Owl Fact File

Order: Strigiformes

Largest Owl

Blakiston Fish owl

2.7-4kg (6-8.8lbs)

Smallest Owl

Elf Owl

40g (1.4oz)



Small Animals

Owls are members of the order Strigiformes and can be found on almost every continent only being absent from Antarctica.

Around 250 species of owl are recognized.

Owls are classed in to two main groups with the Tytonidae having heart shaped faces and the Strigidae having round faces.

These birds are known for being nocturnal and emerge at night to hunt. Their keen eyesight is one of many adaptations helping them to find food. The eyes appear larger due to the stiff feathers around the eyes which channel sound to the ears. Their extremely large pupils gather light efficiently to help them see.

Their eyes face forward to assist with their vision. They are unable to turn the eyes in the head so instead turn the whole head up to 270 degrees in some species so that they can see around them.

They have keen hearing. This is up to 10 times better than that of a human. These owls have the ability to hear small animals moving around under snow. The ears of an owl are not symmetrically aligned and this allows them to determine where a sound is coming from.

Another adaptation which assists them with hunting is near silent flight due to the soft feathers which have a special edge to break the air up as it moves over the wings. Unfortunately being soft does mean the feathers are not waterproof and as a result they are not able to fly in wet weather.

They are considered raptors and are equipped with large claws to help catch the prey which they hunt. Their beak is also curved to help hunt and kill other animals.

Owls are popular in culture around the world and have become associated with intelligence due to a belief that they could predict events. They were also associated with the occult due to their nocturnal activity pattern and the ominous hooting sounds they make.

To help perch in trees they have a reversible outer toe which can point either forwards or backwards.

Most species of owl will not build their own nest. Instead they make use of the abandoned nest of another species of bird.

Often depictions of the Greek and Roman goddesses of wisdom were accompanied by owls.

The call of most owls is transmitted at a low frequency which helps prevent it being absorbed by vegetation.

Owls rest during the day at a roost which is typically a branch. Most species rest alone but others will roost with other birds. Some huddle together to keep each other warm.

When threatened an owl will fluff out its feathers to try and make themselves look twice as big.

Most owl species are colored a variation of grey or brown. This allows them to camouflage with the trees in which they spend much of their day.

The majority of owl species are residents in their habitat and do not undergo a migration. Exceptions to this exist such as the insectivorous owls which move each season. If food becomes scarce an irruption may occur. This is when thousands of owls leave their territory and move to another to find food.

Baby owls are known as owlets or nestlings. A group owls is referred to as a parliament.

Fossils of owls have been found dating back 70-80 million years.

A barn owl emerges from a tree hollow (Tyto alba)

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All owl species are carnivores which feed on small animals. Some are fully insectivorous and feed solely on insects.

These animals have been recorded to cache food. This is when they will catch more food than they need and stuff it in a hiding spot before coming back to find this when they need food.

A range of hunting methods are employed. These include sitting and waiting for food on a perch before they pounce down to capture prey on the ground. Others will hover for food in the air though this does expend large amounts of energy.

Most species of owl will cough up parts of their prey they cannot digest such as fur and bone. This is then expelled as a pellet which they will cough up.


Owls are found worldwide with the only continent they do not exist on being Antarctica.

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Record Breakers

World's largest Owl

The largest species of owl currently recorded is the Blakiston Fish owl with an average weight of 2.7-4kg (6-8.8lbs).

World's smallest Owl

The world's smallest owl is the elf owl found in desert regions of North America. Their body length is just 14cm (5.5in) long with a weight of 40g (1.4oz).

burrowing owl

A pair of burrowing owls (Athene cunicularia)

Public Domain

Species Profiles - A detailed fact file on some of the world's Owl species


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Encyclopedia Britannica. 2021. Owl | bird. [online] Available at: <https://www.britannica.com/animal/owl> [Accessed 23 August 2021].

Owl Research Institute. 2021. About Owls. [online] Available at: <https://www.owlresearchinstitute.org/owls-1> [Accessed 23 August 2021].

Carolina.com. 2021. Characteristics and Behavior of Owls. [online] Available at: <https://www.carolina.com/teacher-resources/Interactive/information-on-owls/tr11106.tr> [Accessed 23 August 2021].

Sciencetrek.org. 2021. Owls: Facts (Science Trek: Idaho Public Television). [online] Available at: <https://sciencetrek.org/sciencetrek/topics/owls/facts.cfm> [Accessed 23 August 2021].

Pet Keen. 2021. 5 Largest Owls in the World (with Pictures) | Pet Keen. [online] Available at: <https://petkeen.com/largest-owls-in-the-world/> [Accessed 23 August 2021].

Roufs, T., 2021. World’s biggest owl depends on large old trees. [online] Mongabay Environmental News. Available at: <https://news.mongabay.com/2013/09/worlds-biggest-owl-depends-on-large-old-trees/#:~:text=The%20Blakiston%20fish%20owl%20(Bubo,foot%20(2%20meter)%20wingspan.> [Accessed 23 August 2021].

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