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If you give a hoot about owls in Iowa, here are some cool facts you should know:
Meet Iowa’s owls. In Iowa, seven owl species nest here. While the great-horned owl is the most widespread of the species overall and the barred owl is the most common forest owl, both the barn owl and short-eared owl are endangered in Iowa, and the long-eared owl is on Iowa’s threatened list. The Eastern screech owl is more likely to be seen in cities, and then there’s the burrowing owl. The snowy owl is Iowa’s most common winter owl visitor, flying in from the tundra when they can’t find enough food.
It’s not always about the trees. While five of Iowa’s seven nesting owl species primarily nest in trees, the short-eared owl nests on the ground in very large grasslands, and the burrowing owl is a very rare nester in Iowa, usually nesting in abandoned badger dens. Lack of proper nesting habitat for the short-eared owl has led to its endangered status in Iowa.
Those aren’t ears. What appear to be ears are merely tufts of feathers. The actual ear opening is on the side of the head, well below the tufts. Unique to owls, the ear holes are not even, with one slightly higher than the other. Sound reaches the ears at separate times, which allows the owl’s brain to pinpoint the location of prey.
Owl faces are like satellite dishes. The distinctive disk-shaped face has purpose. Bowl-shaped feathers collect and focus sound to aid hearing, much like a satellite dish collects and concentrates television signals.
Don’t roll your eyes at me, owl. Oversized owl eyes are so large they cannot move in the eye socket. Humans can roll their eyes, a trick an owl cannot do. Unlike most birds, both eyes face forward, not set on the sides of the head. Lacking eye movement, their neck compensates, able to rotate each way 180 degrees for nearly a 360 degree field of vision.
Mice are always on the menu.
One owl can eat nearly 80 pounds of mice a year—that’s nearly 13,000 mice over 10 years.
Owls are super stealthy. A special feather design eliminates the whistling sound of air passing over the wing so they can fly in complete silence.
Portions of this article originally appeared in the January/February 2010 issue of Iowa Outdoors Magazine magazine.
For more on Iowa's critters, check out our Iowa Wildlife board on Pinterest.