We bet you didn’t know that, technically, owls are considered raptors. That’s right, those terrifying antagonists from “Jurassic Park.” Along with their bird of prey cousins, owls fall under this impressive classification. And just like the raptors in “Jurassic Park,” as Dr. Alan Grant terrifyingly explains to that annoying kid, owls have talons that aren’t to be messed with.
The average owl has four talons total, three pointing to the front and one to the rear. One of the front-facing talons can rotate to face back which makes it easier for them to grab and carry prey. Owls also possess legs capable of supporting their body weight when perched in trees and of carrying small rodents. Unlike the raptors in “Jurassic Park,” owls do not have a mouthful of razor-sharp teeth, so their legs and talons are their first line of attack against prey and defense against other predators.
If you are a “Jurassic Park” fan, an owl fan, or someone who just happened to come across a funny picture of an owl with their full legs exposed, read on to learn more about this lesser-known aspect of owls.
Do Owls Have Long Legs?
Much of an owl’s leg length is hidden in the plumage of their feathers. When exposed fully, their leg length is often surprising and funny to observers. In some cases, the length of an owl’s legs can be almost as much as or even equal to their body length.
Evolutionarily, these large legs make perfect sense. Owls hunt prey that oftentimes weighs a significant portion of their body weight. The strength they need to grab and hold on to these critters comes from muscles in their legs. Hence, the surprisingly leggy stature.
How Long is an Owls Leg?
The length of an owl’s leg varies depending on the species of owl and the size of that specific owl. On average, an owl’s legs will be between a third of to equal that of its body length, most of that being hidden by the fluff of their feathers.
Species like the Great Horned Owl and the Barn Owl sport rather long legs. However, the Great Horned Owl has most of their legs hidden under their feathers whereas the Barn Owl has most of their legs on full display. Other species like the Elf Owl, being the smallest owl species, have smaller legs to show off.
Can an Owl Cross Its Legs?
Owl’s legs do not have knees that bend that way. That means that they cannot bend their legs in such a way that allows them to cross their legs. In short, no, owls cannot cross their legs.
As mentioned before, most of an owl’s legs are hidden under their plumage. When sitting, the folds and bulges of their feathers may give the illusion that they are sitting with their legs crossed. That is all it is, though: an illusion.
What Do Owl Legs Look Like?
If you look up a picture of an owl’s legs, you will find numerous pictures of people lifting the plumage to expose lanky legs. An owl’s legs are longer than most people realize.
However, owls’ legs are anything but scrawny. Their long legs serve the purpose of housing the powerful muscles that fuel the strong grip they use to hunt.
A distinguishing feature of an owl’s legs is its lengthy shin and tarsal bone. This is what gives their legs that lengthy appearance.
How Fast Can an Owl Run?
Although owls are mostly known to be proficient flyers, some species reaching up to 40 miles per hour (65 kilometers per hour), they are also surprisingly fast runners. The strong muscles they have in their legs also work well for running.
The running speed of owls varies depending on the species and the size of that species. Some burrowing owls, however, have been recorded running at speeds up to 25 miles per hour (40 kilometers per hour). Their form isn’t what anyone would call graceful, their wings are held out at sometimes weird angles to maintain balance, but it gets the job done.
Great Horned Owl Leg Length
Great Horned Owls are, perhaps, some of the leggiest owls out there. These are the owls with legs almost equal to that of their body length.
Their body length is between 17 and 25 inches (43 to 64 centimeters), which puts their leg length roughly equal to or just slightly shorter than that.
To get a good idea of the Great Horned Owl’s full leg length, you will have to hold up a good deal of its plumage to expose its legs. You would be surprised at how much limb they are hiding.
Barn Owl Leg Length
The Barn Owl, also commonly known as the “Monkey Faced Owl” for its facial resemblance to that of a monkey, is another owl with surprisingly long legs. Their legs are, similar to the Great Horned Owl, around the same length as their body.
Seeing as their body measures between 14 and 20 inches (35 to 51 centimeters), their legs typically measure around that mark as well.
Barn Owls are not as feathery as the Great Horned Owl, so you won’t have to move as much fluff out of the way to see their full leg length. However, their full leg length may also surprise you.
Owl Leg Facts
Here are some interesting tidbits to pique your curiosity about owl legs even more:
- The reason owls have such long legs is the muscles they use to power their strong grip. Can’t catch prey with weak talons.
- An owl’s legs are similar to that of a flamingo or stork: their knees bend backward as opposed to forwards like human knees.
- Owls might not have opposable thumbs, but they do have the ability to turn one of their front-facing talons to face the back. This helps them grip on tree branches when they are perched and to grab and hold on to small critters when they are hunting.
How Strong are an Owl’s Talons?
An owl’s talons are their first line of attack against prey. Since owls are carnivores, they have developed quite a strong grip with their talons so to be the most effective hunters they can be to survive.
When an owl hunts their small rodent prey, mostly mice, bats, and some other birds, they swoop down and grab at their prey with their talons first. They can exert up to almost 30 pounds of pressure when squeezing their prey. This is more than enough to rupture the internal organs and snap the spine of even the largest critter they may hunt.
How Long are Owls Talons?
Owls, being raptors, have long, sharp talons they use for hunting and killing prey. The size of these talons depends on the species of owl you are observing and the size of that owl.
If you are talking about a Great Horned Owl, you will see impressively large and dangerous talons, measuring in at four to eight inches (10 to 20 centimeters). They can use these talons to exert up to 500 pounds of pressure per square inch. Imagine how effective a hunting tool that must be.
The smallest species of owl is the Elf Owl. This owl has talons only big enough to hunt spiders, crickets, and, at the large end, scorpions. This is nowhere near the impressive size and deadly force of the Great Horned Owl’s talons, but they are enough for the Elf Owl to survive and feed itself.