Do Owls Have Tongues?


Yes, owls have tongues.

Their tongues are unique in shape and size, and assist them in capturing and consuming prey, grooming and cleaning their feathers. 

The tongue of birds of prey such as hawks, eagles, owls, and vultures is larger and more fleshy because they generally tear apart their prey with their beaks and talons. 

The hole you see in the back of an owl’s tongue is called the glottis, which is the entrance to the windpipe (trachea) .

How Does The Unique Shape And Size Of An Owl’s Tongue Assist Them In Capturing Prey?

The unique shape and size of an owl’s tongue assists them in capturing prey in the following ways:

  • Long and slender: The tongue is long and slender, which allows the owl to extend it far out of its beak.
  • Brush-like tip: The brush-like tip of the tongue aids the owl’s grip on prey, allowing them to easily capture and manipulate it.
  • No crop: Owls have no crop, which means that they cannot store food in their digestive system. Instead, they need to swallow their prey whole or tear it into small pieces before swallowing.
  • Fleshy tongue: Owls have a fleshy tongue that is not attached to the base of their mouth, which allows them to move it around more freely.
  • Barbed: Some bird species, including owls, have barbed tongues that help them capture prey with ease.

It’s worth noting that not all owl species use their tongues in the same way to capture prey.

For example, tawny frogmouths use their wide, hooked beak to dispatch prey instead of their tongue.

Similarly, barred owls that prey heavily on crayfish can develop pink-colored feathers due to pigments in the crustaceans.

Are There Any Specific Adaptations In An Owl’s Tongue That Make It Well-Suited For Grooming And Cleaning Feathers?

Yes, there are specific adaptations in an owl’s tongue that make it well-suited for grooming and cleaning feathers.

The tongue of an owl is long and slender, with a forked tip.

It has a thick layer of keratin covering it and special spines or barbs that help them catch and hold their prey.

These tongues are used not only for catching food but also for preening feathers and removing parasites.

The brush-like tip of the tongue aids in the grooming of feathers and expelling excess water from its beak.

Owls have a remarkable range of motion in their tongues, which is necessary for catching and consuming their prey.

The thin layer of mucus on their tongues allows them to swallow food without choking.

Therefore, the unique structure of an owl’s tongue makes it well-suited for grooming and cleaning feathers, as well as catching prey.

What Is The Purpose Of The Glottis In The Back Of An Owl’s Tongue?

The purpose of the glottis in the back of an owl’s tongue is to act as a valve and close when the owl swallows, so that food doesn’t go down the wrong pipe.

Owls swallow their prey whole because they do not have a crop to store food for later consumption.

Once swallowed, the food passes through the esophagus and comes to rest in a glandular stomach called the proventriculus, which is similar to our human stomach because food breaks down with chemicals.

The gizzard, which acts as a filter, holds back insoluble items such as bones, fur, teeth, and feathers.

Because the stored pellet partially blocks the owl’s digestive system, new prey cannot be swallowed until the pellet is ejected.

Regurgitation often signifies that an owl is ready to eat again.

When an owl is about to produce a pellet, it will take on a pained expression – the eyes are closed, the facial disc narrow – and the bird will be reluctant to fly.

At the moment of expulsion, the neck is stretched up and forward, the beak is opened, and the pellet simply drops out without any retching or spitting movements.

Owl pellets differ from other birds of prey in that they contain a greater proportion of food residue because an owl’s digestive juices are less acidic than other birds of prey.

Are There Any Other Bird Species That Have Similar Tongue Structures To Owls?

There are several bird species that have unique tongue structures, but not all of them are similar to owls.

Here are some examples:

  • Woodpeckers: Different woodpecker species use their tongues in different ways, but they all have long, barbed tongues that they use to extract insects from tree bark.
  • Birds of prey: Hawks, eagles, owls, and vultures have larger and more fleshy tongues than other birds. This is because they generally tear apart their prey with their beaks and tongues.
  • New World vultures: Some species of birds, such as New World vultures, lack a syrinx (the bird equivalent of a voice box) and communicate through throaty hisses.
  • Songbirds: Songbirds have a tracheobronchial syrinx, which covers the lower end of the trachea and the upper parts of the bronchi. This allows them to produce complex songs and calls.
  • Owls: Owls have a fleshy tongue that they use to swallow prey whole. They do not have a crop (a pouch in the esophagus that stores food) like some other birds.
  • Common kestrel and Hume’s tawny owl: These two predatory birds have similar feeding preferences and both have specialized tongues with papillae that help them grip and manipulate prey.

How Does The Size And Fleshy Nature Of A Bird Of Prey’s Tongue Relate To Their Hunting And Feeding Behaviors?

Birds of prey have unique adaptations that allow them to hunt and feed on their prey.

While the size and fleshy nature of their tongues may not be the most important factor, it can still play a role in their hunting and feeding behaviors.

Here are some relevant points:

  • Tongue manipulation: Some birds, such as Anatidae (ducks), use their tongues to filter-feed and crush their prey before swallowing. Bald eagles can stretch and tip their tongues forward to feed eaglets, pull and tip them backwards to move food into their mouths, or move them side-to-side to position food for tearing.
  • Feeding mechanism: The Red-necked Phalarope has a unique feeding mechanism that involves using surface tension to trap small aquatic invertebrates on the water’s surface. The bird spins in circles to create a vortex that brings the prey closer to its mouth.
  • Messy eating: In some cases, growths or other health issues can impair a bird’s tongue and make it messy in its eating habits.
  • Preferred food: Birds of prey have different hunting strategies depending on their preferred food. For example, the peregrine falcon hunts other birds, often much larger than itself, and does so in a spectacular manner.

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