On Halloween night, the sidewalks often are hidden under crunchy leaves. The streets are dark, except for the light of the next house. And the air is crisp and chilly. That’s all part of what makes trick-or-treating fun: It’s just a little bit spooky.
Spooky for a human, at least. We aren’t used to scouting for treats at night, and our eyesight isn’t that good. But what if you were an owl, equipped with all the special powers of an amazing nighttime predator?
Owls, of course, don’t eat candy; they prefer rodents.
Imagine yourself with barn-owl skills as you scout out those Halloween treats. You could use your excellent low-light vision with nothing but the moon to light your way. Or, if you wanted, you could travel blindfolded from house to house and still find your way to delicious candy. That’s because barn owls have exceptionally good hearing.
The feathers around an owl’s face are arranged in a concave disk shape that funnels sound toward its highly sensitive ears. A barn owl’s ears are also asymmetrical: the opening on one side is above the eyes, while the opening on the other side is below the eyes. Because of this, the owl can quickly determine not only whether a sound came from the right or left but also how high or low the sound was. All this information helps the owl pinpoint the exact location of its prey.
The barn owl’s hearing is among the best in the animal kingdom, together with the great horned owl.
Silent and sneaky
As long as you don’t hurt anyone, it can be fun to give your friends a little scare on Halloween — you may want to sneak up and say “Boo!” But no matter how carefully you tiptoe, those crisp leaves underfoot are bound to give away your location.
This is another time when being an owl would have its perks, because owls are amazingly quiet when they travel. Their feather structure allows them to fly in a way that creates almost no sound at all.
Their broad wings let them glide a long distance without flapping; and when they do flap their wings, velvety-soft feathers absorb some of the sound. This allows them to continue listening to their surroundings even while in flight — and makes them very sneaky.
Putting together a costume takes time. Sometimes you’re scrambling the night before Halloween, trying to make everything look just right.
But if you were a great horned owl, you’d be all set with a built-in, super-sneaky costume. In spite of their name, great horned owls don’t actually have horns; they have feather tufts on their heads that are often mistaken for ears or horns. These tufts provide camouflage and help them blend in against tree trunks.
Owls can also seem spooky due to their large, piercing eyes and the way they move their heads. An owl actually can’t rotate its head completely around, but it can turn it pretty far — about 270 degrees. That would be like turning your head to look directly behind you, and then a little further! Multiple vertebrae and a single pivot point (unlike our two) in the neck are what give owls this ability.
Comfy and cozy
One of the tricky parts about Halloween is designing a fabulous costume that will also keep you warm in the cool fall air. If you were a snowy owl, you’d have nothing to worry about. Snowy owls are one of North America’s heaviest owls, and they have thick feathers that keep them warm just like a built-in winter coat.
Snowy owls also travel great distances — something you have to do if you want to get all the best treats on the block before the night is over.
Want to know more about owls? Spy these amazing creatures for yourself at Northwest Trek Wildlife Park and learn about them during Hoot-n-Howl Oct. 24-25. Visitors can come in costume, practice their own trick-or-treating skills, visit the Mad Candy Lab, play a round of miniature golf, win prizes, learn more about native Northwest animals and hop aboard a tram for a special nighttime tour of the wildlife park’s 435-acre animal free-roaming area.
Hoot-n-Howl runs from 6-10 p.m. both evenings. Get details at nwtrek.org.