Wise-looking and round-faced, owls have one of the most striking appearances and are a wonder to learn about.
They are equipped with a long list of physical capabilities that make them as vicious and skillful a hunter as they are.
From wide wings with serrated edges that help in silent flight through the quiet hours of the night to sharp talons that can grab onto and squeeze the life out of its victims.
Of its many physical qualities, two stand out the most today: its binocular vision and binaural hearing.
As the late hours of the night are the period when they are the most active, owls definitely need all the help they can get with their eyesight.
These nocturnal creatures also hunt during this time, and so they use a complex mix of both their sense of sight and hearing together to form mental maps of their surroundings and capture prey.
Today we are going to take a complete in-depth look into both these senses in owls, and see how they are optimized for these night dwellers’ needs.
So without further ado, let’s get into it!
How Good Is Owl’s Vision?
When you see an owl in person, it’s hard to not be mesmerized by its large round eyes that sit and stare straight across, seemingly unblinking and unperturbed by things in their surroundings.
One of the most fascinating things about owls’ eyesight is their tubular, forward-facing eyes.
Unlike human beings who possess eyeballs that can move around within their socket, owls are equipped with large elongated tubes that are fixed in place by bony structures in the skull called Sclerotic rings.
This is why they stare straight ahead and cannot roll or move their eyes separately!
This tubular form and forward-facing are highly advantageous to these creatures, as it increases their depth perception, even in low-light conditions.
This means that since both eyes will be focused on a single subject, the bird is able to discern the height, width, and length of the subject as well as judge the distance between them.
This is what is referred to as Binocular Vision.
Also, their limitation with not being able to move their eyes is compensated by the extreme flexibility and speed with which they turn their heads from side to side. They can turn their heads up to 270 degrees on each side!
Compared to human beings, their large eyes contain more rod cells and are thus more receptive and sensitive to light.
Their irises, which are in control of their pupils, widen according to the need of the environment.
And hence, unlike other nocturnal animals that go blind in harsh sunlight, owls have irises that can simply adjust their size and thus be able to see in daylight as well.
How Good Is Owl’s Hearing?
Owls have ear holes but lack any obvious external apparatus that denotes the position of their ears.
Their ears are structured pretty similarly to mammalian ears with an outer ear, a middle ear, and an inner ear.
The specific shape of the outer ear opening, called the aperture, varies from species to species and can vary from a small round opening to an elongated oblong slit.
The sound reaches the inner quarters of the ear in the form of pressure waves.
The outer ear captures these sound waves and passes it along to the eardrum present in the middle ear.
This is then transmitted into fluid form vibrations which trigger tiny hairs in the inner ear to move in specific directions.
All of these processes thus work together to form a complex and concrete mental image that the brain then interprets.
Apart from the owl’s ears themselves, numerous other physical advantages help in giving them a much clearer field of hearing.
Their round facial discs act like satellite dishes and direct much more sound waves to the owls’ ears, like when we cup our hand towards a source of sound and the waves are collected better than in open air.
They also have a downward-facing hooked beak that surprisingly aids in hearing by not causing any disruptions in the sound waves reaching the owl’s ear holes.
Owls also have asymmetrical ears which they use in the most captivating way to discern exactly where their prey is.
They look at the time difference between when the sound reaches their left ear and their right ear, and simply turn till there is no time difference to discern their victim’s position. They have the ability to judge time length differences of only 0.00003 seconds. (30 millionths of a second!)
Do Owls Have Night Vision?
Yes, owls have the ability to see very well at night, which is when they do most of their activities.
The reason for this incredible night vision is several things. First, is that they have a lot more rods than they do cones, which makes them a lot more sensitive and receptive to light, even if they lose color vision.
Their large pupil size also enables them to collect a higher amount of light rays.
Finally, owls have a little extra something that humans don’t, a reflector system called tapetum lucidum.
This is basically a mirror, wherein the light, after it passes the rods and reaches the mirror, gets reflected back to the rods.
This gives the rods a second chance at perceiving the light, thus increasing their vision in low-light conditions!
How Good Are Owl Eyes Compared To Human Eyes?
Like most nocturnal animals, owls have large pupils which make them much more receptive to light as it enables them to catch a much wider field of light.
One fascinating fact you might not have known is that owls are able to see clearly with just one-tenth to one-hundredth the amount of light that we humans need to see properly.
This means that they have a vision that is 10 to 100 times better than ours!
This is partly aided by a biological reflector system in their eyes called tapetum lucidum, which gives them 2 shots at receiving every ray of light by reflecting it back to the rods!
What Owl Has The Best Eyesight And Best Hearing?
Though all owls have an incredible sense of sight and hearing that stands out among their fellow flying brethren, there are some species that stand out particularly.
If we are looking at a sense of sight, the tawny owl takes the cake for the best vision, especially during the night!
Tawny Owls have large eyes located close to each other which gives them excellent binocular vision, with their field of vision overlapping to almost 70%.
They also have high visual acuity, with a sharp vision that is almost 100 times better than humans.
They also have higher visual sensitivity in the dark, which is twice as significant as human vision.
If we take the hearing category though, the undisputed winner is the Barn Owl.
As with all owls, their facial discs and asymmetrical ears play a huge role in awarding them with incredible hearing, as they maximize sound waves captured and also help in sound localization.
Research shows the acute hearing of barn owls as when they were housed in total darkness, they were able to capture rodents lying well under a bed of leaves.
They are able to discern the exact position of prey even on dark, moonless nights, and can swoop down and grab them accurately!
So that was all about the incredible senses of sight and hearing that owls possess. Like with most things in our world, nature seems to have taken care of every single detail when optimizing creatures for their habitats and their lifestyles.
The world of knowledge hidden within owls is a vast and wonderful world to explore, and we hope you enjoyed this venture into it!
Thank you for reading!
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