The Great Gray Owl Probably Has Bigger Eyes Than You

But having such huge peepers comes with pros and cons.

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An owl’s gaze is uniquely penetrating. Peer into an owl’s face — there is something almost human about its large, forward-facing eyes. Just how big are those eyes? They are astonishingly large in proportion to the size of the owl’s head. A Great Gray Owl, which stands two feet tall and weighs 2½ pounds, has eyes larger than those of most humans!

And while an owl’s eyes may look human, their capabilities are superhuman. Enormous eyes help owls to see in near darkness. An owl’s retinal anatomy is similar to that of cats, which rival owls in seeing in dim light. Owls see well in daylight, too, but their color vision is probably very limited. And the evolution of such large eyes has required a behavioral compromise: an owl’s eyes are fixed in their sockets, so the bird must rotate its neck to look around. One ornithologist has described owls’ heads as “little more than brains with raptorial beaks and the largest possible eyes and ears attached.”

To see a photo of this bird — and all we feature on the show— come to our website, Sign up for the podcast, too. I’m Michael Stein.



Producer: John Kessler

Executive Producer: Chris Peterson

Written by Bob Sundstrom

Narrator: Michael Stein

Call of the Great Gray Owl provided by The Macaulay Library of Natural Sounds at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York.  Female contact call and male territorial call recorded by L.J. Peyton.

© 2012 Tune In to     November 2017     ID# 110606GGOW1-2KPLU            owl-04b

* (Johnsgard 42) Quotation from Johnsgard, Paul A. North American Owls: Biology and Natural History. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1988.