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#GivingAHoot: ‘Can an owl really turn its head 360 degrees?’

JOBURG – This week on #GivingAHoot ...

One of the many questions we are asked is, ‘Can an owl really turn its head 360 degrees?’

The answer technically is ‘no’ but that is an article for another week.

The question that is never asked is, ‘How do owls turn their heads while maintaining blood supply to their brains?’ A team of medical experts at Johns Hopkins University in the US asked this question and discovered four major morphological adaptations which allow owls to turn their heads without causing any injuries. The researchers used CT scanners, medical illustrations and angiography to study 12 of our nocturnal friends.

The researchers found that the holes in the vertebrae for the arteries are 10 times larger than the artery itself allowing the arteries to move freely when the head is turned. The second adaption is at the base of the owl’s neck – the arteries temporarily expand and allow more fluid to enter creating a pool. This pool or reservoir supplies extra blood to the owls head and eyes during head rotations.

Thirdly, to allow for more room when the owl turns its head, the artery enters the neck higher up compared to other birds. Lastly, there are small connections between the vertebral and carotid arteries which creates a network and researchers believe that this allows for continuous blood flow to the brain even if one vessel is blocked.


Also check out:

Owl box installed at Fearnhead Park in Parkwood

#GivingAHoot: Owl box occupancy

Owls show their flair at the BirdLife SA’s African Bird Fair


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