Thomas Ramey Watson

Secrets of Owl Neck Rotation Revealed

Owls are famous for the incredible way they can turn their heads around without moving their lower bodies at all, an adaptation allowing them to zero in on visual targets without alerting potential prey, or predators, with their body movements. While popular mythology has it that owls can turn their heads all the way around, in actuality they only had a 270 degree range of motion, but that’s still pretty darn impressive.

This rather unique physical talent allows owls to get the jump on dinner, and it’s also long been a fascination for researchers. In most animals, including humans, a neck rotation that extreme would be deadly, because it would put such pressure on the blood vessels in the neck that they’d cut off the blood supply to the brain. Researcher Philippe Gailloud got curious about how owls managed to stay alive: “brain imaging specialists like me who deal with human injuries caused by trauma to arteries in the head and neck have always been puzzled as to why rapid, twisting head movements did not leave thousands of owls lying dead on the forest floor from stroke.”

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