Friday mystery object #450 answer

Last week I gave you this mystery object to have a go at identifying:

Perhaps not the most festive of objects to consider over the Christmas weekend, but it’s a very interesting one that is on display in the Museo Nacional de Ciencias Naturales in Madrid.

I had a pretty good idea of what this was likely to be as soon as I saw it, based on my memory of a badly pest damaged taxidermy specimen of this species I saw about 12 years ago. But, the skull shap alone is distinctive, and the fringe of feather stumps around the eyes makes this fairly staraightforward to work it out – and a lot of you did just that.

This is the partially mummified skeleton of a Barn Owl Tyto alba (Scopoli, 1769).

That fringe around the orbits is made up of the nibbled down rachides (the stiff central vane of the feather is called a rachis and rachides is plural) of the feathers that created the facial disc. This structure acts a bit like a radar dish to help channel sound into the auditory openings (AKA earholes), and it’s what gives owls that distinctive flat-looking face, belying the shape of the underlying skull. The skull itself is particularly long and low for an owl, which is what screams Barn Owl to me, as other owls have a higher domed skull and relatively shorter bill.

You may have seen images of a similar looking specimen in the last couple of years, as a photo of a specimen on display as part of a special exhibition in Museum Natur und Mensch (Museum of nature and man) in Freiburg, Germany did the rounds on Twitter. Unfortunately I missed that exhibiton, but Markus Bühler did visit and wrote about it on his blog, which I strongly recommend taking a look at.

I hope you enjoyed the Christmas mystery object this year – let’s see what I can find for you in 2023. Have a very happy New Year!

One thought on “Friday mystery object #450 answer

  1. Barn Owls’ hearing is so keen, as tested many times, they can match mice in a totally darkened room, using sound alone to zero them in on their dinner. I’m in California and we are already seeing baby Barn Owls come in to the California Raptor Center.

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