Are Owls Smart? Are They the
Smartest Animals in The World?

Have you heard about the phrase 'as wise as an owl?’ Read ahead to find out how smart owls are.

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David A. Swanson

October 10, 2021

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What’s This Post About?

When we think about owls, we picture their big bright eyes. Since we have an intuitive, emotional bond to animals and birds with wide eyes, we may associate them with human attributes such as wisdom or intellect.

The question then arises of how legit is this association which was formed in ancient times and continues to date. To understand this, it is essential that you do not limit smartness to the intellect but also allow sharp predatory abilities as a measure.

Owls are not the most intelligent animal in the world, but they are wonderful creatures in their own way. They’re superb hunters with exceptional hearing, camouflage plumage, and tubular eyes that aid in capturing their prey.


Are Owls Smart?

Unlike other animals, owls have unrivaled visual and hearing abilities in the bird family that help them perform tasks, but things get a little trickier when it comes to intellect.

Certain bird species are thought to be brighter than others, but that depends on how we measure intelligence in the context of birds. There are two major categories: efficient execution of a task and conflict resolution. When it comes to catching small forest animals, owls are amazing birds of prey.

The abilities of sight and hearing take up about 75% of an owl’s mind. It only leaves owls with 25% of their brain capacity to comprehend facts and make judgments.

What Makes Owls Wise?

As mentioned previously, an owl’s smartness is associated with its ability to hunt better than other animals. You must already know that they are nocturnal animals and thus have a more challenging environment to hunt. They have multiples characteristics that make them intelligent hunters.


Not all owls are nocturnal; some are diurnal. The northern hawk-owl and the great grey owl are examples of diurnal owls.

Flattened Face


Owls have compressed facial discs that direct sound into their ears, allowing them to hear even the slightest disturbance. As a result, owls hear sounds that people can’t hear as the sound directed to their ears is amplified up to ten times.

Owls are recognized for having excellent hearing, and the Northern Hawk Owl, in particular, can detect prey as far as 12 inches beneath the snow. In addition, the owl’s hearing is far sharper at specific frequencies, allowing it to detect even the tiniest movement of its prey hidden in the foliage or vegetation.

Asymmetrical Ears

Numerous owl species have asymmetrical ears with varying sizes and lengths. Due to a minor difference in time when sound enters the ear, one ear is higher in the head than the other, giving the owl a better chance to determine the location of prey.

Owls can determine the location of noises in various directions because of this irregular positioning. For example, the left ear of a barn owl is higher than the right. The owl rotates its head so that the noise it hears reaches both ears at the same time.

Silent Flight

Owls can move silently. This gives them a supreme edge while hunting as their movement goes undetected by their target. When other birds fly, the air is pushed over the wing’s surface, causing turbulence and a loud gushing sound. When owls fly, the turbulence is broken up by their feather edge.


Owls are swift animals, especially the Great Horned Owl skimming through the air at speeds of up to 40 miles per hour.

There was an experiment conducted to check their capability of stealth flight. It traveled from one area to another without causing any sensation. Even the microphones’ sensitivity was unaffected.



Even in low light, the owl’s huge eyes provide exceptional stereoscopic eyesight. They are immovable tubes that can only be adjusted by rotating the head, unlike human eyes.

The bird’s pupils may dilate and contract over a broad range, allowing it to see well at nighttime and during the day.

An owl may regulate the quantity of light reaching its eyes by widening its left or right pupil to account for shadows. This suggests that the owl’s brain spends a significant amount of time interpreting data from its optic nerves.

In reality, neurological images of a working owl’s brain show a substantial level of brain capacity devoted to vision.


As cruel as it may seem, parent owls feed the eldest and strongest infants before their siblings. If there isn’t enough food, the young chicks will die. Their healthier siblings sometimes kill the weakest chicks.

Though this appears to be a harsh method of child-rearing, it ensures that, regardless of food supply, some children will always successfully reproduce. Instead of breeding a completely weak brood, they prioritize having few but strong children.

Being able to prioritize and ration food can be taken as a measure of owl intelligence. Harsh as it may be, it is a survival tactic.

Zygodactyl Feet

Owls have zygodactyl feet, which include two forward-pointing toes and two backward-pointing toes. Unlike many other zygodactyl species, owls may bend one of their back toes forward to aid grip and walk.

Their feet have razor-sharp claws. Owls can therefore be more effective predators thanks to their stronger, more forceful grip. Owls catch their prey with their formidable talons. In addition, the bones of an owl’s legs are smaller and sturdier than the bones in other birds’ legs. As a result, their feet can resist the pressure of a collision with prey.

Luring Technique

To catch prey, some owls use an impressive ‘bait and wait for’ tactic. For instance, owls collect the dung and use it to entice beetles to emerge from their tunnels. Burrowing owls follow this tactic, and due to their ability to use bait to attract their prey, they are considered one of the most intelligent owl species.

Why Are Owls Considered Smart?

An owl’s beginnings as an intelligent species can be traced back to ancient times. Humans regarded hunting to be their only ability since they depended on it for survival. They have been known for their intelligence since owls are smart hunters with great intuition.


You may be wondering why the ancient belief is still prevalent in modern times. People who study birds understand how different birds are intelligent in different ways. They do not see the owl as the smartest bird rather, ancient beliefs do.

Other people who are not informed enough to compare it to other birds believe this as part of what they have always heard.

They were also considered a symbol of knowledge in ancient Greek society. In addition, since spectacles are similar to the owl’s large eyes, people associate the bird with wisdom without giving it much thought.

Are Owls the Smartest?


Since we grew up hearing and using the phrase ‘as wise as an owl,’ our brains have been conditioned to think they are the most intelligent animals. Yet, it turns out that, while being outstanding hunters, owls aren’t much smarter than other birds.

Study Evidence

They may be much less capable of conflict resolution than other large-brained birds such as crows and parrots. According to one research, great grey owls consistently failed a basic cognitive test—pulling a rope to earn a treat—that had been completed efficiently by many other species of birds.

In one experiment, six of the twelve owls tugged the string. These are natural actions that do not necessitate animal training. However, in the experiment described above, a few owls attempted to pull threads in unusual ways.

Few people believe that this behavior in owls is due to a lack of knowledge of the fundamental physics of things.

Comparison With Other Birds


Parrots are quick to train and have large vocabulary sets. Object retrieval may be taught to hawks. Pigeons, too, are employed in behavioral studies and can be trained to perform certain acts in exchange for a reward. However, most owl species cannot be taught to perform even the most fundamental duties.

However, some people believe that comparing owls to other intelligent birds is a bad idea. It’s challenging to find common ground with owls because they’re solitary birds, unlike crows, corvids, and parrots.

Crows & Corvids

Corvids are now the brightest of the group when it comes to cognitive capacity. They’ve demonstrated the use of techniques, manipulation, and recollection. In a few cases, these birds use the concept of teamwork, while the owl acts as a lone gunman.

Owls are unique in a few ways because they function at night. Rather than using their intellect, they rely on their senses. Corvids, ravens, and crows, on the other hand, are quite engaged in problem-solving situations.

Specific missions will necessitate the usage of tools by Ravens. For example, they store food for rainy days. In addition, they have fantastic memory and will recall anyone who wants to harm them.


The ability of parrots to communicate verbally is well recognized. They can memorize a few hundred words and speak them all at once. They also shred their older plumage with tools.

They live in communities in the Amazon jungle, where they work as a team. When trained, a parrot can identify objects and even seek assistance. In comparison, while they are fantastic predators, owls have limited vocalization.

The brains of crows and parrots are enormous in proportion to their size. In comparison to other bird families, their nidopallium caudolateral is mainly well developed. It is comparable to the prefrontal cortex in mammals, which is linked to higher cognitive capabilities.

Owls don’t have such enormous, well-developed brains, and they haven’t exhibited above-average intellect when assessed in confinement.


Eagles can be used for a fairer comparison as there are many similarities between eagles and owls. Both are solitary raptors with superb vision and hunting ability. What about intelligence, though?

Owls lack the intelligence of eagles. Eagles are thought to be one of the sharpest birds of prey, while owls are on the lower end of the spectrum.


Keep Reading!

Owls are predatory birds of prey that hunt and kill small animals. It’s no surprise; they can observe their prey from great distances and hear even the tiniest movements in their environment.

While they are intelligent predators, they are not intelligent birds. Owls are only as wise as their surroundings necessitate. Moreover, their brain is tiny, mainly devoted to sensory processing, leaving little capacity for learning capacities or general intellect.

Now that you know how smart owls are read this post to learn how smart penguins are and their comparison with other animals.

How Smart Are Penguins? Comparison With Other Animals!

Did you know that penguins are much more than what their cuddly appearance gives away? Read to learn about how smart penguins are!

David A. Swanson Picture

By David A. Swanson

Bird Watching USA

My name is David and I'm the the founder of Bird Watching USA! I started Bird Watching with My father-in-law many years ago, and I've become an addict to watching these beautiful creatures. I've learnt so much over about bird watching over the years that I want to share with the world everything I know about them!

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David A. Swanson Picture

David A. Swanson

Bird Watching USA

My name is David and I'm the the founder of Bird Watching USA! I started Bird Watching with My father-in-law many years ago, and I've become an addict to watching these beautiful creatures. I've learnt so much over about bird watching over the years that I want to share with the world everything I know about them!



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