Photo: Mario Gustavo Fiorucci
In an Exorcist-style display of flexibility, owls can rotate their necks a maximum of 270 degrees without breaking blood vessels or tearing tendons.
To the untrained eye, it looks like a case of movie magic, but scientists at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine now have data to explain the eerie skill that has baffled birders for years.
Whereas people and other animals can simply move their eyes to follow an object or use peripheral vision to scan a room, owls must turn their heads for the same effect.
These birds have fixed eye sockets, which means their eyeballs can’t rotate, forcing them to stretch their necks—a seemingly supernatural feat.
“In the case of birds, their systems are designed to handle that amount of movement,” said Eric Forsman, a wildlife biologist for the U.S. Forest Service, who was not part of the study.
“The tissue, the blood vessels are designed to flex—things don’t just snap.”
Owls are more flexible than humans because a bird’s head is only connected by one socket pivot.
People have two, which limits our ability to twist, Forsman added. Owls also have multiple vertebrae, the small bones that make up the neck and spine, helping them achieve a wide range of motion.
Yet, even with these skeletal advantages, a bird’s body shouldn’t be able to withstand such extreme levels of movement. In people, a spinning head would cause all kinds of internal bleeding and breakage.
For the new research, the Johns Hopkins team obtained 12 dead birds from educational centers and created 3-D images of the animals’ blood vessels and bones.
The scientists also injected the carcasses with dye and liquified red plastic to preserve their arteries before dissection, according to a summary of their research on the U.S. National Science Foundation website.
The team discovered owls have backup arteries, which offer a fresh supply of nutrients when blood vessels get closed off by rapid turning. Their arteries also swell to collect any excess blood created in the process.
Learn more via How Owls Twist Their Heads Almost 360 Degrees – News Watch.
Captured mid-flight with powerful wings braced against the updraft this barn owl (Tyto alba) folds its wings towards it body, ready to land.
Image Credit: Trevor Andersen.
This week’s reader photo was taken by Trevor in Queensland.
“The barn owl (Tyto alba) has the largest distribution of all the species of owl and one of the most widespread of all birds,” says Trevor.
“I was lucky enough to capture this one mid-flight – and in the middle of the day – as they are usually only seen at night.”
Leaving the nest can be hard — luckily these two baby owls got some human help after their first attempt at flight didn’t exactly pan out.
The fledgling Western screech owls were brought to WildCare, a wildlife rehabilitation center outside of San Francisco.
The babies were brought to WildCare’s animal hospital “after their inaugural flight resulted in one fledgling crash landing on the ground, and the other being attacked by Scrub Jays who are nesting in a neighboring tree,” the group said on Facebook last week.
A checkup determined the little owls were OK, and after a WildCare volunteer went back to the nest to make sure Mom and Dad were still there, the babies were ready to go back home.
Read more via Baby Owls Escape Nest, Run Into Double Trouble.
Chinese painter, illustrator and street artist Cheng Yingjie (a.k.a. Hua Tunan) has created an extraordinary painting called “Night Owl” that makes perfect use of his signature colorful and chaotic style.
Yingjie’s stunning and dynamic owl figure seems to materialize magically out of a chaotic cloud of splashes and splashes of colorful paint.
Like many other successful contemporary street artists, he uses a wide range of bright colors, even those don’t actually appear in owls, like green, blue and purple.
His dynamic style, while definitely his own, is similar to the work done by many other notable street artists, including that of DALeast.
Not surprisingly, Yingjie’s art has been in fairly high demand, as he is a leader in the contemporary Chinese art community.
And yet, this is one of the few times that he has actually offered his art up for sale to the public.
He has created 35 copies of this owl by hand to sell to the public, each with its own little unique hand-drawn subtleties.