Can you remember when you heard thunder for the first time? Most people pay little mind when they hear a clap of thunder in the distance. For some, a loud boom coming from the sky can be understandably frightening. One unfortunate victim spooked by thunder is this adorable baby barn owl! While this fun video shows the reaction of a baby barn owl hearing thunder for the first time, there is a lot happening that you cannot see. Not only are baby barn owls incredibly cute, but they are also very interesting under those adorable feathers. This article will dive into what’s happening behind the scenes of this cute video.
What Is a Barn Owl?
The term “barn owl” is the common name for the owl species Tyto alba. This species includes numerous barn owl subspecies. In fact, 28 subspecies exist today! There are three main lineages including the western barn owl, the eastern barn owl, and the American barn owl. Some scientists recognize these as multiple distinct species, but in general, ornithologists classify barn owls as one species with many subspecies.
There is some variation in different barn owls’ colors, shapes, and sizes. They most often have pale brown feathers on their abdomens and the undersides of their wings, and darker brown feathers on their back and the outer side of their wings. Their faces are typically a light color and have a distinct dark brown border encircling it. They are medium size but vary across subspecies. Their wingspans can range from 13 inches to 37 inches!
The habitats barn owls occupy around the world are also very diverse. They live in South America, parts of Africa, parts of Southeast Asia, Australia, parts of Europe, and parts of North America. Needless to say, they are very common owls! Of all 10,000 bird species alive today, barn owls have one of the broadest geographic distributions.
What is Thunder?
Thunder is a natural phenomenon that can present as a low rumble or a loud cracking sound. It is the sound made by lightning and can often be heard up to 10 miles away from its source. The air around a lightning bolt expands rapidly due to the heat surrounding the bolt. The quickly expanding air surrounds the entire path of the lightning and produces resonating, thundering sounds.
References to different gods as the source of thunder appear throughout human spiritual history. In Greek mythology, Zeus was the god of the sky and thunder. For Ancient Romans, the Zeus equivalent was a god named Jupiter. In Norse mythology and now in popular culture, Thor is the powerful god of thunder, lightning, and storms.
Where Do Barn Owls and Thunder Overlap?
The poor baby owl frightened by thunder in this video must live in a place where its home range overlaps with where thunder is common. Interestingly, although it rains frequently in the United States Pacific Northwest, it does not usually thunder. The area in the United States with the most thunder is actually the southeastern states. Florida usually has the most annual “thunder days” of all states with more than 105 a year! Although thunder occurs across most of the barn owl’s global distribution, if this video was taken in North America, it could have been in one of the southeastern states!
Do Owls have Good Hearing?
For this baby barn owl to have such a fright, it obviously must have been able to hear the thunder. This might seem like a no-brainer, but many animals have different senses than humans. Although barn owls like this little baby can hear, many animals like crabs, squids, and octopi are completely deaf. Instead, they have other senses more adaptive to their specific ecosystems. Octopi, for example, can sense ambient chemicals using the suckers on their arms.
Owls have an incredibly well-developed sense of hearing. Of all animals to be tested, an owl’s hearing is the most sensitive. The barn owl specifically has the most sensitive hearing of all owls, too. One reason this trait evolved is that it allows the nocturnal owls to locate prey in the dark. Owls can hear sounds from approximately ten miles away! Not only do owls have exceptional hearing, but they also have very good low-light vision. This is also helpful for their nighttime hunts!
What Happens to an Animal When It’s Frightened?
Aside from thunder, many different things can frighten animals like this baby barn owl. When an animal is frightened, it triggers a biological response known as the fight or flight response. When an animal perceives danger, the chemicals epinephrine and norepinephrine are released from the adrenal medulla. This causes a number of physiological responses. These chemicals have many effects that prioritize essential body functions and improve muscle performance. Responses include a faster heart rate, faster breathing, an increase in blood pressure, dilation of muscle blood vessels and constriction of other blood vessels, “tunnel vision” (blurring of periphery vision), and several others. The fight or flight response allows animals to either run away from a perceived threat or it can help them face it. This chemical response also occurs in humans under stress or in life-threatening situations.
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