Thursday, January 28, 2010

Owls and Ears

I was wading through photos today, working on an upcoming talk, and came across a cool picture. I've probably shared it here sometime in the past, but maybe you haven't seen it.

Long-eared Owl, Asio otus. Or perhaps this individual ought to be called a "Lop-eared Owl". I came across this individual roosting in some white pines, and had spotted him from afar. Thus, I was able to get relatively close before he seemed to become aware of my presence.

Note how his ears are drooping like a basset hound! That's not the typical posture that we humans observe long-ears in. He seemed to become wise to me just seconds before I shot the photo; not long after he snapped to attention.

Photo courtesy Cornell Lab of Ornithology Birds of North America Online.

Long-eared Owl, alert posture. Those "ears" aren't actually ears at all. They are ornaments that help disguise the bird, as when fully erect these appendages help the bird blend with its brushy surroundings and appear more stick-like. Also, when a Long-eared Owl feels a threat lurks, it'll "sleek" its body - compressing its feathers and sitting very upright and at attention. The transformation from relaxed posture to alert posture is quite remarkable. From chubby and lop-eared, to thin and stickish. At a glance, long-ears appear amazingly like a broken-off branch, and it's easy to pass them by.


Russell Reynolds said...

Neat , never seen that pose, Owls are such unique creatures. I was eye to eye with my first Long ear outside my front door once. He was in pine tree there. My granddaughter was first to see it. He was all stretched out and mean lookin' . Looked like a Samuri warrior staring at her. Scared her.

Ben Warner said...

Jim, I've been wondering, are the ear tufts composed of a single feather or multiple feathers?