Can Owls Sit Criss Cross?


No, owls cannot sit criss cross.

Their legs are long but bend backward, and they do not have the ability to bend their legs in such a way.

The photo that is often shared online of an owl appearing to sit criss cross is an illusion caused by the way their plumage ruffles when they sit on their hocks.

Why Do Owls Have Long Legs That Bend Backward?

Owls have long legs that bend backward for several reasons:

  1. Hunting: Owls’ long legs allow them to perch in one spot for hours without moving a muscle, keeping their bodies still and quiet while hunting. The long legs also give owls a wide range of motion, allowing them to quickly pounce on unsuspecting prey.
  2. Stability during take-off and landing: The long legs provide stability during take-off and landing.
  3. Balance in flight: Owls need their long legs to help them stay balanced while in flight.
  4. Range of motion: The long legs give owls a wide range of motion, allowing them to quickly pounce on unsuspecting prey.
  5. Protection against predators: The long legs give owls an extra layer of protection against predators.
  6. Joint structure: Owls have hinged joints in their legs that enable them to move the lower parts of their legs forward and backward. The knee joint is actually located just above the ankle, closer to the bird’s body than other birds.
  7. Ankle structure: Owls stand on their tiptoes like most other birds, and what looks like their knees bending backward is actually their ankles. Owls’ ankles bend the opposite way to their knees, allowing them to open and “fold” their leg like an accordion, which impacts their ability to take off, grab their prey, and land.

What Is The Purpose Of An Owl’s Hocks?

Owls have long legs with hocks that serve several purposes.

Here are some of the reasons why owl legs are unique:

  • Protection: The long legs of an owl help to keep their heads and eyes safe from prey that might strike back. This is important because an owl cannot afford to have its eyes damaged or scratched.
  • Survival: Owl legs help those birds that live in cold climates survive extremely cold temperatures.
  • Hunting: Like other birds of prey, owls use their sharp talons and curved bills to hunt, kill, and eat other animals. The long legs of an owl allow them to reach and grab prey more easily, especially when hunting on the ground.
  • Hovering: Some owls, such as the Short-eared Owl, hover like a helicopter above prey until they are ready to zoom in on it. Hovering takes a lot of energy, but it allows the owl to get a better view of its prey.
  • Communication: Owls have feathers on their legs that are thought to be used for communication and camouflage purposes.

In addition to their hocks, owls have other unique features that help them survive and hunt.

For example, they have fixed eyes that cannot move like human eyes, so they compensate by turning their heads up to 270 degrees.

They also have tiny barbs, hooks, and bows on the feathers along the leading edge of their wings that break up the air flowing over the wing, allowing them to fly silently and hunt more effectively.

Are There Any Other Bird Species That Can Sit Criss Cross?

There is no evidence that any bird species can sit criss cross.

In fact, ornithologists say that owls, which are often associated with this idea, cannot cross their legs in such a way because of their anatomy.

The photo that is often shared online of an owl sitting with its legs crossed is essentially an illusion.

While there are many bird species with unique and interesting behaviors, sitting criss cross is not one of them.

How Does The Illusion Of An Owl Sitting Criss Cross Occur?

The illusion of an owl sitting criss cross is essentially a misconception.

Owls cannot cross their legs in such a way because of their anatomy.

The photo being passed around is essentially an illusion created by the creases, lumps, and bumps of their feathers.

Owls also don’t normally sit on a flat surface as seen in the photo, experts said.

Instead, they’d use their talons to perch on a branch.

Therefore, the idea that owls can sit criss cross applesauce is false.

Are There Any Unique Adaptations In Owl Legs That Allow Them To Perch In Different Ways?

Yes, there are unique adaptations in owl legs that allow them to perch in different ways.

Here are some of the adaptations:

  • Joint location: The joint that connects the thigh to the body is located further forward on an owl’s body than on many other types of birds. This adaptation allows them to rotate their legs further forward and perch without losing balance and falling off.
  • Toe arrangement: Owls have two toes pointing forward and two toes pointing backward, known as a zygodactyl arrangement. This allows them to perch securely on a branch and clutch their prey with their toes spread for a firm grip.
  • Talons: At the end of each toe is a long, sharp claw called a talon. Owls use their talons to snatch, squeeze, and kill prey animals, as well as defend themselves against predators.
  • Flexor tendons: Perching birds have thin tendons called flexor tendons that extend from the leg muscles down the back of the tarsus bone. These tendons allow birds to lock their toes around a perch without using any muscle effort, which helps them conserve energy.
  • Long legs: Owls have long legs that enable them to perch on high branches or hover over the ground to scan for prey. The long legs also allow owls to reach into narrow crevices.

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