The flight of an owl has long been touted for its silent strength. Owls’ acute hearing, wide-range of vision, large wing-span, and ability to glide aids them in their hunt. However, the anatomy of owls’ feathers deserves the most credit for quieting their flights.
Contour feathers on the front of an owl’s wings have serrated edges, which break up the air-turbulence rushing over them. Instead of one large gush of air, the varied length and stiffness of the feathers disperses the air into micro-turbulences. Essentially one big sound disintegrates into many little ones. The sound waves from the micro-turbulences oscillate at much higher frequencies, inaudible to humans and most of an owl’s prey.
Curious to see this in action? Watch this clip released from the BBC Two’s new special on owls. The clip features a pigeon, falcon, and owl flying over super-sensitive microphones and then compares the sound waves produced by each flight.
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