Thursday, September 28, 2017

Coucou hibou!

"Dans la forêt lointaine on entend le hibou. Du haut de son grand chêne il répond au coucou!"

"In the faraway forest, we hear the owl. From the top of his oak, he responds to the cuckoo!" The lyrics of this favorite camp song aren't far from the experience we have with the resident screech owls here on Canoe Island at night. While our owls are pleasant to listen to, they are actually one of the island's fiercest predators. They are well adapted night time hunters.
Western screech owl

Everything about the owl helps them find prey and stealthily capture their meals. Unlike humans, owls cannot move their eyes in the socket, and so they've adapted to turn their heads up to 270 degrees. They have three eyelids, rather than two, the third crosses their eye diagonally to clean and protect these important hunting features.

You won't hear an owl approaching because they fly silently. This is thanks to downy feathers on their wings and legs that absorb sound and tiny structures called hooks and bows on the leading edge of their wings that help dissipate the noise of air rushing past their wings. If you were to look at the skull of an owl, you'd notice the ears are offset. This adaptation helps them triangulate the location of their prey. Given all these hunting advantages, it is no wonder our island frogs, a food source for the owls, go silent when they sense any predator near by!

It's too bad we don't have European cuckoos on Canoe Island, but we can appreciate the owls' hunting prowess.