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Owl Ears

3-26-13 barred owl ear IMG_7161It’s well known that owls have an acute sense of hearing — some species, such as the barn owl, hunt nocturnally by sound alone. An owl’s asymmetrically-placed ears are located beneath the feathers at the edge of its facial discs. This placement, along with the shape of the external ear canals, is thought to contribute to an owl’s keen ability to locate sound. The flesh-colored fold of skin that you see in front of this barred owl’s ear is movable, and reflects and concentrates sound waves coming from behind the bird.

11 responses

  1. I found a dead saw whet owl that had met its fate flying across route 5 last year, and let the flies and carrion insects have their way with the carcass. Miraculously they left behind an intact skull, and the asymmetrical skull structure was easy to see, tiny little discs at subtly different heights to catch the sound. I had that tiny skull on my porch for only about a week when a storm blew it away, and I never found it again. As good as asymmetrical ears might be for locating a meal, I wish he/she could have figured out what speeding cars sound like well enough to stay out of their way-

    March 26, 2013 at 1:54 pm

    • Sad, but nice to know there are others who appreciate roadkills.

      March 26, 2013 at 8:58 pm

  2. Kathie Fiveash

    Is this amazing picture from a captive owl? How did you manage to take it?

    March 26, 2013 at 1:56 pm

    • Hi Kathie,
      This barred owl was a roadkill. When I examined it I found that it was starving. Probably looking for exposed rodents on the roads…

      March 26, 2013 at 9:00 pm

      • People do not realize that by throwing their garbage out of their car windows, including apple cores and other bio-degradables, that this increases the population of rodents in ditches which contributes to the death of many owls and other raptors. We have several places here in Ontario, Canada that rehabilitate owls & raptors to either return to the wild or become part of a breeding program if they are too injured to be free again.

        March 27, 2013 at 11:07 am

      • Thank you so much for pointing that out!

        March 27, 2013 at 1:50 pm

      • your welcome! xox Amy

        March 27, 2013 at 2:53 pm

  3. Cecelia Blair

    Mary, is this a dead owl? I am wondering where its eyes are. But, be that as it may, I am very impressed with its apparatus for hearing and can now see how inescapable an owl might be for its prey.

    March 26, 2013 at 4:31 pm

    • Hi Cecelia,
      Yes, unfortunately, this barred owl was hit by a car. It was, however, starving, so may well not have made it even if it hadn’t been hit by the car.

      March 26, 2013 at 8:56 pm

  4. Susan MacKenzie

    Incredible photo. Thanks for the up close and persona. Sorry it was a dead specimen. BTW Maine is on the verge of outlawing lead sinkers of less than 1 oz. Hope it passes.

    March 27, 2013 at 2:31 pm

  5. Kathie Fiveash

    I remember I wrote to you recently about worrying about the owls in the deep snow. Here’s a poem I wrote about that:


    A barred owl hunches in the snowbound oak
    listening for prey. Underneath
    a heedless mouse skitters its maze of tunnels,
    audible beneath the heavy cloak
    but out of reach. Hunger is immaterial
    to the outcome when the snow’s this deep.
    Impossible, the plunge, the thrust, the reach,
    the clench of talons, their single-minded burial
    in flesh. There’s nothing but the falling dusk,
    night ahead, hours more of hunger,
    daybreak, sleep, another famished night.
    At the last there’s nothing but the husk
    desire left behind. The owl must kill
    or starve, launch silent as a snowflake
    over fields or save its strength in vigil.
    Oh life, your feathers fray, your wingbeats will
    weaken. Hoard your warmth. The dark art
    of dwindling is the birthright of the heart.

    March 28, 2013 at 5:20 pm

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