A Real Hoot: Owl lecture reveals evolutionary adaptions of survival

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Owls have adapted to become one of Earth’s finest organisms. Not only can they hide in plain sight during the day, but they can  also use the dark to hunt their prey. The complexity of these organisms came to light on Feb. 13 in Carter Auditorium by renowned field researcher, Denver Holt.

Holt comes from Montana by the Travis Audubon Society (a local conservation group). He founded the Owl Research Institute and Ninepipes Wildlife Research Center in the state. Holt has also spent a large portion of his life studying owls in the wild and has lectured on them all over the country.

Holt began the presentation by discussing why people are drawn to these creatures. He believes it’s because they look like us. They have round heads and forward facing eyes just like a human. Throughout history, civilizations have used them as symbols. Ancient cultures in the past have even depicted them on their coins.

Holt then explained that owls belong to one of the 36 orders of birds and that their closest relative is the mouse bird of Africa. There are 268 known species of owls; 27 of which are barn owl species while the rest are considered typical owl species. It’s easy to tell the difference between the two. Barn owl species have heart shaped faces with black eyes while typical owl species have round heads with eyes that can range in a variety of colors. He also stressed that all a person needs to know to find and identify a certain owl is their vocalization patterns and their breeding season.

The many adaptations of owls have brought them to the top of their food chains. Their eyes are not only equipped with binocular vision to help them see over great distances but also with three eyelids which provide protection while diving through thick brush. The size of their eyes gives them optimal vision at night. Their only drawback is that they are fixed in their sockets; meaning they cannot move. Owls make up for this disadvantage by being able to rotate their heads one hundred and seventy degrees.  

Another evolutionary advantage these birds have acquired is their ears. Some owls have uneven leveled ears which help them pinpoint where certain noises originate from. Owls without this adaptation simply tilt their head to pinpoint the noise. Their eyes and ears allow them to stay active at night while their feathers allow them to blend in during the day. Owls across the globe have feathers that match the hue of their varied environments. They blend in so well that they avoid the dangers the day poses. One thing’s for certain, Denver Holt showed the audience what real hoot owls truly are.