By Les Besser

“Are owls really as wise as we think they are?” I asked the Raptor Institute lecturer at a recent LCG presentation about birds of prey.

“Not at all,” replied the man. “A large portion of the owl’s head is taken up by their unusually large eyes—their brains are quite small. The smart birds are the crows and the ravens.”

That surprised most of the audience. We were watching the excellent presentation with great interest and enjoying the three fascinating live raptors he brought along: an American Kestrel, a Peregrine Falcon, and a Great Horned Owl.

The distance vision of a raptor is six to eight times better than a human—with superior high-resolution. In contrast to most other birds, raptor females are generally larger than the males. Although various theories exist to explain the discrepancy, perhaps the most reasonable is that the larger female body helps to protect the eggs and chicks.

The American Kestrel is capable of hovering. Once they spot their prey, they wait momentarily to perfect their aim before diving vertically at high speed, giving the victim no chance at all for escape.

Falcons, the fastest birds, can maintain 60 mph speed during horizontal flights; they are capable of surpassing 200 mph in their hunting dives. The unique structure of their nostrils allows them to breathe without being overwhelmed by the force of the rushing air.

The feathers of the Great Horned Owl’s wings have comblike edges that break down the air turbulence during flight, allowing the birds to be “silent hunters.” The retina anatomy of their large eyes is similar to a cat’s, explaining why they can see in low-light environments.

There is so much to learn about these amazing species.