Did you know that there’s one bird known for being a fierce predator and extremely wise? Who is it? The owl, of course!

Owls are birds of prey known as raptors. Like all raptors, owls have sharp beaks and strong claws — called talons — that they use to catch and eat other animals for food. Other raptors include hawks, eagles and falcons.

Owls don’t necessarily compete with other raptors for food. In fact, they can often share territories, because unlike most raptors, owls are mostly nocturnal. That means owls do most of their hunting at night when other raptors are sleeping.

Scientists believe there are over 200 different kinds of owls around the world. Almost 20 species of owls can be found in North America alone. Today, owls can be found on every continent except Antarctica.

Owls can range in size from the very small elf owl (five inches tall) to the two-foot-tall great gray owl. Regardless of size, all owls tend to be stocky with large heads and soft feathers. Their feathers are often light colors, such as tan, brown, gray and white, which allow them to blend in easily with tree trunks and branches.

When you see an owl, one of the first things you notice is its large eyes. Owl eyes are so large, in fact, that they can’t even move in their sockets like your eyes can. Owls have to move their heads around instead.

Owls’ large eyes enable them to see better at night when they tend to hunt. Most owls can see about three times better at night than you can!

Believe it or not, though, most owls don’t hunt mainly by sight. Instead, they hunt mostly by sound. The feathers around an owl’s face collect sound much like a satellite dish collects signals from space.

Owls also have one ear that is slightly higher on its head than the other ear. This means that sounds reach owls’ ears at slightly different times, allowing their brains to judge more accurately where the sound came from.

So are owls really wise? Scientists know for sure that they’re good predators. As for actual wisdom, who knows? Historians do know that owls have appeared in the art and writings of various cultures since ancient times.

The ancient Greek and Roman goddesses of wisdom, for example, were often pictured with owls. This may have led to their being used in many other types of popular culture as a symbol of wisdom. Many children’s books, from Winnie-the-Pooh to the Harry Potter series, feature owls as wise and noble creatures.

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  1. I think that today’s wonder was a very SMART choice! I like that you featured owls because ever since I got interested in wonderopolis I have been WONDERing if you would feature them. I also really liked that added very well-written facts. You guys really did it this time! :D

    • Hi there, Wonder Friend Macey! We’re thrilled that our owl Wonder had you smiling all day! We think owls are super cool nocturnal creatures… there’s just so much to Wonder about when it comes to them! Thanks for your comment and your very kind compliments, too! :-)

    • That’s great news, Bobby! How cool that we can Wonder about your favorite bird together! We Wonder if you learned anything new about this nocturnal creature? :)

    • We’re so glad to know that you enjoyed our hoot of a Wonder, K’Revo! Thanks for sharing your comment with us and joining the Wonderopolis fun! :-)

    • You are one lucky duck, Danielle! We’re so glad you have awesome, super wise parents to learn from! HOORAY for great family members! :)

  2. I love owls a lot. I even have a joke about them that I made.
    Knock knock.
    Who’s there.
    Who.
    Who who?
    What are you? An owl?

    Get it? Who who sounds like hoo hoo like an owl does.

    • Nice work, Tyler! You are really talented at writing and telling jokes! We are very proud of you, and thank you for sharing your jokes with Wonderopolis! HOORAY! :)

  3. I learned that owls hunt by the sounds around them. Another fact I learned about owls is that almost 20 species of owls can be found in North America alone. I had an awsome time learning about owls today!

    • Great work, Jackson, we’re so glad you summarized what you learned from our owl Wonder! We’re thrilled you enjoyed WONDERing with us today! See you soon! :)

    • Hey there, Joel, great connection to the Harry Potter series! We LOVE those books! The owl is used as a messenger because it’s an intelligent bird, and it’s portrayed as a trustworthy way to communicate. This was before phones, email, and text messaging were invented, so owls were used in Harry Potter’s world of magic! :)

  4. Hello Wonderopolis. We are so excited to have found your website. We were thinking about making daily visits to your website. This is a great resource. We have a wonder for you. How do owls’ heads turn completely around?

    • Welcome to Wonderopolis, Wonder Friends in Mrs. Kahler’s 2nd Grade Class! HOORAY for you! We sure hope you’ll visit us everyday- we’d love to say hello! Thanks for sharing your awesome Wonder about those wise ol’ birds– OWLS! We Wonder if they have eyes in the back of their heads…? :)

    • Hey there, Ovi, thanks for telling us about your favorite characters in the awesome Harry Potter series! Hedwig is one of the wisest birds we’ve ever met! :)

  5. I love owls!!! Do you have any other wonders about them??? I just recently got an urge to start drawing them. I also made one out of a soap carving!!!!

    • Hi Emma! Owls have been thought to be wise for thousands of years. Many believe it is because they are such good predators. Thanks for WONDERing with us! :)

    • Thank you for commenting, Jamster! This Wonder of the Day is useful to folks WONDERing about owls, how they live and how they find food! We’re glad you’re WONDERing with us and hope you have a great day! :)

    • Thank you for sharing your comment with us, Erin! We’re not sure why the owl was thought to be a wise bird — do you have any ideas? :)

    • Howdy, Mr. Frederick’s 2nd Grade! Thanks for sharing your question! Some owls do come out during the day, but you may not see them! For instance, can you spot the owl in this image from National Geographic? :D

  6. Why are owls wise?Do they talk to people? I LOVE OWLS! Do you like owls.
    At Fanklin Elementry we have owls haning up on the walls

    • Thanks for sharing your comment with us, Kennedy! Owls are pretty interesting creatures! Do you have a favorite species of owl? :)

    • That sounds very interesting, Riley! You should also check out the links we shared in the comments that relate to owls. :)

  7. I loved the article so much and I’m a owl lover myself since we studied them this year. What interested me so much is there eyes and how they can’t move there eyes is so strange. Long live the owl!! ;)

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Have you ever wondered…

  • Who is the wisest bird?
  • When do owls hunt for food?
  • Do owls live on every continent?

Wonder Gallery

Owlwiseowl-3owl-4owl-5Vimeo Video

Try It Out

Who’s the wisest animal of them all? Find a friend or family member to check out one or more of the following activities:

  • For starters, jump online and check out the Owl Gallery to see photographs of many different types of owl species. Which species do you think are the most interesting? Why? Pick out one species and do some Internet research to learn more about it.
  • Aren’t owls super cool? If you’re looking for a hands-on owl activity, try one of these fun owl craft projects:
  • If you want to see owls in action, be sure to check out National Geographic’s Wild Detectives: Night Owls. Would you want to be the prey of an owl? Knowing the owl’s hunting capabilities, how might you choose to camouflage yourself from a hunting owl?

Still Wondering

Science NetLinks’ Owls: Top of a Food Chain lesson introduces children to the idea that energy is passed from one organism to the next in a food chain.

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