I was driving back home a long the A515, Ashbourne Road yesterday, when I spotted something in the wide grassy verges. I thought it looked like either a buzzard or an owl, so I turned the car around and headed back. Parking up, just along from the spot, I made my way along the verge. There, on the side of the road, was a sad sight. A beautiful tawny owl lay, virtually unmarked, on its side, one wing spread out on the damp grass. I gently lifted it up and I am pretty sure it had only died the previous night as rigor mortis had not yet set in properly. I gently lay the owl in the car and drove home with it; it is not often you get the chance to have a real close look at such a beautiful creature and I wanted to both examine it and photograph it.
Once home (much to the disgust of my kids!) I lay the owl out to look more closely at it… what a beautiful creature. I took lots of photos, which you can see on my Flickr account, but there are a couple of amazing adaptations that I have to share with you as it was easy to see and photograph them on a dead specimen.
Firstly, the legs, feet and talons: The legs are thick and strong, covered with beautiful, cream and speckled feathers. The base of the feet are then covered with an amazing ridged surface that helps to achieve a firm grip on their prey. The talons are huge and curved, instantly killing an unsuspecting rodent!
The other amazing adaptation is on the leading edge of the primary wing feathers….
The design of owls’ wings allows them to fly in almost absolute silence. Different parts of their wings and the characteristics of their feathers contribute to their silent flight.Owls have broad wings with large surface areas and that helps them to glide and float through the air, not having to flap too much. Even when they do flap, they make almost no noise at all and this is partly due to the uniquely designed leading edge of their primary feathers. These feathers have a serrated edge that can clearly be seen in this photo. This design breaks down turbulence into smaller currents which are called micro-turbulences. Then the edge of the feather muffles the sound of air flowing over the wing and changes the angle at which air flows. These soft feathers allow air to pass through which helps to eliminate sound. All of this adds up to almost silent flight.
The feathers on the facial disc (around the eyes) are also uniquely adapted. They help to channel the sound into the ears that are set on the edge of the facial disc. Tawnies have excellent hearing and this helps to pinpoint prey often hidden in the rough grass.
The plumage of this bird was so gorgeous, I had to take a few pictures and you can see these on my Flickr account at http://www.flickr.com/photos/wildlifekate/sets/72157631905295331/
As this tawny is virtually unmarked, I am considering having it mounted, so I can show it on the school visits I do. I have contacted some taxidermists to find out what is involved. It would be quite cool to have this tawny sitting in my office too!