Owls: Sight Ninjas

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I’ve had more than my share of interaction with owls. There were two owls living in my grandfather’s pasture: one in the giant pin oak at the end of the driveway, the other in a hickory on a little knoll in the meadow. They’d get to talking to one another at night…. “• ••• ••• •” back and forth all night. “No. Any mice over there?” “No. Any mice over there?” and so on.

The Great Horned inhabitant of the oak by my cottage was a full-grown adult with a 4′ wingspan. I was standing in the yard watching Comet Hale-Bopp with my grandfather’s ‘big eyes’ binoculars when this owl swooped 3′ over my head in the act of killing a mouse 15′ behind me, all in silence save the sound of rushing wind and my heart in my ears. It was impressive in precisely the same way as a Blue Angels/Thunderbirds aerial show is.

…so respect to owls, Bubo virginianus perhaps chief among them. If you’re looking to have your breath taken away by an owl, look no further than this metric of the visual acuity of Tyto alba, the barn owl [my bold]:

The density of receptor cells in the retina also allows birds to see in very dim light. Barn Owls can see an object at 2 meters with an illumination of .00000073 foot candles. This is equivalent to a person seeing an object by the light of a match a mile away.

Ouch, evolution. Read more here.

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