Do Owls Have Ears? Owl Hearing Explained In Detail

Do Owls Have Ears?

Occupiers of the late night hours of the night, owls are truly fascinating with a whole lot of amazing feats hidden up their sleeves (their wings?) 

It is equipped from head to toe with physical capabilities that make these night-dwelling creatures such efficient and skillful hunters. 

One of the most fascinating features they possess is their almost imperceptible silent flight, which is possible because of the larger surface area of their wings as compared to their bodies, and also because of a sound filtering mechanism carried out by the slightly ridged edge of their wings. 

One of the more intriguing systems in their body is their auditory system

Though you have definitely never seen owls with protruding hearing parts as we do, they certainly have ears

The ear structure and the hearing mechanism in owls differ highly from human beings and are optimized for them to be able to absorb sound waves and detect prey much more accurately. 

So today we are going to take an in-depth look at the ear structure, hearing mechanism, and more of owls, and answer some burning questions along the way. 

So without further ado, let us get right into it!

Do Owls Have Ears? Structure Of Owl Ears Explained

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Yes, but they do not have any obvious external apparatus as humans do, and so it is much harder to spot from afar. 

Their ears are also hidden under ruffles of feathers which are also for the framing of their facial discs. 

But the actual structure of their ears is pretty similar to mammalian ears, consisting of three major components: the outer ear, the middle ear, and the inner ear

The sound reaches the inner quarters of the ears as pressure waves, which then travel to the eardrum present in the middle ear.

The shape of the outer ear section that receives these sound waves varies from species to species. 

The opening is referred to as an aperture and the shape of it can vary from a small round opening to an oval oblong slit running in length. 

In some species, this aperture is preceded by a valve-like structure called the operculum

Once the sound travels to the eardrum via this aperture, it is transmitted into fluid vibrations that in turn trigger the inner ear. 

Thousands of minute hairs lining the inner ear are triggered to move in certain directions, which then create a detailed picture of the various sounds being received.

Facial Discs That Act Like A Satellite Dish

If you have ever seen an owl, it’s hard to miss its peculiarly rounded face that is frankly adorable. 

But these are not just to frame their faces better, they play a vital role in increasing the sensitivity of owls’ hearing! 

Think of when you listen to something with your hands cupped towards the source of the sound. 

The sound waves are collected much better with your cupped than in the open air. Similarly, the rounded facial discs of owls also collect sound better. 

They can even alter the shape of their discs with subtle movements to their facial muscles, and aim them towards whatever source of the sound they wish to concentrate on. 

This mechanism increases their sound sensitivity almost 10 times more than human beings, wherein they can hear prey burrowing under leaves or in the snow!

Why Do Owls Have Asymmetrical Ears?

Unlike us human beings with our symmetrical ear openings, owls have asymmetrical ear openings meaning that one is higher than the other. 

This unique adaptation increases the accuracy of their localisations by letting them know exactly what height the sound is coming from, and in what direction. 

The sound waves also send varying signals based on the uneven positioning of the ears, for the owl to better interpret them.

Why Do Owls Have Downwards Facing Beak? Does It Contribute To Hearing?

Though this adaptation might not be as obvious at first, it still contributes a lot to the acute hearing abilities of owls

Not only are their downwards facing, hooked beaks great for ripping into and tearing up their prey, but the downwards curve is also to avoid any blockage of sound waves from reaching the birds’ ears. 

Along with ensuring that the owls’ field of vision is clear, the downwards-pointed beak ensures that there is no deflection of sound waves reaching the ear holes.

How Owls Incredible Brains Designed For Positioning?

The asymmetrical ears play a huge part in helping the birds understand where exactly their prey is hiding. 

Studies into the brains of owls showed that their medulla, where all the auditory functions take place, is more vast and complex than most birds. 

They are able to identify the positioning by noting the minute time difference between when the sound reaches their left ear versus their right

If it reaches the left ear first, it is towards the left and vice versa, and so the owl would simply have to turn its body until the sound is even in both ears to locate its prey exactly. 

Owls can detect time length differences as minute as about 0.00003 seconds (30 millionths of a second!). How cool is that!

Do Owls Have Horns?

No, they do not. The Great Horned owls are not actually horned, they just have tufts on the top of their heads that do nothing particular when it comes to increasing the hearing of the owls. 

They can be understood simply as display feathers, like the crests of some birds, that mainly function as mood indicators for the bird. They also help in camouflaging the birds better with their environment.

How Far Can Owls Hear?

Owls have an incredible sense of hearing that is equipped by a lot of physical characteristics, as we just saw. 

Furthermore, some owl species can hear even the slightest movement made by prey almost foot under the snow

Even though their range of hearing is relatively pretty good, it is the accuracy and the sensitivity that is awe-inspiring! 

They have the ability to detect time length differences as infinitesimal as 0.00003 seconds!


And that is the wonderfully vast world of owls and their incredible sense of hearing! We hope you had a fun time exploring this world with us, and that you learned something new!

Thank you for reading!

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