Owl Legs: All Your Questions Answered

owl legs

Let’s talk about owl legs. Owls are magnificent birds of prey with excellent eyesight that allows them to see in the dark when they hunt and forage for food. Much has been written about the habits of owls, their amazing eyesight, their hunting prowess and, of course, their gorgeous appearance. But recently, people have become quite fascinated with their legs.

Interestingly, most owls do have very long legs. However, most of the time, these are covered with plumage and you can’t actually see them. When these legs do get exposed, people are both surprised and fascinated with how long they actually are.

So, lets take a look at owl legs and answer every possible question you may have about them.


Why Are Owl Legs So Long?

Many large birds do actually have long legs and owls are no exception. It’s just that you can’t see them under all those feathers. Owl legs aren’t only long but they’re quite thin as well. Perhaps this is why their legs are hidden by so much plumage as the owls would look quite comical if you could see their long, thin legs without any feathers.

The reason for their legs being both long and thin, is that it gives them better weight distribution when they’re in flight. This allows the bird to fly gracefully without being hindered by heavy legs. This is because the heavier muscles in their legs are held close to the bird’s body while the other portions of the legs are light and bony.

Owl legs are also incredibly strong as they use their legs and talons for catching prey. In fact, they use their talons for constricting prey or stabbing it to death. This keeps their heads and eyes safe from prey that might strike back. Ultimately, this is extremely important because an owl cannot afford to have its eyes damaged or scratched.

Another interesting fact about owl legs is that they help those birds that live in cold climates survive extremely cold temperatures. You see, the legs of an owl are primarily made from bone and tendons. This means that their legs can withstand much colder temperature without getting frostbite.

How Long Are Owl Legs?

It might surprise you to learn that owl legs can be almost half the length of the actual body of the owl. Of course, this varies depending on the species of owl. Some owls have legs that are as long as their body while other have legs that are only a third of their body’s length.

The size of the owl has a lot to do with this as larger owls need longer legs that can support their weight and help to carry their prey.

What Are Owl Legs Called?

Owl legs are simply called legs. No scientific name has been devised for the legs of an owl.

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What Do Owls Do With Their Legs?

Mostly, owls use their legs for hunting. Their legs are very powerful and allow them to catch and kill their prey using their strong talons that are on the ends of their legs. Once the prey is dead, the owl will carry it away in its large talons and the legs help to support the weight of the prey.

Do Owls Have Strong Legs?

As we’ve mentioned, owls have very strong legs that help to not only support their weight but are also the perfect tools for hunting. Plus, their leg muscles also help their talons to grip their prey well.

Why Do Owls Have Feathered Legs?

Primarily, the feathers protect them from the cold which is also why some species of owls even have feathers on their feet. However, there are a few species of owls, like barn owls and burrowing owls that have sparsely feathered legs. This also applies to some species of owls that live in the tropics.

Owls that primarily feed on fish also have bare legs. This stops their legs becoming too heavy and waterlogged when they pick up fish out of the water.

On the other hand, snowy owls have very heavily feathered legs and feet. In fact, their toe feathers can measure around 1 inch in length. This gives the snowy owl the distinction of having the longest toe feathers of any owl species.

Interestingly, these toe feathers do not only help to keep the owls warm in extremely cold climates but they also help to protect their feet from possible bites from prey that they’ve caught in their talons.

Do Owls Have Knees?

Owls do have a kneecap commonly called a patella. These kneecaps are located between the large bone that is between the femur and the tibia called the tibiotarsus. However, their knees and legs don’t operate the same as human knees or those of other animals.

Do Owl Knees Bend Backwards?

No, an owl’s knees don’t bend backwards. What you can commonly see in an owls legs just above the talons is the bird’s ankle. This means that owls stand on their tiptoes like most other birds. The knees of an owl are much further up the leg and mostly obscured by the feathers.

Is It Common For Owls To Walk Around?

Owls do have the ability to walk around on their legs, however, it’s not all that common for them to do so. More often than not, owls prefer to perch high up in the branches of trees where they can use their magnificent eyesight to survey their surroundings for possible prey.

Can Owls Run On Their Legs?

It’s definitely possible for owls to run on their long legs. However, this is not common among most species of owl as they are so much better in flight.

Also, when owls are on the ground, it exposes them to predators. Therefore, if you do happen to see an owl on the ground, it could well be sick or injured.

The excepting to this is the burrowing owl that actually builds its nest in burrows in the ground. This owl can commonly be found on the prairies around North and South America.

These owls are actually quite fast at running along the ground on their powerful legs. They will often chase after prey such as insects and small rodents while running on the ground through open grasslands.

The burrowing owl also uses its long legs to excavate the soil to build its burrows although, at times, it will take over existing burrows made by squirrels, prairie dogs or tortoises.

Do Owls Have The Ability To Walk Backwards?

It might surprise you to learn that owls can actually walk backwards as well. This is because they have three forward facing talons and one backward facing talon. This gives the owl very good balance and means that it can walk both forwards and backwards.

In addition, the most outward forward-facing talon can turn and face backwards as well. This means that owls are considered to be zygodactyls. So, when the owl is perched on a branch, it will usually have two talons facing forward and two talons facing backwards. This allows for perfect balance and grip.

Which Owls Has The Longest Legs?

Unfortunately, this has not been scientifically established to date. However, it is known that the eagle owl is one of the tallest owls in the world. This means that its legs could be around 8 to 12 inches long.

Can Owls Cross Their Legs?

Owls cannot sit with their legs crossed because their legs don’t have the ability to bend that way. If you see an owl that appears to be sitting cross-legged, it’s actually sitting on its hocks.

Can Owls Stand On One Leg?

It’s actually quite common to see an owl standing on just one leg. In fact, this is common among many different types of bird species. Owls will stand on one leg and swap to stand on the other one. This helps the owl to avoid tendon and muscle strain when its perching for a long time.

Why Are Barn Owl Legs So Long?

All owls have long legs. However, it’s more common to see the long legs of a barn owl because these are not heavily covered by feathers like many other species of owls.

Final Thoughts

You now know that owls do have very long and thin legs. You normally don’t see these because they’re covered by feathers. They need these long legs to help them stay balanced while in flight.

Additionally, the owl uses its long legs and powerful talons to hunt and catch its prey. The long legs allow the bird to swoop down and catch the prey in its sharp talons rather than by using its beak. Generally, owls only use their beaks for eating.

Owls also need long legs to help support their weight and to carry off their prey as they fly to a nice safe spot to have a feed. Owls can even use their long legs to walk and run along the ground but this is not common.

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