7 Facts about the Great Horned Owl (well, one is still up for debate)

Last week, we were delighted to see our first Great Horned Owl (GHO) in Central Park. Great Horned Owls, also known as Tiger Owls and Hoot Owls, are the most adaptable and pervasive owl in the Americas.  We picked the top 7 facts that spoke (er, hooted?) to us most.

1. They are Master Hunters.


Of all animals, Great Horned Owls are among the most efficient hunters. They hunt at night using their specially adapted vision and hearing to locate prey quickly.  They are silent in flight and they attack with stealth and strength, often killing their prey instantly.  They have a kill rate of 85%.

2. Their eyes are enormous.


Great Horned Owl eyes are even large compared to other owls!  If human eyes were proportionally the same size, they would be like two grapefruits, weighing about 5 lbs each. More details on their eyes here.

3. Their “horns” aren’t ears, but their ears are totally amazing too.


Great Horned Owls, and a few other “eared” owl species actually have feathers that form the shape of their horns, or ear tufts.  It’s not yet totally understood what they are for but the leading theories are that they aid in communication and camouflaging.  Their actual ears are located asymmetrically on each side of the head.  The owl can use this asymmetry to turn its head and quickly know where a sound is coming from.

4. Their grip is scary strong.

Great Horned Owl Talon
Great Horned Owl Talon. From The Modern Apprentice: http://www.themodernapprentice.com/feet.htm

Great Horned Owls feet have been measured to grip about 500 pounds per square inch (there are reports ranging from 300 to 3000 PSI). For comparison, the average human grip is about 20 PSI. (Thanks Chris from CPC!)

5. They can reconfigure their talons.

Great Horned Owl Talon
Great Horned Owl Talon in hunting posture. From http://people.eku.edu/ritchisong/birddigestion.html

The outside talon on each GHO foot is opposable, just like human thumbs.  This means they can switch between a 3-1 talon configuration for perching and a 2-2 configuration for hunting and grasping.

6. They are a 2-foot tall powerhouse.

owl and ewok
Shot taken on the Forest Moon of Endor.

Great Horned Owls range from 1.5 to 2 feet in height and weigh about 2-4.5 lbs.  That’s just a foot shorter than an Ewok!  And considering that they can take down “almost any living creature that walks, crawls, flies, or swims, except the large mammals” (from “The Life History of American Birds Of Prey” by Arthur Cleveland Bent), even Ewoks should beware.

7. They know how many licks it takes to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop. [currently under debate]

owl and tootsie pop

In 1969, a Tootsie Pop commercial asked what has now become an age-old question: “How many licks does it take to get to the Tootsie Roll center of a Tootsie Pop?” In the ad, a wise cartoon owl answered “3 licks” but it cheated by biting.  Fortunately, thorough research has since been conducted both with human lickers (144 licks) and mechanical tongues (about 400).  The most recent study, published in the Journal of Fluid Mechanics indicated that it would take 1000-2500 licks to get to the center.   We may never have a definitive answer but if you do happen to conduct your own research, remember: “Give a hoot – don’t pollute!

A Very Temporary Hawk Exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art starring Pale Male’s daughter

Hawk-tivity in the East Village has come to a near standstill as Gog pointed out earlier this week. So we ventured back up to Central Park this week to follow up on Pale Male and Octavia’s recently rehabbed and released fledgling (see WINORR releasing the bird, photos by Jean Shum, video by Cathy Weiner).

According to hawk watchers in Central Park, the bird has been on a bit of a cultural tour of 5th Avenue this week.  She spent time outside the Metropolitan Museum of Art, waited in line to see the Woman in Gold at the Neue, and even checked out the Kandinsky’s at the Guggenheim.

After a couple of days with no sightings, we got word that the hawk was back along the northern edge of the Met at 86th St. and 5th Ave. For hours, the hawk put on a live show for spectators, joggers, and dogs alike.  

While visitors were dazzled just to see the hawk so closely, it turned out that she was doing a one-time-only, live, interpretive performance of pieces in the Met’s collection.

We are proud to bring you the highlights of her show.  


Art references (in order of appearance):

1. Inlay of “Horus of Gold”, 4th century B.C., Egypt

2. Banda Mask, 19th–20th century, Baga peoples; Guinea

3. Finial in the Shape of a Bird’s Head, 4th century B.C., Northwest China

4. “Butterfly” stool (model no. T–0521), 1956, Sori Yanagi 

5. Outermost Coffin, spring 1926, Harry Burton

6. Fan quilt, ca. 1900, American

7. Alabama Tenant Farmer Wife, 1936, Walker Evans

8. “Butterfly” ball gown, 1955, Charles James

9. Study of a Young Woman, ca. 1665–67, Johannes Vermeer

10. Bird I, 1986, Santiago Calatrava

          Congratulations and thank you to the lovely newlyweds!


Pale Male’s offspring treated & released back into Central Park

Great news from yesterday… WINORR released Pale Male’s now-healed fledgling back into Central Park after 2 weeks of treatment and care.  See their Facebook page for photos and video of the release. 

Central Park Hawk update:

Test results are in for the young hawk who died on August 12: rodenticide. More tests are being conducted to determine exactly what type of poison it was. 

The one who is still in the park was not spotted today.