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!

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