How Smart Are Owls? (It’s NOT What You Think)

Tori Rhodes
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How smart are owls?

On the whole, owls are incredibly intelligent birds.

There are more than 200 different owl species across the globe.

77 of these species are found in North America and some of them make their homes right here in Pennsylvania.

An owl’s brain is more complex than other apex predatory birds.

This is because over millions of years, their evolving brain has adapted to their nocturnal environment.

Some owls are known for their “mimic” or “vocal” abilities. The old world species are incredibly territorial and will threaten intruders by mimicking other animals such as mammals like the barking deer.

The great grey owl of North America even mimics the hooting of a red tailed hawk to attract a mate.

Owls are animals that must adjust to a changing environment. Consequently, they’ve learned to adapt to their changing environment by adapting to their prey that have themselves adapted to the changing environment.

Their high intelligence and specialization to hunt is what makes owls such successful hunters.

Interestingly, the more a species is wiped out by man, the smarter they become. Their evolution is quicker as they adapt to their new surroundings.

This presents us with the dilemma:

Owl intelligence

Contrary to popular opinion, owls are not stupid. On the contrary, they are highly intelligent creatures. Their “stupid” reputation is because of their nocturnal life, which is far from conducive for studying and observing the behavior of these fascinating animals.

Owls share many of the same physical characteristics as other birds. Their bodies are covered in feathers, their wings are used for flight, and their beaks are used to peck and tear into food.

Their eyesight is, however, very different from any other birds. Owls have large eyes that are highly adapted for nocturnal vision. Their brains also partially compensate for this inferior vision by integrating spatial hearing with vision. This allows an owl to hear where a sound is coming from.

Owls are classified into two main groups: so-called typical owls (like the Saw-whet Owl in our story) are active during the night; and barn owls, which are active during the day and night.

As we have mentioned, owl behavior is unlike anything you’ve seen in any other bird. Because of their unique physical shape, this type of bird has developed to prey in other, very interesting ways.

How big is your vocabulary? This section will give you some clues.

Why are owls considered wise?

We have this image of owls as wise creatures. They have big brains, use their heads when flying at night, and are known to educate their young on things like right and wrong. But what’s the truth about owls? How smart are they really?

For centuries, mankind has held a fascination for owls. Their large, forward-facing eyes give the impression of great wisdom and their large brains confirm that they are complex, thinking creatures.

In reality, owls are just tiny-brained birds that are well adapted for their primary function ” hunting and eating other living creatures. In fact, their brains are no bigger than that of a chickadee, a bird that is no lesser in brain power than a hawk. They can see in the dark due to a specialized structure in their eye, a structure that is smaller than a few human hairs.

Their well-developed facial discs, which can swivel independently of each other, are actually ears. When you look at an owl, you are looking at the largest set of ears in the bird world ” not the brain.

Are owls smarter than crows and ravens?

Smartness is a huge factor in determining the success of an animal species. It’s the main reason why you don’t see a lot of birds trying to become lawyers.

Smart birds don’t need to be great at flying; but rather, they use their brains to outwit their enemies and to find shelter and easy food.

Owls are known as some of the most intelligent birds on the planet. They are very effective and merciless killers that rely on stealth over speed.

Of course, most owls aren’t very good at flying. That’s why they usually stay still and rely on camouflage to hide or hunt.

The fact is, owls possess one of the largest brains in proportion to their body size of all birds. They have an interesting ability to regurgitate the food to feed their hungry young like cats do with their kittens.

Research also suggests that the ability of owl's improvement is not only inherited, but also enhanced by the learning of the young owls. They do this by practicing and learning through play.

Owls play by themselves often in an attempt to hone their hunting skills to develop their intelligence.