively closes when touched, which prevents food from going into the lungs. The esophagus is much larger than the small tracheal opening. As well, owls can breathe through their nares (nostrils on their bills). For more information: