How Baby Owls Nap Without Falling From Their Trees

It's all about that toe strength.

This audio story is brought to you by BirdNote, a partner of the National Audubon Society. BirdNote episodes air daily on public radio stations nationwide.

This is BirdNote.

Sometimes birds fall directly into our lives. BirdNote listener Joseph Clark tells of discovering two Barred Owlets on the ground near his home in East Haddam, Connecticut. The young birds had fallen out of an ancient sugar maple and were being harassed by ravens.

Clark scared off the ravens, and with the guidance of Kasha Breau of the Connecticut Audubon center, got the young owls back up into the tree. The mother owl stayed nearby, keeping a close eye on the rescue.

Once the birds were safe, Breau advised Clark to observe the owlets napping, which they do during the day. What he saw delighted him. Keeping their talons tightly gripped on a branch, the owlets lie down on their stomachs, turned their heads to the side, and fell asleep. Their naps are short, and when they are asleep, they do not like to be awakened, even to be fed. 

A young owl doesn’t fall out of the tree while it snoozes, because its back toe, the hallux, holds onto the branch. The hallux will not open or let go until the bird bends its leg. Still, before they can fly, most owlets explore and often end up on the ground, sometimes dropping right into the middle of our lives. [Barred owls calling]

For BirdNote, I'm Mary McCann.



Producer: John Kessler

Executive Producer: Chris Peterson

Written by Todd Peterson

Call of the Barred Owls provided by The Macaulay Library at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York.  Adult Barred Owl calling [79462] recorded by W.L. Hershberger; Barred Owlets hissing [4549] recorded by R.C. Stein.

BirdNote’s theme music was composed and played by Nancy Rumbel and John Kessler.

© 2015 Tune In to

September 2017     ID# BADO-03-2010-09-02