As kids, I’m sure a lot of us hear stories about dumb owls or evil owls or how they are able to rotate their head by 360 degrees or that owls cannot see during the day or that owls are the symbol of victory or that they are the vehicle of gods etc. etc. etc.
With all this data about owls during our growing up days, its natural that most people who get into bird photography love to photograph owls.
I love when I hear people on my tours wanting to see ‘owls’. I don’t think there is any other group of birds that comes close to these guys in terms of their Mysterious charm.
There are so many stunning things about these guys… for e.g.
1. Let me dispel one of the common myths ‘owls CANNOT rotate their heads 360 degrees‘. Yes it sure does look like they can but nope they cant. They do however have an astonishing 135 degree of movement in either direction (left or right). That gives them a 270 degrees of movement.
Please note that 270 degrees of movement will mean a field of vision that can cover the entire 360 and much much more 🙂 in terms of vision. They have an extra 6-7 vertebrae in their
necks for that and in addition to that they have special vessels that ensure that the blood flow continues even with that high degree of twisting of the neck.
2. The Ears: I find them the most fascinating features of an owl. To begin with, the owls ears are asymmetrical. They are not placed at the same position on both sides of the head. They are slightly misaligned
That’s not a bug; Its a feature.
Well, I know most of the Software Developers and Testers out there will remember that line but only that in this case it is true.
The owls use this misalignment to pin-point the exact location of the sound. How?
Well, simply put, the time it takes for the sound to reach one ear, will be different than the time it takes to reach the other ear. Using that difference, the owl is
able to pin-point its prey (for e.g. the Great Grey owl regularly hunts for mole that move underground). In addition to this mis-alignment, the disc like face also helps
in channeling all sound waves towards the ears.
More on these winged beauties in future posts. For now, lets see one of them
The Short-Eared Owl
So called because of the small ear-tufts that they display. The ear tufts are not always seen and have no real connection to their ears. They are used in defence and more often than not they are not seen at all. Feeding on voles, insects and even small birds like the larks and pipits, these guys have a field time in the plains of India every winter.
They come in to India via the Gujarat/Rajasthan passage during winters and spread out in the plains. Gujarat happens to be the best place to meet them in good numbers during winter. Early on in winter these guys stick together and finding more than a dozen together is not too uncommon. They all seem to like to roost close by when they come in. As they settle in for the winter they start to spread out a little more and find their own areas under the trees. Very well camouflaged while roosting, these guys look half their size when seen under the trees.
For those of you who haven’t seen these guys yet, the first meeting will be unforgettable. Its a challenge to see them under those trees. They just mix in so well.
From a photographic point of view, there is no better place than the Little Rann of Kutch to meet these guys. Having said that, the outskirts of Mumbai have also proven to be really productive over the last couple of years. Plan your trips to match their arrival times around November end.
For those of you who have not seen these guys in the wild, please consider visiting Kutch and meet them in person.
A lot more about the various other adaptations and a different wonderful owl coming up shortly.