For the last 25 days we have been unveiling a new bird here and on our Facebook page every day until Christmas. Today's final bird in our Birdorable Bonanza: Advent Edition is the Elf Owl!
Elf Owls are tiny owls native to parts of Mexico and the southwestern United States. They are the world's lightest owls among the smallest. These little cuties are cavity nesters, using old woodpecker holes excavated in hardwood trees or saguaro cactus.
Despite their size, Elf Owls are still fierce birds of prey, hunting for all of their meals. They feed on a variety of insets as well as small lizards, snakes, and even infant mammals like baby rats.
Some Elf Owls migrate, while others are year-round residents. Birds that breed in the southwestern United States fly south for the winter. Birds that live in Baja California are non-migratory permanent residents in their territory.
They don't really have eye "balls" like humans and other animals. Instead, owl eyes tend to be more tube-shaped. Their elongated eyes are held in place by bones in the skull. Owl eyes are also relatively enormous when compared with human eyes. If a Great Horned Owl were the same size as a human, its eyes would be as large as a pair of oranges. In some owl species, the weight of the eyes accounts for up to five percent of the total weight of the bird.
Because of the shape of an owl's eyes, the bird is unable to move the eyes inside their head. They have to turn their heads around in order to look around. An owl can turn its head about 270 degrees, or about 3/4 of the way around. There are some special adaptations in owl anatomy that allow them to turn their heads so far, including extra vertebrae in the neck, and different blood vessels that keep blood flowing between the head and body.
Unlike many other bird species, owls have forward-facing eyes. This makes them appear more human-like than other birds and may contribute to their general popularity among people. Compare the forward-facing eyes on the Great Grey Owl's face to that of the American Bittern below.
Great Grey Owl by Rolf B. [CC BY-SA 2.0]
American Bittern by Amy Evenstad for Birdorable
Many owl species are nocturnal, but owls can see perfectly fine in the daylight as well as at night. Because of their excellent night vision, their pupils don't retract as much as in humans. Closing their eyelids halfway or more helps keep the bright light from hurting their eyes. This also gives owls the appearance of being sleepy in daylight, when in fact they may be fully awake and alert.
Owls have three sets of eyelids. Upper and lower eyelids close when the owl blinks or sleeps. A third, semi-transparent lid, called a nictitating membrane, closes diagonally across the eye. This thin layer of tissue is used to keep the eyes clean and to protect the eye while still allowing for some vision. You can see this membrane partially closed in the photo of a Barred Owl below.
Barred Owl with nictitating membrane visible by Philo Nordlund [CC BY 2.0]
Are you looking for a fun and easy things for guests to do at your nature center? Our cute Birdorable bird coloring pages can be the basis for a fun and free activity. We have over 100 different coloring pages available -- and they are all free to download.
We found some of our Eastern Screech Owl pages being put to good use during a recent visit to the Green Cay Nature Center in south Florida. Green Cay has a gorgeous little animal ambassador named Oliver. Oliver is unreleaseable due to injuries he sustained in a collision with a car. In addition to cute souvenir t-shirts bearing Oliver's image, the nature center was offering coloring pages featuring our cute Birdorable version of the Eastern Screech Owl. Here's a photo of Oliver on his perch, surrounded by completed coloring page masterpieces from visiting children.
Today we've added our 600th Birdorable bird: the Tawny Owl!
The Tawny Owl is the most widespread species of owl across Europe. Tawny Owls are also found in western parts of Asia and northern Africa.
Tawny Owls are recognized by their tawny brown striped body plumage, large round heads which lack ear-tufts, and oversized brown eyes.
The Tawny Owl is primarily nocturnal, hunting prey items like small mammals and large insects. They prefer wooded habitat. They have adapted well to human development and will also inhabit parks and gardens.