A friend who works near our home called me a few days ago to say that he had found a road-kill Barred Owl on his way to work. It was about a mile from me. Did I want to see it?
Yes. Of course. I drove right over. The opportunity to see an owl, any owl, up close is rare. I wanted to photograph the bird before it was scavenged. What I wanted to take photos of, really, were owl parts: its bill, the talons on its feet. Seeing them helps with appreciation of how well armed these predators are. Putting a finger gently against a talon or at the tip of the bill helps, too.
One thing I had never seen was the ear of a bird. Ears are of particular importance to owls. They hunt at night, using sound to locate prey. Bird ears are located just behind the eyes. In the case of owls, the dish-shaped feathering around the eyes concentrates and amplifies sound.
I rubbed a finger against the grain of the feathers where I thought the ear should be. This is what I found: A feathered flap of skin folded back to reveal the ear cavity. It’s the coolest thing I’ve seen in a long time.
In the photo, the dark area on the right marks the ear cavity. I’ve tried to find information to explain the rounded bone structure you see on the left. So far, I’ve not answered that question. Given its location, however, I think it’s part of the bone surrounding the eye cavity. It looks large. Owl eyes are large, special adaptations providing vision that far exceeds ours for detail and for gathering light, the latter a good idea if you hunt at night.
I’m sorry a vehicle hit the owl. It might have been one of the Barred Owls we occasionally hear calling in the neighborhood. But I always will appreciate the chance to fold back that soft flap of skin and see something I had never seen before.