At first glance, this may seem like a very silly sight: a man in a lab coat waving a brown owl about.
But this YouTube video actually illustrates the amazing adaptations that make the owl an effective and deadly predator.
The owl's ability to keep its head still while the rest of its body is moved around comes in handy as it swoops down on prey from above. This might not seem like much of a superpower, but the fact that the owl can keep its head on straight while dodging trees and other obstacles in flight means it can keep a laser-like focus on whatever misfortunate rodent it's locked in on.
Unlike humans, owls and other birds can't move their eyes around much in their sockets. Owls' eyes are especially immobile, so their flexible necks evolved to allow them to still get a good look at their surroundings.
Owls can't actually turn their heads in a full circle, but the reality is still pretty impressive. Thanks to several adaptations in the neck and backbone, the owl can swivel its head up to 270 degrees to the left or right.
The owl's neck has 14 vertebrae - twice that of humans - and its jugular veins are specially arranged so that blood supply isn't choked off when the bird twists its head around.
Also, "the ends of the vertebrae in their necks are saddle-shaped and juxtaposed in a way that allows for this range of movement," Cornell University Lab of Ornithology spokesperson Pat Leonard noted in an email.
So why is the scientist (or owl-stretching enthusiast?) shown waving the owl with its eyes covered at the end of the video? Our guess is that it's to show that the owl's head stability isn't dependent on sight, but on some other kind of sensory mechanism -- possibly the inner ear.
Here's another video showing an eagle owl flying at a camera, so you can get a prey's-eye view of this bird's eerily level flight.