Do Owls Have Short Or Long Legs? 🦉

Owls in general have very long legs for their body size. They need these long legs to grab their moving prey in long grass or under snow whilst still in flight.

Owls in general have very long legs for their body size. They need these long legs to grab their moving prey in long grass or under snow whilst still in flight.

Why Do Owls Have Long Legs?

Eagle owl eating small chicken

Owls’ faces have become incredibly specialized for hunting – and just like most raptors (carnivorous birds) – owls have a very short beak. Both of these things are useless for diving face-first towards a mouse or rabbit sitting on the floor. Who could also quite easily move before you got there.

Needless to say – owls have evolved a safer and more appropriate way to catch their prey. With their amazing feet.

Owl feet have evolved immensely sharp and powerful talons on the ends – to make sure that when they grab something – they don’t drop it. And to set them off – lovely long and maneuverable legs. Like mini shock-absorbers, these huge legs can reach out and grab prey items without allowing their body to hit the floor (risking injury) or even stop flying in some cases.

Also, it makes sense to be able to catch a rat or vole by surprise while you are still a good foot away – before it sees you. Owls fly silently – and even their legs are coated in noise-canceling feathers. So by the time the prey sees an owl – it has already caught them. Something you just can’t do with short legs.

Do Owls Have Knees?

4 week old owl

All birds have the same leg bones as humans – so technically where their femur meets their tibia is their knee. But their knee isn’t where we think it is.

Looking at an owl’s legs – if you can even see them – you would assume that their ‘knee’ bends backward. Taking the Burrowing Owl as an example – because you can see their legs more clearly – the most obvious bend actually goes backward?

This point where their leg bends backward though is actually their ‘heel’ not their knee. It’s just that their leg bones are mainly hidden within their plump-looking feathery body.

Their legs start at their hip which is right at the back of their body – near the tail. They then move forwards sometimes actually pointing upwards for the whole length of the femur and then where they bend is the knee. This knee is hidden deep within the body and can only really be seen in images of their skeleton online. Even when they fully extend their legs out to catch prey – you won’t see their knees at all.

What Are An Owl’s Legs Called?

Owl’s legs and feet are often called by the alternative name of ‘talons’. A lovely word evoking danger and magic – a fantasy. Owls have long inspired people and created mystery and folklore – and their amazing claws have been part of that.

However, this really is only the name for the extremely sharp claws on their powerful feet – that can crush the life out of a mouse or hare instantly. But their legs are just called plain old legs.

They can have scaled legs or feathered legs – which in the Snowy Owl look like a tiny pair of snowshoes – keeping them warm in much the same way. Owls hunting in cold regions or in deep snow have to rely on these feathers and a clever system of blood vessels and other biological tricks to keep them warm. One way they do this is to keep the legs tucked up tight under all those feathers until they actually need them. Like us pulling our hands inside our sweater sleeves.

What Bird Has The Longest Legs?

Although owls have pretty long legs – they aren’t as elegant as the long legs of other birds such as herons and flamingos. Just like all long-legged birds though – you only really see the bottom part of the leg and the extended foot bones – even in the champion of the bird-leg world – the Ostrich.

The Ostrich, with legs up to 5ft full length (not just what you can see) this is certainly the winner. The Ostrich also wins a whole host of bird prizes including largest egg, longest neck, fastest running bird, largest flightless bird, heaviest bird overall – as well as a few others.

They can’t fly though – but when it is all about the legs – there is no competition.