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.

Image of female Great Horned Owl
Female Great Horned Owl

I was always told that owls see 10 times (or even 15 times) better than we do. I interpreted that to mean that, when we see a tree, an owl sees the leaves; when we see a leaf, an owl sees the bugs on the leaf. And I thought that someone had counted the receptors on owls’ retinas and ours and owls have 10 times as many receptors as we do.

But, of course, it’s not at all that simple.

Here’s a female Great Horned Owl. For a bird, she’s really big! She’s about 2 feet tall from the top of her head to the tip of her tail. She weighs about three pounds (you could say she’s a “featherweight”). And her eyes are about as big as mine! Try to imagine walking around with grapefruit-sized eyes and that’s what it’d be like for a human to have eyes the same size as hers.

What do these great big eyes do so much better than ours and why is owl vision so special? They bring in every photon of light they can and make the best use possible of each photon. Owls can NOT see in absolute darkness. But they CAN see with very little light. It’s said that a Barn Owl can hunt for a mouse in a football stadium – with just the light of a single candle.

Note: This post came from presentations done by me and Mary Blake.

Next post: How do owls see so well in the dark?

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