How much do you know about owls?

owl in tree

These raptors are found all over the world in sizes large and small, and have been in myths and legends for thousands of years. So how much do you really know about these birds? Test your knowledge in this fun quiz.

Question 1 of 16

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owl flying
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How many owl species are there?

There are around 220-225 owl species found around the world, though counts depend on how some species are classified. All owls fall within one of two families — Strigidae, or typical owls, and Tytonidae, or barn owls. North America is home to 19 species of owl.

Question 2 of 16

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owl eye close-up
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How many eyelids do owls have?

Owls have a total of three eyelids. They have an upper eyelid that closes when blinking, a lower eyelid that closes when sleeping, and a third eyelid that closes diagonally, called a nictitating membrane, that is used for cleaning their eyes from dust and debris. 

Question 3 of 16

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owl in tree
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Owls are known for their ability to rotate their necks and look behind them. How many degrees can owls turn their necks?

It's popularly thought that owls can turn their heads completely around, but though these birds are fascinating creatures of the night, they aren't poltergeists. However, the myth came from somewhere, and it's because owls can turn their necks by 135 degrees in either direction, giving them a total of 270 degrees of movement. Because they can't roll their eyes in their head, they have to have extra neck movement to see around them. The adaptation comes with twice as many vertebrae in their neck as the average bird, and special blood vessels to keep circulation moving even when twisted around. 

Question 4 of 16

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barred eagle owl
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Which owl species is this?

The barred eagle owl, or Malay eagle-owl, is found along the Malay Peninsula, including in Indonesia, Singapore, Thailand and even Borneo. It feasts on a variety of prey from insects and birds to small mammals and snakes. They're known for being both opportunistic and fierce, and can bring down prey that is even similar in them in size.

Question 5 of 16

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elf owls
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What is the smallest of all owl species?

The desert-dwelling elf owl claims the title of most diminutive. It weighs as little as one ounce, and measures just around 5 inches long. It's usual prey includes insects and scorpions, primarily because it has relatively weak feet and talons. But don't think less of these tiny creatures — they manage to catch much of their prey while on the wing because they are agile fliers.

Question 6 of 16

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owl on gloved hand
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Owls are farsighted, and so have difficulty seeing up close. To compensate, what do they use to feel out food when grasping or eating prey?

Owls use filoplumes, small hair-like feathers on their beaks and feet, to feel out food when they catch and eat it. The filoplumes are short and have a few small barbs at the tips. These help the owl better sense vibration and pressure, letting the owl know what is going on and how to react with objects it holds.

Question 7 of 16

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snowy owl on ground, Bubo scandiacus
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Which owl species is this?

Though it lives in the snow-covered tundra of the Arctic north in North America, Europe and Asia, the snowy owl does sometimes make its way down the Eastern Seaboard of the United States and hang out in more temperate zones in search of prey. It is one of the largest owl species, and is the heaviest. And of course the species has become famous in recent decades thanks to Hedwig, the snowy owl companion of Harry Potter. 

Question 8 of 16

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saw whet owl
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How did the saw-whet owl get its name?

This doll-like species is one of the smallest owls found in North America at just around 6-8 inches long. It is known for the sound of its alarm call, which is similar to a saw being sharpened on a whetstone.

Question 9 of 16

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burrowing owl
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Which species of owl lives in the ground?

Though this species nests and roosts in burrows, it doesn't do its own digging. Instead, it takes over old ground squirrel, badger and prairie dog burrows. They are active and alert during the day, but hunt at night. Burrowing owls are equipped with the excellent hearing and sight of all owls, but also have particularly long legs which help them make short sprints after insects and other food sources on the open grasslands and prairies where they live.

Question 10 of 16

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owl talons
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Owls have a foot structure called zygodactyl. This allows them to:

The zygodactyl feet of owls are structured so that two toes face backward and two toes face forward, which gives them an excellent grip when resting on a tree branch. The structure also allows for an outer toe to swivel forward or back when needed. Generally, owls have three toes facing forward and one backward when flying, and they swivel their outer front toe to the back when clutching prey or perching for a solid grip.

Question 11 of 16

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oriental bay owl
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Can you name this owl species?

Part of the barn owl family, this rare and unusual-looking owl can be found in Southeast Asia. It hunts prey including small rodents, bats, birds, frogs and other small species. It manages to fly through the dense forest habitat to make its kill thanks to short, rounded wings perfect for dodging trees and undergrowth.

Question 12 of 16

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burrowing owl chicks
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One special feature of owl ears that give them such great hearing is that their ears are:

Though owls have keen vision, they rely greatly on their hearing when hunting. Owls have ears that are placed asymmetrically on their heads (and many species also have asymmetrically sized ears) which allows them the ability to triangulate the location of sound and perfectly pinpoint the source. When a sound is equally loud in both ears, the owl knows it has zeroed in on both the source and distance.

Question 13 of 16

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owl pellets
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What is an owl pellet?

Owls gulp down their prey but they can't digest everything. So, they regurgitate the parts they can't process, including bones, scales and fur. These pellets tell the story of what local owls have been dining on, as scientists (and middle school kids) can easily pick out and identify the various bones of prey species. 

Question 14 of 16

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owl in flight
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Owls are famous for their silent flight. What feature allows them such stealthy movement on the wing?

Owls manage to fly so silently thanks to the special build of their flight feathers. The leading edge of the primary flight feathers has stiff fringes that reduce turbulence, while the trailing edge has soft, frayed-like edges to reduce remaining turbulence. Downy feathers throughout the wings also help dampen sound. Owl feathers are so great at reducing turbulence for silent flight that researchers have looked into mimicking the feather structure to improve airplane wings, fan blades and other items.

Question 15 of 16

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owl with moon in background
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What is the most widespread of all owl species?

The barn owl is not only the most widespread owl species, but also one of the most widespread of any bird species. It is found on every continent except Antarctica, including many islands. With their wide distribution, it is no wonder that the species goes by more than 22 other names, including ghost owl, death owl, hissing owl, delicate owl, church owl, and hobgoblin or hobby owl.

Question 16 of 16

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Great horned owl (Bubo virginianus) sitting on a stick
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Which species is this?

The great horned owl is one of the largest owls in North America and is known for its opportunistic hunting. It will hunt just about anything, including prey larger and heavier than itself — from rodents and small birds up to raccoons and skunks, and even sometimes cats and small dogs. A fierce and adaptable predator, it is no wonder that it is such a widespread and thriving species.

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