Friday mystery object #168 answer


On Friday I gave you this specimen to identify:

As I suspected, the distinctive shape of the skull makes this specimen easily recognisable as an owl (family Strigiformes). However, there are a couple of hundred species of owl, so there were plenty of possibilities to make a more specific identification.

This specimen has quite a distinctive slope to the forehead in profile view and a very clear groove down the midline of the cranium, which combined with the length of around 58mm narrowed down the likely suspects considerably.

Jake was the first to suggest the species I think it’s most likely to be, with palaeosam suggesting the other possible option and RH cautiously suggesting both. This skull belongs to an owl in the genus Asio and I think it’s most likely to be from the a Long-eared Owl Asio otus (Linnaeus, 17580) although it could possibly be from the Short-eared Owl Asio flammeus (Pontoppidan, 1763).

A Long-eared Owl at Battlefield Falconry Centre, Shrewsbury, Shropshire, England. By Angus Leonard

Telling these two species apart can be tricky even when the birds are fully feathered and active, with fairly small differences in colour of the plumage and irises and quite similar looking ear tufts at times, despite their names.

Here is a great bit of video from the British Trust for Ornithology telling you how to tell the species apart in the wild.

I love their opening description of the owls if they’re seen flying in daylight as looking like ‘sawn-off Buzzards’ and watch out for the synchronised binocular action. Brilliant!

3 thoughts on “Friday mystery object #168 answer

    • That’s the thing about owls – they’re so much fluffier than other birds their heads look far larger than they really are – totally unlike the sleek lines of a falconiform.

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