Nocturnal Raptors – The Feet
As with all birds of prey, owls always catch and mainly kill their prey with their feet, with the same mechanism which is described in more detail on the section dealing with the feet of diurnal raptors. However, there are one or two minor, but important, differences.
Firstly, owls’ legs are feathered all the way down to the feet which are themselves covered with hair-like feathers on the upper surface. (This is dealt with in the section concerning feathers.)
Secondly, the owl is able to turn one of its normally forward-facing toes backwards so that it has two facing forward and two backwards. This helps it to catch and grip its prey better.
Given the fact that an owl is so short-sighted, while it is after its prey it leads with its head, following movement and sound. But when it comes within striking distance it can no longer see the prey so just before impact it swings its legs forward to where its head was and spreads its toes as wide as possible to give a larger ‘catching’ surface.
The power that the owls can exert in their grip is every bit as awesome as other birds of prey. The world’s largest owl, the European Eagle Owl, has been known to catch and kill young roe deer. The reason this bird, and other birds of prey, can successfully prey upon creatures up to four times their own bodyweight it simply due to the power in their feet, which in this case is sufficient to literally crush the deer’s skull.
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