Subscribe to BirdNote

Sign up to receive a weekly email preview of the following week's shows!

Sign Up
Support BirdNote

Help BirdNote tell more stories, reach more people, and inspire action.


You are here

Giant Owls of Cuba

The largest of all known owls hunted on foot
© Stanton Fink CC View Large

The Cuban Giant Owl, now extinct, was 3½ feet tall and weighed 20 pounds — the largest of all known owls. It had very small wings, running after its prey on long, powerful legs. Similar large owls, with long legs and small wings, have been unearthed in places as disparate as Georgia and Hawaii. Very little is known about why giant owls died out.

Full Transcript



The Giant Owls of Cuba

Written by Bob Sundstrom

This is BirdNote.

Giant owls once walked the earth. As recently as 10,000 years ago, these owls, now extinct, were among the largest of all known owls, standing 3½ feet tall and weighing 20 pounds. They thrived among the top predators on the island of Cuba.

But the wings of the Cuban Giant Owl were surprisingly small. They may have powered the bird up to low perches, but scientists think it hunted primarily on foot. Running on long, powerful legs equipped with large talons, the bird ambushed or chased down its prey.

The owls appear to have evolved their remarkable size and ground-dwelling habits at a time when Cuba had no large carnivorous mammals to compete with. Very little is known about why they died out.

Fossils of similar owls—with long legs and small wings—have been unearthed in places as disparate as Hawaii and Georgia, pointing to large terrestrial owls as a widespread, successful adaptation.

But from any angle, the Cuban Giant Owl was a behemoth among owls, an example of evolution pushed to the extreme.

For BirdNote, I’m Michael Stein.

Bird sounds provided by The Macaulay Library of Natural Sounds at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York. ML Library Oriente Warbler recording 112198, recorded by G Budney.
BirdNote’s theme music was composed and played by Nancy Rumbel and John Kessler.
Producer: John Kessler
Managing Producer: Jason Saul
Associate Producer: Ellen Blackstone
© 2018 Tune In to   April/May 2018  June 2019 Narrator: Michael Stein

ID#       cuban-giant-owl-01  

Related topics: