How do Owls See in the Dark?

by Russ on March 23, 2013

Owls have huge eyes to give them the best chance of spotting prey in low light.

Owls have been an iconic and mythical bird for hundreds of years. Known for their long ‘Twit-Tawoo‘ calls in Britain and fantastic silent flying skills, these birds are the experts at night-time hunting. But how do these birds cope in the dark? And how do they find their prey?


The colour of an owl's eye can give an idea of when it hunts - day, dusk or night.When you look at any owl, the first thing you’ll notice is just how big it’s eyes are. Compared to other birds owls have enormous eyes. The larger the eye, the more light it can pick up and the better the owl will be at hunting in darkness. Both eyes are facing straight forwards like most other predators, such as humans. This gives the owl ‘binocular vision‘ which means the owl can pinpoint the location of it’s prey with brilliant accuracy.

Different owls hunt at different time off the day and one good way of telling what owl hunts when is by looking at the colour of it’s eyes. If an owl has yellow eyes, it is most likely to hunt in the day time. Orange eyes suggests it hunts at dawn and dusk and completely black eyes means it probably hunts only at night. There are exceptions to these rules, but generally the colour of the eye helps the owl cope with different amounts of light available.

The Barn Owl is a silent hunter. It relies on sound first to hear it's prey, then uses it's vision to pinpoint movement.But even owls cannot see if there is no light. On very dark nights, owls also use their sense of hearing. An owl’s round face helps direct sound into the ear, basically giving it two enormous ears. This means that any rustling noises made by small rodents can be head from a great distance away.

Through a combination of large eyes and excellent hearing, owls have made the night their own and there are few other aerial predators that can compare to them.


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