Why Owls Can Turn their Heads Toward their Backs

Owls, aside from their folklore-based wisdom, bear one capacity that we humans can only dream of:  viewing what’s behind them without turning around.  Their heads can turn 270° from the frontal position, which is really just 90° in the opposite direction.

However, what really warrants this need is 1) their very large, almost motionless eyes, and 2) the arterial organization toward the brain.

In owls, the vertebrae give ample space in certain arteries, which in humans are confined to small spaces.  Also, the carotid artery, a “confined” artery, happens to be at the central axis of rotation.  And like humans, predatory birds, and animal able to hunt, their vision is binocular and thus with good depth perception.

These details and more, can be seen in the attached YouTube video below, courtesy of the principal source (at the bottom of the page, which you can also visit.  By the way, this observation was not primarily studied by ornithologists, but by medical doctors who specialize in vascular issues.  Their insight is highly appreciated.


With the eyeful they receive on a daily basis, no wonder they’re considered so “wise.”

Source:  people.eku.edu/ritchisong/birdbrain2.htm

2 thoughts on “Why Owls Can Turn their Heads Toward their Backs

  1. Pretty amazing ability, made possible by their skeletal and vascular structure. Now, have you reviewed what the Scriptures have to say about owls?


    1. Del,
      Great question! Yes, I have done a search using a computer Bible program (e-Sword) and have gotten several hits. They were prohibited as food in the Old Covenant, since they were solitary and nocturnal (according to Matthew Henry’s commentary), were presumed to cause melancholy when consumed. (Of course, Jesus recanted this law in the Gospels, for it’s what come out of your mouth, i.e., words, that matters, not food consumption.) In the OT prophecy literature, owls, among birds and some other animals, they were a metaphor for desolation and melancholy.

      And of course, they are also predatory (and hence bearing the large eyes and large head rotation), so this added to the weight of the prohibition. If a bird (or any animal) was prey itself, and not a bird of prey (i.e., a predator that consumed such), it represented being “persecuted for righteousness’ sake” as a Beatitude Jesus noted in the Gospels, and thereby the victim is favored. Still other birds were forbidden simply because they were eaten by Gentiles of the OT (e.g., Egyptians).

      With this amazing capacity of rotation (most likely unknown to the OT Jews), it continues to show that science can show how every creature is designed to its own niche.



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