When a photo recently went viral again showing an owl faceplanting on the ground, it was laughed off as a meme. After all, why would an owl be lying on its stomach with its head on the ground? Turns out, it’s because baby owls often do this due to the size of their heads and it’s not a meme, it’s actually a real thing, reports IFL Science.
I've just discovered that baby owls sleep face down like THIS because their heads are too heavy. Also, I don't think I've seen owl legs before…. pic.twitter.com/dfKii2JtS8
— Mark Rees (@reviewwales) June 21, 2020
It originally seemed like a hoax. When the photo started floating around Twitter, people were amused but not necessarily convinced. It seemed strange, sure, but there wasn’t much official confirmation that the photo was real or that this is a regular thing owls do. Plus, as we know, you can’t believe everything you see on the internet.
Soon after, others chimed in with their own face-down owl photos. While photos seemed somewhat easier to come by, official scientific articles confirming or explaining the phenomenon were pretty much nonexistent. However, one PhD student confirmed that it’s very much a real thing that happens and that it’s because the birds’ heads are too heavy when they’re young. Huh.
Turns out, yes, this really is a thing. Thanks to internet sleuths who did some deep research, an episode of BirdNote, from the Macaulay Library at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, was uncovered in which this very issue was discussed. A caller found Barred owlets that had fallen from the nest and were being harassed by ravens, but advice from the Connecticut Audubon Center said he was cool to put them back in the tree. That’s where the magic happened.
It’s actually been witnessed in nature! “What he saw delighted him,” host Mary McCann for BirdNote said of the man who returned the birds to the nest. “Keeping their talons tightly gripped on a branch, the owlets lie down on their stomachs, turned their heads to the side, and fell asleep. Their naps are short, and when they are asleep, they do not like to be awakened, even to be fed. A young owl doesn’t fall out of the tree while it snoozes, because its back toe, the hallux, holds onto the branch. The hallux will not open or let go until the bird bends its leg.” Pretty cool!
I haven’t found the original source for this pic, but it‘s also suggests owls sometimes sleep laying down.
Although I haven’t found any other ground face-plants or science articles on teenagers being top-heavy unstable sleepers…
Any bird peeps want to confirm or debunk? pic.twitter.com/i1r98mIoJN
— Mika McKinnon (@mikamckinnon) June 3, 2019
I've been trying to find the original photographer for this image, but no luck. It's obviously a captive bird. Regardless, yes, young nestling owls do sleep, or rest lying down. Their heads are too heavy for their bodies. Here are some saw-whets from my Ph.D. research 🙂 pic.twitter.com/9xQ2SA1IPI
— Heather Hinam, Ph.D. (@SecondNatureMB) June 3, 2019
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