NATURE: Owl Power

Year: 2015

Year: NR

Though the theme of this NATURE special—owls and their “superpowers”—sounds a little cheesy at the start, by the end of this informative hour, you’ll be convinced that owls are a special sort of bird-kingdom badass.

For instance, you knew that owls can pretty much turn their heads all the way around (specifically, an amazing 270 degrees), but did you know that one of the reasons that humans can’t do this is because that twisting would in effect pinch off our own necks, cutting off the blood supply to our heads, and making us black out? (Raise your head if you’d like to give this experiment a try.) We also know that owls can see in the dark, and have really large eyes. But did you know that some owls have eys that make up an astonishingly googly 70% of their heads (vs. humans’ 5% eyeball)? My, what big eyes you have!

Beyond the stats and facts, where NATURE: Owl Power gets really neat is when these owl superpowers are illustrated with “Science!” For instance, to show the ability to see in the dark, we see the rolling nighttime hills of the Scottish Highlands via thermal view, which allows us, as a human viewer, to see the glowing warm rabbits and other varmints skipping across the dark pastures. Handy! We also see a victim’s-eye view of the “pounce”—the hunting technique where the owl dive-bombs the critter, only to rotate at the last second, slamming feet-first to the ground with 12 times their body weight, most likely killing their prey in an instanct.

Most beautiful, however, was the comparison of flight between a barn own, a pigeon, and a peregrine falcon, all of whom are brought into a studio to record the sound of their flights. Known to be particularly sneaky in flight, even the scientists recording the owl flying are agog that barely any sound registers on their sensitive instruments. Most elegantly illustrating this ghostly bird is the fact that its flight barely even stirs a pile of feathers as it flies past. Superhero, indeed!

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