Living the Scientific Life (Scientist, Interrupted)

The Amazing Transformer Owl

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This interesting video shows you the anti-predator behaviors of an African owl species — her behaviors are different for different owl species (narration is in Japanese) [3:20]

Can you name all the owl species depicted in this video?


  1. #1 David Harmon
    January 2, 2009

    The “getting big” thing is pretty straightforward, but do you have any idea what that alienesque alter ego is supposed to represent?

    I certainly find it creepy, but I’m not sure why….

  2. #2 "GrrlScientist"
    January 2, 2009

    the tall and skinny alter ego is apparently an attempt to blend in to a tree trunk, although it is hard to see that when the bird is sitting in the open like that.

  3. #3 Luna_the_cat
    January 2, 2009

    Actually, to me the “getting skinny” looks like a bloody successful attempt to turn its profile into that of a cat. That is a sitting cat, I tell you.

    I recognise the common barn owl (I love them) and an African Eagle Owl (although I’m not sure what “flavor” Eagle Owl, as I know there are several), but I don’t know the shapechanger itself. I would love to!

  4. #4 HP
    January 2, 2009

    Luna_the_cat: Is that a barn owl or an African grass-owl (Tyto capensis)?

    “Grass Owls differ in appearance from their cousins the Barn Owl in being larger, with stronger contrast between the upper and lower body. The upperparts are dark brown and the underparts whitish. The face is also rounder than that of the Barn Owl.”

    I’m not enough of a naturalist (or a Japanese speaker) to tell the difference, but why go all the way to South Africa to look at common barn owl behaviors?

  5. #5 Luna_the_cat
    January 2, 2009

    I’m pretty sure that is actually a barn owl — and as far as I know, South Africa has them too! I don’t know if they were deliberate imports or not, but they are very distinct birds, and the one in the video appeared to have the perfect barn owl colouring, and I’ve found them listed as S. Africa residents on several birding pages.

  6. #6 Monimonika
    January 2, 2009

    Japanese speaker here to give a summary:

    The owl is a White-faced Scops Owl (about 20cm in height, noted for its orange eyes, small owl), named Popo.

    When Popo is shown a Barn Owl (or Ashy-faced Owl) (found in many parts of the world, about 35cm in height), Popo puffs out his(?) feathers against the other owl since the Barn Owl is, according to Popo, of lower rank.

    When faced with a Eurasian Eagle-Owl (found in the African continent, about 75cm in height, large owl), Popo slims down to half his size and narrows his eyes to look like a tree branch in the eyes of the Eurasian Eagle-Owl. Since Popo’s stomach feathers are a non-camouflaging white color, he keeps twisting his body so that his back is always facing the enemy owl.

    Owls have thick feathers and their actual bodies are not that big, so they can change sizes by puffing or flattening their feathers. The White-faced Scops Owl is among the most adept in controlling their feathers.

  7. #7 Monimonika
    January 2, 2009

    If I got any of the owl species wrong (of which I am sure I did), blame the very helpful Avibase ( ) that I used to look up the birds via the Japanese names in romaji via Google.

    Here are the romaji names in order of appearance:


  8. #8 Ian "Birdbooker" Paulsen
    January 2, 2009

    According to my books the owls in the video are: Southern White-faced Scops-Owl, Barn Owl and Verreaux’s Eagle-Owl.

  9. #9 Anton Mates
    January 3, 2009

    Is this the same Japanese show that had that “What’s the biggest fish a cat is willing to carry” contest? Or are kickass amateur animal behavior experiments just really common on Japanese TV?

  10. #10 David Harmon
    January 3, 2009

    Many thanks, Monimonika!

  11. #11 "GrrlScientist"
    January 3, 2009

    thanks for the translation, Monimonika! i can always count on one or more of my readers to help us out with translation services, and for that, i am grateful! it helps us all learn a little more about our natural world.

  12. #12 cyberthrush
    January 3, 2009

    The video is of course very fascinating and humorous, and I don’t mean to dampen anyone’s interest in it, but I did notice that naturalist Julie Zickefoose reacted to it on another website by noting that if the owl is being repeatedly put through this ritual just to entertain (or even educate) people it is a rather cruelly stressful exercise… just something else to consider.

  13. #13 Issis
    June 17, 2010

    It is, of course, cruel to subject the owl to constant stress / perceived threat … It is also cruel to keep any winged creature tethered, especially in a commercial environment (shopping center). Nasty business….

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