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Owls 'Bob' Their Heads – But Why?

Feb 03, 2016 02:12 PM EST
An insanely adorable owl that looks like it came straight out of a fairytale has been making waves. The said bird, which has snow-white feathers and cherry red eyes, has piqued the interest of many, some even guessing if it's a snow owl. However, the peculiar yet magical appearance of this said owl is due to a rare condition.
(Photo : Wikimedia Commons )

Ever wonder why owls bob their heads from side to side so often? Audubon's recent "BirdNote" podcast addressed this peculiar behavior, explaining that the animals aren't intentionally trying to weird you out after all. 

Owls, whose eyes are fixed in one position, can't move them the same way humans do, so all their odd head movements help them examine their surroundings better, including in dueing the hunt for prey. 

"All these varied head movements help the owl judge the position and distance of things around it," host Mary McCann explained in the episode. "Essentially, to triangulate on objects." (Scroll to read more...)

(Photo : Flickr: Mike's Birds)
Owl Head Tilt.

The behavior isn't particular to owls; many bird species bob their heads to determine the distance of objects. In addition, the bobbing helps them judge the speed at which objects move across their field of vision. Closer object crosses their field of vision faster. Falcons and hawks are among some of the other species who employ head bobbing.

The owl's special – albeit spooky – talents don't end there: its flexible neck allows for a 270-degree rotation. The ability to look over one shoulder, turn around to the back and almost all the way over the opposite shoulder – makes for an even more dramatic encounter for humans when crossing owls' paths.

But it's really all about locating small prey.

"After a few of these head-bobs to triangulate on their prey, they rarely miss," McCann added in the episode.

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