There are over 200 different species of owls around the world that come in many different shapes and sizes. We're all used to what a typical owl looks like, striking plumages, powerful talons and big eyes, but what about the legs of an owl? Various pictures of exposed owl legs have gone viral on the internet over the years and it's fascinated so many people. So this is why we've put this guide together, to try and answer questions and show (some pretty amusing) pictures of owl legs.
Owls have heavy down coats to protect themselves from low temperatures and under all of those feathers, on most owls, are hidden long legs. There are only a few species of owls that actually have bare legs where you can see the legs fully - the most common is the Burrowing Owl.
Do those legs go 'owl' the way up? Well, it seems like they do!
The long legs of a Short-eared Owl
The legs of an owl can be up to anywhere up to half of the total length of its body.
This does vary per species of owl and means that the range of owl leg height is quite vast. The main reason for this is with over 200 species, there are some huge and tiny owls on the other end of the spectrum.
Owls legs are actually powerful and, other than looking slightly amusing, serve an important purpose. It's common knowledge that owls have powerful talons, which they use to capture and kill prey, so it would only make sense that they need accompanying powerful legs to carry off any prey. The legs of an owl are also used to stretch out, giving them more reach to strike prey with ultimate precision.
The Burrowing Owl is different to other owl species in that they live in holes under the ground and do some of their hunting on the ground (as well as by air). They are capable of flying but aren't as efficient as other owls.
Little is known about this, but it's thought that the Eagle Owl (bubo bubo) could be one of the owls with the longest legs. This is based on them being, on average, one of the tallest owls in the world. Which would mean their legs could be anywhere from 20 - 30cm long.
Eagle Owl striking prey with long legs
There is no specific or scientific name for the legs of an owl, so they're simply known as legs!
Yes, owls have knees. Most types of owls have a patella (kneecap), but this is covered by feathers in the majority of species. The joint is located between the large bone that sits between the femur and the tibia (tibiotarsus).
Many people mistake the knees of an owl for their ankles, as birds have a different structure for their legs.
Yes, all owls are capable of walking. Most species don't spend much time doing so though and prefer to perch up high on branches in trees.
Yes, most owls are capable of running, although there's little known about what speeds they are capable of reaching. Just because owls are capable of running doesn't mean that it's common for them to do so. They are much better at catching prey utilising their silent flight and striking from above with their powerful talons.
The Burrowing Owl is one of the fastest owls at running in the world, and if you've seen one running, you'll see that they are quite fast at doing so. They will sometimes chase and capture prey on the ground by running.
Burrowing Owl running on the ground
Yes, owls can walk backwards. They have two forward-facing talons and one backwards-facing talon. This structure gives them outstanding balance and allows them to walk easily in different directions.
Seeing owls on the ground is a rare sight and to see them walking and running is an even rarer sight, so it's no wonder that we're all so fascinated when we see the legs of an owl. You certainly will never look at owls the same way.