We’ve all seen the cartoons: an owl follows an object by spinning its head 360°. But is it really possible or is it a myth?
The simple answer is that it’s a myth. However, owls do have the ability to turn their heads an amazing 270° in either direction. Since owls can turn their heads 270° in both directions, it’s very possible that an owl will look like it’s turning its head in a complete circle if you catch it at a certain angle.
Here’s a GIF I made from a YouTube video where you can see this phenomenon pretty clearly:
Even though owls can’t technically turn their heads 360°, they can get pretty darn close.
So why and how do owls do this?
Because owls have two eyes that look forward (as opposed to most other birds with eyes on the sides of their heads), they have little to no peripheral vision and can’t move their eyes due to having a fixed eye socket. As a result, they need the ability to turn their head quickly and with great dexterity in order to thoroughly survey their surroundings and notice danger.
Owls are able to rotate their heads in such an exaggerated manner thanks to a few evolutionary traits. The first is that they have far more bones in their neck than humans. This helps them achieve a wider range of motion.
More importantly, owls have backup arteries that take over when the main arteries can no longer pass blood through. That prevents any breakage and bleeding that would occur if our heads were to rotate that far.
To learn more about how owls swivel their heads, check out this article at BBC News.