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Home Adaptations Skeletal System Neck Vertebrae
Great Horned Owl

Great Horned Owl
(Courtesy NEBRASKAland Magazine/NGPC)

Neck vertebrae are the bones that make up the neck. A giraffe has a very long neck made up of seven vertebrae. You have seven vertebrae that make up your neck, too.

But it's a different story for birds. A bird has many more bones in its neck than you do – from 11 to 25 vertebrae. The bird needs every one of those bones, because it uses its neck to see, among other things.

How does a bird use its neck to see? Think about owls. Have you ever watched an owl turn its head? Some people are convinced an owl can turn its head all the way around! That's almost true. An owl's head will turn nearly a complete circle. That adaptation helps the owl see.

Owls and some other birds have immobile eyes (eyes that are fixed in the eye socket). Since an owl can't glance around like you can, an owl needs this range of head movement and flexibility to be able to focus on objects at various distances.

Birds don't have hands, but they do have bills. When a bird needs to manipulate objects such as food items, it uses its bill. It also uses its bill to groom itself. The vertebrae of the bird's neck must be highly flexible to enable the bird to carry out these activities.

Thanks to the flexibility in its neck vertebrae, a bird can see danger from any direction, catch prey, preen its feathers, and do all the tasks necessary to keep a bird alive.


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