• Sienna"Sharp-shinned"Hawk

How to Differentiate Unicorns from Plumicorns

Updated: Apr 13

The thoughts below do not necessarily reflect the thoughts of Flocking Around... or any typical human. If you enjoy these informational blog shorties, then join the blog!

Long-eared Owl
Long-eared Owl aka Long-plumicorned Owl (Not a unicorn)

What do you call the feathers on an owl's head?

I learned recently that there is a word for the ear-like tufts of feathers some birds have (e.g. the Great Horned Owl). Most birdwatchers are familiar with the varieties of owls with feather tufts protruding from the top of an owls head. And while the less-informed might think these feathers are the ears of an owl, their purpose is not related to an owl's auditory abilities. In fact, their true function is not well understood. So, what are these magnificent head ornaments? Plumicorns.

The term used, "plumicorn," sounded like complete nonsense, and of course, I was not buying it at all. Unfortunately for my skeptical mind, the term is real, and the usage of it is quite interesting.

What is a plumicorn?

The word plumicorn comes from the Latin words pluma (feather) and cornu (horn). After reading more about plumicorns, I extracted that their exact purpose is still unknown. However, one popular theory is that these feathers make the bird seem more aggressive and intimidating to predators or attackers. Another plausible theory speculates that they break up their silhouettes, giving a bird better camouflage. This would make sense for non-cavity nesters and roosters, however, the screech-owls are quite well-known for the love of safe-holes.

Plumicorns are not just unique to owls. There are other species of birds that have these feather tufts as well, including Horned Larks, Tufted Puffins, and Rockhopper Penguins. There are less obvious versions of these feather decorations, but owls are the typical birds pointed to in the plumicorn discussion.

With your newfound knowledge, it is time to use a practical application. As such, I have prepared a handy guide to help you tell the difference between 'plumicorns' and 'unicorns:'

Unicorn vs Plumicorn

In conclusion, I vote that we change the name of the Great Horned Owl to Great Plumicorned Owl for better accuracy (and because it sounds really neat). Though, my bet is that the outrage from renaming birds would flow like the wine from Dionysus's goblet.

Final Note: Here's to Plumicorned Larks, Great Plumicorned Owls, and Plumicorned Grebes! To be fair, we are rebels in the bird naming world.

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