Can an owl turn its head all the way around? The answer can be yes or no, depending on the starting point of the head, so some clarification is required.
If the starting point of the head is facing straight forward, then no, they cannot turn their heads all the way around. If YOU start out facing forward and turn your head as far to the side as your head will go, most people can turn their heads about 90 degrees. An owl, however, can start out facing forward, turn its bill over its shoulder, keep going until its bill is over its spine, then keep going until the bill reaches the other shoulder...a whopping 270 degrees from the front!
That being said, you will almost never see an owl turn its head more than 180 degrees from the front. They almost always stop when their bill is over their spine and rotate their head around to the other side to continue watching something if necessary.
Now if your starting point for this whole head-turning discussion is with an owl's head over its spine, it can easily turn its head back the way it came from to the front, then all the way to the spine in the other direction, making for a nice easy 360, something they do regularly. So if your starting point is to the rear, then yes an owl can turn its head all the way around.
Now to get the idea of the absolute extremes of which an owl is capable, if an owl starts with its head at the maxium twist of 270 degrees (from the front), then goes back to the front and does a maximum rotation in the other direction, the full range of motion is a whopping 540 degrees! (Never mind that you'll probably never see an owl do more than the 360 described in the previous paragrah.) A human's maximum range of rotation from side to side is more like a measly 180 degrees.
Here's a rare video of an owl acutally rotating its head a full 270 degrees from the front.
Below is a video that shows the adaptations owls have to allow them to turn their heads so far. (Note that the video of owl head-turning in this video doesn't show an owl turning its head 270 from the front--even the video makers didn't grasp the concept of what it means for an owl to turn its head 270 degrees from the front!)
So now you know the whole answer....
I always say that you learn a lot about cars if you have one that doesn't run very well. The same can be said about owl health: you learn a lot when they aren't healthy.
Rusty the Great Horned Owl is still slowly healing. After six weeks in a dog carrier, however, he had had enough. When I took him out so Hein could clean the carrier and put down a fresh astroturf mat, Rusty wriggled through my arms and out in the breeding pen. In a way it was a good thing so we could see how well HE could see. I was absolutely elated to see him fly up to a perch!! While his vision certainly isn't perfect, he can fly from perch to perch, which is FANTASTIC! He has more trouble seeing when it is very, very dark, and I have to catch him in a net to treat him now, but now he can be free and we can observe him on the live cameras again. We did close the door to the flight pen, however, so he and Iris are separated. This allows us to continue to give Rusty medicated food.
A recent checkup showed the Rusty's corneal ulcer had only healed a small amount in the past month. The medication on his food, however, hinders the healing of the ulcer so we are reducing that medication in hopes his ulcer will heal on its own. Otherwise he needs to be anesthesia and a minor surgery to help it heal. An ultrasound of his eye revealed the "gunk" in the lower portion of the back of his eye and a slight cataract in his lens. Keep heling, Rusty!
Uhu the Eurasian Eagle Owl is still undergoing treatment for her blepharitis. A culture revealed that it was being caused by a bacteria that causes pink eye in cattle, so theoretically a fly transmitted it from a cow to Uhu. (How, we're not sure, since are owls are in screened aviaries and only a random fly follows us humans in.) At any rate, we have a specially compounded ointment to apply to her eye four times per day. Her eye is responding slowly but surely, and she will begin work when it is healed.
Mitzy the fledgling Tawny Owl was an absolute puzzle. After 10 days of the top vets at the University of Minnesota Raptor Center working with her, they simply could not figure out why her kidneys or intestines were not working. After much discussion with many people, with very heavy hearts we made the decision to let her go. The gross necropsy did not give any good answers, other than we already knew her kidneys were grossly enlarged and she had no intestinal blockage. The microscopic necropsy is only partially completed and may or may not yield answers. Rest in peace, dear little Mitzy.
The International Owl Center advances the survival of wild owl populations through education and research. We plan to accomplish our mission through biological and cultural programs and displays, green building design, citizen-science and other research, international exchange of information, the World Owl Hall of Fame, the International Festival of Owls, and other means.