An owl is 70% feathers

These photos are unposted remnants from Owl Week. Now I’m not going to put the full weight of my academic reputation behind these photos/diagrams, but if they’re correct it’s really cool.  This is a great grey owl (Strix nebulosa), with the fleshy parts shown in silhouette inside the feathers.  It’s from the Wikipedia article on that species.

Having bathed cats in my life, and seen them turn into large rats when they’re wet, I don’t doubt this too much.  I conclude that these birds are really parrots in owl suits.

UPDATE: Alert reader Hayden Googled “owl x-rays” and found this x-ray of a barn owl from the East Oregonian, which he’s linked to below. I thought it was good enough to put above the fold, for it proves that owls are indeed quite scrawny:

And here’s a barn owl all feathered and fluffy (photo by Nefarostock):

 

27 Comments

  1. Grania Spingies
    Posted April 24, 2012 at 12:05 pm | Permalink

    So basically an owl is a vulture in sheep’s clothing.

    • Achrachno
      Posted April 24, 2012 at 10:17 pm | Permalink

      Or a poorwill with claws?

  2. Hayden
    Posted April 24, 2012 at 12:18 pm | Permalink

    Google only turned up one good hit for owl x-rays, but they seem to support that diagram as basically correct.

    http://www.eastoregonian.com/barn-owl-x-rays/collection_38887122-c441-11e0-afd3-001cc4c002e0.html

  3. Pete Moulton
    Posted April 24, 2012 at 12:30 pm | Permalink

    Oh, I’m pretty sure this is right. On the other hand, owls are 100% attitude.

  4. moleatthecounter
    Posted April 24, 2012 at 12:38 pm | Permalink

    Nosferatu!

  5. Kevin Alexander
    Posted April 24, 2012 at 12:50 pm | Permalink

    That long skinny neck explains how they can spin their heads around.

  6. FastLane
    Posted April 24, 2012 at 1:04 pm | Permalink

    I think the ratio of cat/fur is about the same for the mistress of our household.

    • E.A. Blair
      Posted April 24, 2012 at 1:33 pm | Permalink

      The first longhaired cat I ever had weighed only four and a half pounds, but she looked huge.

  7. Matt G
    Posted April 24, 2012 at 2:16 pm | Permalink

    Is that 70% by weight or volume?

  8. Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    Posted April 24, 2012 at 2:42 pm | Permalink

    Not a very effective body-to-feather ratio, unless I am tricked into believing owls are somewhat outstanding here.

    Is that to make the flight silent during hunts? If so, maybe diurnal owls have thinner feathering.

    • r503
      Posted April 24, 2012 at 3:48 pm | Permalink

      Such small bodies probably lose body heat faster. Maybe all the feather volume helps regulate body temperature.

      Just a guess, though admittedly not a very educated one.

    • r503
      Posted April 24, 2012 at 3:51 pm | Permalink

      Such scrawny bodies probably lose heat quickly. Maybe the extra feather volume helps regulate body temperature.

      Just a guess, and admittedly not a very educated one.

    • Posted April 24, 2012 at 4:17 pm | Permalink

      I believe the silent flight is due to special feathers along the leading edge of the owl wing. They look a bit like hairs & stick up above the edge ~ this is from memory & I don’t know if it’s true nor why it would work. I assume that any modification that reduces the breakup of airflow will increase flight efficiency & reduce noise. Modern jetliners have verticals at the wingtips to reduce wingtip air vortexes ~ not sure that’s the same effect though.

  9. corio37
    Posted April 24, 2012 at 3:11 pm | Permalink

    Not good eating, then?

  10. Posted April 24, 2012 at 5:47 pm | Permalink

    Wow. I’ve admired your courage for your outspoken stances on atheism, free will, etc. But you’ve bathed cats??? I have flown in to hurricanes, collected samples from active volcanoes, been in disaster zones all over the world. Heck, I kicked the San Andreas fault once. But I’m not brave enough to give my cats a bath.

    • Posted April 24, 2012 at 7:48 pm | Permalink

      I’ve bathed lots of cats. I once worked for a vet and had to do lots of flea baths. But the worst cat I ever bathed was my very own Sagan. She turned into an evil creature at bathtime. Later she would be extra sweet to me as if to apologize. (I didn’t bathe that one much–lots of flea combing and damp towels.)

  11. Posted April 24, 2012 at 7:50 pm | Permalink

    I like them better with feathers.

    The warmth issue makes sense, especially for those who hunt at night.

  12. Posted April 24, 2012 at 8:15 pm | Permalink

    Busted.

  13. Posted April 24, 2012 at 8:20 pm | Permalink

    Incidentally, I would never complain at more owlz; but what happened to whale week?

  14. Hempenstein
    Posted April 24, 2012 at 8:30 pm | Permalink

    I conclude that these birds are really parrots in owl suits.

    +1, but really, how close are owls and parrots? (Too tired to try to look this up tonite.)

  15. Achrachno
    Posted April 24, 2012 at 10:25 pm | Permalink

    Great gray owls are semi-famous for having about the highest ratio of fluff to beef among the owls. They look big, but are surprisingly light. Because of all that down, they’re restricted to fairly cool/cold places. I wonder if burrowing owls, for example, might fill their coats better.

  16. Pete Moulton
    Posted April 25, 2012 at 1:43 am | Permalink

    They aren’t really very close, Hempenstein. Several recent studies suggest that parrots are actually closest to the songbirds (Passeriformes), while owls might be the sister group of mousebirds (Coliiformes). You have to go back pretty far to find a common ancestor for owls and the parrot/songbird branch.

  17. eric
    Posted April 25, 2012 at 6:46 am | Permalink

    What’s most interesting to me about this is, the flattened face which is so unique to them appears to be just about all feathering. I would’ve thought there was more significant developmental changes associated with it – i.e. changes to bone or muscle structures. But evidently not!

  18. Mark
    Posted April 25, 2012 at 7:35 am | Permalink

    There are changes that relate to asymmetry of internal or external ear structures. Apparently asymmetric hearing structures have evolved separately several times in owls (http://scienceblogs.com/tetrapodzoology/2011/06/owls_from_book.php).

    • Mark
      Posted April 25, 2012 at 7:36 am | Permalink

      should have been a reply to Eric’s comment above.

  19. Posted April 25, 2012 at 3:52 pm | Permalink

    Reblogged this on emmageraln.


%d bloggers like this: