World Owl Trust

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Owl legs and feet vary considerably between species, depending on its ecology. All species have surprisingly long legs, most of which is hidden in the soft belly feathers. The Barn Owl has long sparsely feathered legs using them to snatch prey from long vegetation. Despite ranging into temperate zones the minimal feathering probably prevents the bird’s legs becoming sodden if it hunts in damp grass. The Grass Owls from Africa, Asia and Australia hunt in even longer grass and their legs are even longer.

The European sub-species of Eagle Owl is found in Northern and Central Europe often at quite high altitudes, and its feet and toes are covered in feathers. The Snowy Owl from around the Arctic Circle has the most heavily covered of all. These feathers also help protect the owl from being bitten by prey. At the other end of the scale, most of the Fish and Fishing Owls have totally bare legs and feet, again feathers in this situation would become waterlogged. The Burrowing Owl from North and South America lives on the Prairies and Pampas in the burrows of Prairie Marmots and Viscaschas, occasionally it even does some digging of its own using its very long legs. It is extremely terrestrial, often chasing invertebrates on foot and the extra height gained from its legs gives its a better view of predators on the flat grass plains. 

All owls have a flexible outer toe. At rest it points roughly forward sticking out slightly to the side, but it can be angled backwards giving an increased area to catch prey and a better grip.


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