Owls are one of the most fascinating creatures on this planet, both to admire from afar and to learn about.
One of the first things you might notice about the hunting of a bird as compared to other birds is that they make little to no use of the mouth during the hunting itself.
They rely almost entirely on their sharp, downwards facing, hooked beaks, to do the work for them.
They also make use of their ears in hunting! They have binaural hearing wherein they can locate the direction and position of prey just by the sound waves they receive from them.
They also have asymmetrical ear holes which help them say whether the sound is higher or lower.
Equipped though they may be with so many incredible feats for hunting, they have equally enthralling and simultaneously terrifying feeding methods.
Once they carry out their vicious hunting, what then?
How do they eat? Do they chew? How do they digest their food? How do they excrete the waste materials?
So Today, we are going to take an in-depth look into the feeding and excretion of owls. Let us get into it!
Do Owls Have Teeth? How Do They Chew Their Food?
Owls, in fact, do not have teeth! They do not have any mouthparts designated for mastication, and instead, just swallow their prey whole.
This swallowing whole is done without any breaking down when it comes to smaller prey like rats, mice, and other insects, and they usually swallowed head first.
With bigger prey like birds and such, on the other hand, they use their sharp hooked bills to tear apart the flesh of the prey into smaller pieces, often crushing their bones into more manageable structures! Delicious!
If No Teeth Then How Do Owls Chew Their Food?
Maybe you are thinking that owl pellets are what you feed pet owls raised at home, just like other pet pellets.
But owl pellets are actually the end product of the feeding process in owls and not the beginning!
The digestion process of owls is a varied process from many other birds, and it is simultaneously captivating and horrifying.
As we just learned, owls swallow their prey whole or are torn into more manageable pieces and then swallowed.
So what happens once the food is inside? How does the stomach manage to break down such a whole and full thing?
A first thing to note is that owls do not have a crop, which is a sac-like structure resting in the throat that serves as a reservoir for extra food to take later.
The food instead passes directly into the digestive tract. The stomach of an owl can be split into two basic components:
- The first part is the proventriculus or the glandular stomach, wherein the secretion of enzymes, acids, and mucus happens and the digestion process commences. You can understand this stomach as working a lot similar to ours.
- The second part is the ventriculus or the muscular stomach, which is more often referred to as a gizzard. There are no digestive secretions of glands present here, and the primary role of this stomach is to filter out the indigestible parts of the prey like bones, fur, feathers, etc.
Owls Digestion Process:
Once the food reaches the stomach, the softer, more soluble parts are ground down using muscle contractions, and these parts then move through the rest of the digestive system.
Once the food reaches the small intestine, the enzymes are secreted by the liver into it, and the food is further broken down and absorbed into the body.
Several hours after eating is when the true horror hits us!
The indigestible parts of their prey like the fur, feathers, hair, bones, beaks, and such are still in the gizzard and need removal.
Passing it through the rest of the digestive tract to be excreted is risky as it might hurt the owl, and thus these parts are compressed into a pellet.
The pellet, once formed, travels back up to the proventriculus where it can stay for up to 10 hours before the owl regurgitates out.
The pellet must be excreted before any new prey can be swallowed, and so the ejection of a pellet can be seen as a sign of appetite in these birds.
The pellets of owls are different from other birds because they usually contain more food residue.
Scientists speculate that the reason for this is the less acidic nature of the owl’s stomach acids.
The pellets are removed by spasms of the esophagus which slowly bring it upwards into the owl’s mouth Owls look to be in pain when they regurgitate with closed eyes and a clenched face, but there is no retching or gagging like in vomiting and the pellet comes straight out.
This digestion process is complex as H***!
Do Owls Have Teeth In Their Stomach?
No, they do not! What you are probably thinking of is the second component of the owl’s stomach, the gizzard or the muscular stomach.
This is where all the soft and soluble parts of their prey are squeezed out through muscle contractions in the stomach.
Thus, owls do not chew at any phase of their feeding and digestion process, and other ways of breaking down their food are used.
Do Owls Have Tongues?
Yes! Just like other birds of prey, owls have a tiny but fleshy tongue that they use for various purposes.
It aids in both swallowing their prey whole and regurgitating the indigestible bits, and owls have also been observed to make threat displays using their tongues.
They simply make clicking noises while looking particularly terrifying and in many cases, it seems to have worked pretty well!
The intrigue and fascination with owls continue as we venture further into their world.
From mystical creatures with wisdom to bad omens of fortune, they play many interesting roles in our stories and mythologies, but the parts they play in nature are certainly the most entrancing of them all!
I hope you had a fun time exploring their world, and that you learned something new!
Thank you for reading!
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