U.S. Department of Agriculture: Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service


Date of this Version



Science, VOL 380, ISSUE 6651 (23 JUNE 2023)


U.S. government work


Owls are mysterious creatures, mainly because we humans hardly ever encounter them. They are mostly nocturnal, are silent in their flight, and tend to unnerve us with their ghostly and sometimes quavering vocalizations. There have been numerous books on the natural history of owls written for nonexperts, but Jennifer Ackerman’s What an Owl Knows takes a novel tack, blending natural history and scientific discovery with a discussion of recent technological innovations. The result is a fascinating read on how scientists are beginning to better understand the lives and ecology of these secretive and rarely visible birds.

The book’s nine chapters cover broad areas of knowledge about owls, much of it recently discovered. In the opening pages, Ackerman describes how researchers are using new approaches to study owls and how our understanding of their abilities has increased exponentially with technological advances. In some areas, such as how owls communicate with each other, we are now able to explore nuances that were imperceivable before the advent of advanced computing systems and artificial intelligence. Another particularly interesting topic considered in this section is the trade-offs inherent