Little Details

A Fact-Checking Community for Writers

Previous Entry Add to Memories Share Next Entry
Barn Owl without feathers
Fone Bone is writing
caelum wrote in little_details
This is going to sound silly, but I need a naked owl.

I have a barn owl (tyto alba) character who is about the size of an Asian elephant. Ludicrous flight physics aside, I have a human character who needs to be able to ride on his back without yanking on feathers to keep her seat. I'm having her improvise a harness with ropes at first (because she is sick of being carted around in his talons like an oversized fieldmouse) and then later on in the story a proper saddle/straps arrangement is made.

I know that the feathers on a barn owl add up to a lot of fluff that changes the outline of the bird from its actual shape at the skin level. When devising the harness, I can assume that the straps/ropes will vanish under the fluff but it's the actual arrangement of the contraption that I need to work out. The straps and whatnot wouldn't simply sit on top of the feathers, particularly over the chest and belly where there's lots of down.

I need to be able to draw it out so that I can figure how to describe it. Trouble is, I can't find a picture, diagram or photo of a barn owl without its feathers. Some skeletal models, but no such luck finding reference for musculature or skin.

Searched for:
"barn owl" + musculature, muscles, skin, no feathers, naked (never doing that again), anatomy
"owl physiology"
...and looked through my artists' reference books at home.

It's going to look like a newly hatched chick. Feathers on birds don't grow out of every piece of skin, though, but instead grow from tracts. It might help for you to look into those.

Very interesting (and adorably ugly). Thank you.

Apparently, underneath their feathers, they look not unlike vultures

That is interesting. Look how much owl there isn't. ^_^

Oh, the dialogue I could add with this.
"Are you actually in there or is it just feathers all the way through?"
"Watch it, human, I've coughed up pellets bigger than you."

Look how much owl there isn't.

Well said! That's an amazing pic.

For what'll probably be your best source for living featherless birds, though not owls, try looking for pictures of featherplucking parrots. While definitely not exactly the same, the muscles are arranged the same way in the way that our muscles are arranged similarly to other primates. Skin texture will also be about the same.

Good idea, I'll look that up.

A friend of mine showed me this video a few days ago, I thought it was hilarious and interesting, but mostly useless. Now, I think it might have a use. Watch it until you get to "evil owl" The owl flattens out it's feathers and you can get a better idea of what it really looks like under there.



also enjoy the goofy music.

Oh yeah, I've seen that. The owl isn't so much flattening his feathers as aligning his wings to his target's line of sight and stretching himself taller.

But yeah, owls do seem to be mostly feather and fluff.

Have you tried googling 'bird harness'? That seems like a more direct way of going after what you need. Admittedly those are mostly harnesses to keep birds from flying off, rather than to support weight, but it at least shows some feasible strap placement. You could also look at carrier pigeons, radio tracking or birdcams, and other such situations where people attach foreign objects to birds.

I don't think the structure of an owl would differ that much from the structure of a raptor as far as where the straps need to be, so you could probably look at some hawk info, too. Something to keep in mind is that you don't want to put much pressure across a bird's keel (chest) because that can interfere with their breathing, as well as their flight muscles; the keel is v-shaped and needs to be able to flex. That makes harness arrangement somewhat trickier, affecting the placement of what would be a breastband on a mammal. The main band might need to be around the neck?

You might also try looking at sites about wildlife rehab for owls... might find pix of owls that are missing feathers due to injuries or illness, or info on surgery relating to anatomy. I've done some bird rehab, and it is often amazing how much less of a bird there is once you condense the fluff.

Another term to try: molting.

*smacks forehead* Bird harness! I'll be damned, look at all the helpful google images. Why didn't that occur to me?

Those are common with pigeons (for carrying messages), but they also make harness-leashes for parrots (which might be physically more owl-like than pigeons), and I swear I've seen raptors with similar harnesses before though I don't know why. You might wanna try combinations of all those terms!

The feathers of birds lay so flat, even the down, you might be overthinking the harness design (but I'm no expert of bird harnessing, heh).

I'd recommend looking up the inner body molds for taxidermied birds for museums and universities and the like. They are essentially the bird shape without feathers. The only problem here is that I don't know what they are called. Casts? Blanks? Maybe someone else could help with that....

They're called forms, I think.:)

Found some pictures of bird taxidermy forms... good idea, though they look more like peeled potatoes than birds in actuality.