About 20 seconds into this video you’ll see a great horned owl fall asleep with a suddenness that’s hard to believe. One second he’s an upright owl, staring sternly at the camera, the next he’s unconscious and his head has flopped backwards and disappeared. It makes for uncomfortable – though quite funny – viewing.
The great horned owl we’re watching here was on his perch above the dry creek on a very (VERY) hot August day, and was struggling to stay cool, stay awake, and – when not awake – stay upright. Tiredness and the heat overtook him from time to time, and then it was as if someone had flipped a switch – he was out like a light. But often only for 10 seconds or so. These birds catnap (we hope they’ll forgive us the expression).
The owl was fluttering his throat (“gular fluttering”) to try to stay cool. Gular fluttering is a technique used by many bird species to help regulate body temperature.