About Saw-whet Owls!

One of the cutest members of the owl family is the Northern Saw-Whet Owl…who is the model for Sammi.  How did this bird get its unusual name? One story is that in the early 1800’s this little owl’s range included the U.S./Canadian border. This 7 ½” tall curious owl was a visitor to farms and camps. The French were fond of this bird and called it chouette (shoo-ET), which is French for “little owl.” English speakers may have morphed this word into “saw-whet.”

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Owl Superpowers #3: Head Turning

I’ll explain the giraffe at the bottom!

In my last superpower post, I talked about how big an owl’s eyes are. They’re so big and so important that the skull even has rings of bone around the eyes to hold them and protect them. And the eyes are long rather than round. What this means is that the eyes can’t move at all. A person can see to either side or up or down by moving your eyes without moving your head at all. The only way for an owl to see either side or up or down is to move its whole head!

Of course, we wouldn’t call this a superpower unless they did it very well. They do it so well and so quickly that some people think they can turn their heads ALL the way around!

Myth: Owls can turn their heads all the way around.

Actually, they can only turn their heads 270 degrees (but we can only do about 90 degrees, so they still do a lot better than we do.)


How do they do it?

An owl can turn its head up to 270 degrees left or right. If a person turned their head that far, they’d cut off blood supply to their brain and pass out! (How far is 270 degrees? Think of yourself as the middle of a clock and you start out facing 12 o’clock. If you turn 90 degrees, you’re facing the 3 on the clock. If you turn another 90, it’s 180 degrees and you’re facing the 6 on the clock – you’re half-way around. And if you turn yet another 90 degrees, you’ve turned 270 degrees and you’re facing the 9!)

First, an owl has 14 cervical vertebrae. People only have 7. (Vertebrae are the bones in your spine. Cervical vertebrae are the bones in your neck.)

Second, our neck has two connections from our neck to our skull. This makes it so we can’t turn our heads too far, so we won’t pass out. Owls don’t have the same limiting connection. And their muscles also let them turn their head farther.

AND third, inside their neck, there’s a special arrangement of their blood vessels so they won’t get pinched when they rotate their heads.

Are you wondering why there’s a picture of a giraffe here? Like people, giraffes only have SEVEN (7) cervical vertebrae!

Owliver as tour guide

About Western Screech Owls

You hear a screech in the night. “That must be a Screech Owl,” you think.

But it’s a case of mistaken identity. That call belongs to the Barn Owl. A Western Screech Owl’s call is a series of melodic hoots that accelerate like a bouncing ball.

Listen to a Western Screech Owl


This small but capable little hunter is the model for “Owliver” in the Sammi series.

The Western Screech Owl is about 8.5 -9 inches in length. It has a compact body, a large head and short ear tufts. Its grey, mottled feathers provide perfect camouflage in the woodlands where it resides. In fact, standing next to an oak trunk, this little owl almost disappears! Like all owls, the Screech Owl is an excellent raptor, feeding mostly on insects, but also small mammals, birds and reptiles.

Western Screech Owl

So when you are listening at night and hear a call that sounds like a bouncing ball, say hello to the Western Screech Owl.

And if you ask me why they call them “screech” owls, I don’t have a really good answer. Some say they’ve heard Eastern Screech Owls (which look a lot like Western Screech Owls) screech. Others say that a similar small owl in Europe screeches. And others say a Barn Owl must have been flying over screeching when they decided to name this little guy.

Eastern Screech Owl

The Eastern Screech Owl above is from an article by Robin Shreves on mnn.com. Here’s a link to the article if you’d enjoy reading about rescuing a fledgling screech owl. https://www.mnn.com/earth-matters/animals/blogs/how-i-saved-baby-screech-owl

To learn more about owls in general, explore The Owl Pages at https://www.owlpages.com/owls/

close up of a Great Horned Owl

Owl Superpowers 1: Vision

I did a lot of presentations about owls when I volunteered for Hungry Owl Project. I loved telling children about owl “superpowers”. So today I’m going to start talking about one of the superpowers we’re all most familiar with: Owl Vision.

Myth: Owls can’t see during the day.
Not true! Owls don’t see color well (about that later), but otherwise, they see about as well as we do during the day.

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About albatrosses!

Hello to you from Sammi and me.

Sammi the owl, who is the star of Hello from Sammi and Aloha from Sammi, thought you might like more information on the birds in my books. But where do we start….?

If you were with us right now, you’d see all the characters are flapping their wings wildly to get Sammi’s attention. But Sammi has decided this first entry should feature Albert the Albatross.

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Aloha from Sammi launches

The second book in the Sammi the Owl book series, Aloha from Sammi, launched joyfully with Hawaiian music and food, and the enthusiasm of over 70 friends and family.

On Sunday, September 8th, we launched Aloha from Sammi at Copperfield’s Book Store in Novato. Liko Puho, a Master Chanter in Hawaiian, started off the program by blessing the book with a Hawaiian chant. All of us were awestruck by the power and beauty of Liko’s words and voice. After the blessing, Liko transported us to the islands by playing ukulele and singing in his deep, resonant voice.

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