​​​2 Minutes in the Yellowstone Ecosystem
Episode 14: Great Horned Owl Ears
20 July 2018
What better subject for the week of America's Independence Day than the conservation success story of the bald eagle? Our national bird came close to extinction, but concerted efforts have them back, strong and proud.
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JENNY>> Welcome to Two Minutes in the Yellowstone Ecosystem, sponsored by the Yellowstone Wildlife Sanctuary. Now here’s your host, Gary Robson:
LES>> Hey, Gary, so what have we got going on today? You've got to point when you're ready for it.

GARY>> Okay. Go ahead. Hit it!

[Screech of an alarmed great horned owl]

GARY>> That's not the most recognizable call. Play that other one and we'll see if everybody can pick up on what bird we're talking about here.

[Great horned owl hooting]

LES>> I think I can figure that one out.

GARY>> There we go. That's the largest owl that lives in this greater Yellowstone ecosystem: the Great Horned Owl, and the most intriguing thing to me isn't that they're the biggest owl around here, it's those "great horns." You know what those actually are?

LES>> Hmm. I would say ears?

GARY>> That's everybody's first guess.

LES>> Feathers?

GARY>> They are feathers! Those feathers, plus the feathers around their eyes that make that kind of funny dishy shape are basically building a satellite dish in nature. As good as their eyes are, owls cannot see in complete darkness. Nothing can see in complete darkness. 

LES>> Of course not.

GARY>> Owls need to be able to hunt no matter how dark it gets outside. So when they can't see, it's those "ears," those tufts there, that help direct the sound down to their ear holes. A cool thing about great horned owls is that one ear sits higher on their head than the other. 

LES>> Oh, now, we would get made fun of if we had that. 

GARY>> Yes, we would. But for them —

LES>> — that's a normal, everyday appearance.

GARY>> That lets them... you know how you can turn your head from side to side to figure out which direction a sound is coming from. By having one ear higher and one ear lower, they can do that and determine how high up or how low down that sound is.

LES>> Okay. That makes sense.

GARY>> Their feathers are different than the feathers in most other birds. You don't get that "whooshing" sound when a great horned owl swoops right by you.

LES>> They're very silent.

GARY>> Almost completely silent.

LES>> That's how they pick up those mice and other items and rodents.

GARY>> They can sit there on a tree branch and listen to sounds, figure out whether those sounds are coming from above or below or right in front of them. Is it on a tree branch, is it down on the grass? They'll usually sit, not in the middle of the dense woods but kind of on the edge where they've got a clear area in front of them to watch over. They hear that sound, they pivot their head from side to side, they pinpoint where it is, and that little rabbit or rodent or whatever it is wandering through the field never knows what hit them.

LES>> And I'm sure they've got some pretty good sized talons?

GARY>> They do! They've got talons that can clamp shut with serious force. We have two great horned owls up at the Yellowstone Wildlife Sanctuary: Captain and Bobby.

LES>> So if you'd like to — I thought what you were going to say was Captain and Tennille [laughing]

LES>> So if you'd like to come see great horned owls up at the Yellowstone Wildlife Sanctuary?

GARY>> Every day but Tuesday, we're open from 10:00 to 4:00. Come on up, right here in Red Lodge, Montana!

LES>> All right, Gary. Always interesting, always informative.

[Pair of great horned owls hooting at each other]

JENNY>> Thanks for joining us for Two Minutes in the Yellowstone Ecosystem, sponsored by the Yellowstone Wildlife Sanctuary in Red Lodge, Montana. This podcast updates every Friday on iTunes , YellowstoneEcosystem.com , and the Sanctuary’s website, YellowstoneWildlifeSanctuary.org.

Thanks to our recording partners at FM99: the Mountain , where you can hear this show live every Wednesday at 8:22 a.m.

I’m your announcer, Jenny Van Ooyen, and I hope you’ll join me next week for another episode of Two Minutes in the Yellowstone Ecosystem!
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