Owls Owls choose to hunt at night to avoid the threat of falling prey to other wildlife. They have excellent hearing and good eyes for the night, specializing in seeing well without much light. They also fly very quietly, flapping their nearly silent wings, so that they can hear mice and other rodents scurrying around below.
“Their face has round rough patches on each side around the ears to pick up incoming sound,” Randolph College’s Shedd says. “The ears are on the side of the head and are asymmetric. The ear on one side is up farther than on the other side and it helps them isolate sounds. By having one ear higher than the other, the sound below them is going to be heard on a vertical and horizontal plane and isolated.”
This allows owls to hunt in complete darkness, just using their ears for direction.
Owls also have wing feathers that have a soft layer so that they don’t make noise. “Owls fly almost entirely silent so that the prey won’t hear the owl coming,” Shedd says, “but it’s more important to fly silently so sound of flight doesn’t interfere with their own hearing.”
Owls have a cryptic coloring, which means they appear hidden or camouflaged. They are brown and grey and very inconspicuous colors, according to Shedd, because they are spending the daytime sleeping and hiding for predators that don’t want them around.
“Other birds will mob owls and will be pesky and annoying. If crows find them, they will mob them and chase them and try and drive them away,” Shedd says. “It’s not just an annoyance for the owl, but becomes energetically expensive to find a new location.”
The Southeast has a hearty population and diversity of owls: the great horned, the barred owl and the screech owl are the most common. The barn owl is less common, and typically nests in barns. Even more rare are the short-eared and long-eared owls—and the saw-whet owl, a teeny tiny owl that migrates through the state coming from farther north.
Other winged creatures of the night Other than owls, there are a few other nocturnal flying predators, such as the whip-poor-will, nighthawk and chuck-will’s-widow. These birds have big mouths allowing them to scoop up insects while in flight.
You can see the nighthawk around sunset flying overhead. They look vaguely hawk-like with a 9.5-inch body and 2-foot wingspan. Up close, you can see their cryptic coloring, which is much like the owls’.