Influence of the Facial Ruff on the Sound-Receiving Characteristics of the Barn Owl's Ears

J Comp Physiol A Neuroethol Sens Neural Behav Physiol. 2006 Oct;192(10):1073-82. doi: 10.1007/s00359-006-0139-0. Epub 2006 May 24.


The barn owl, a nocturnal predator, derives its German name ("Schleiereule", direct English translation "veil owl") from the conspicuous ruff that covers the ear openings and gives the head a face-like appearance. The ruff is a specialization for the perception of sound. The densely-ramified reflector feathers forming the border of the ruff direct sound to the ear-openings. We studied the influence of the ruff on the behaviorally relevant sound-localization parameters interaural time difference (ITD) and interaural level difference (ILD). The directionality of the ear was much greater when the ruff was intact than when the reflector feathers were removed. With ruff intact, the distribution of ILDs was oblique and the maximum ITD occurred around 110 degrees of azimuth. When all head feathers were removed, the steepest ILD gradient was much closer to the horizontal axis and ITD was maximal at 90 degrees . Many effects were frequency specific. Thus, the ruff reflects some properties of the human pinna. However, by shifting the point where ITD becomes maximal beyond 90 degrees , the ruff also introduces a break of the front-back symmetry of ITD.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acoustic Stimulation / methods
  • Animals
  • Auditory Pathways / physiology*
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Radiation
  • Ear / physiology*
  • Face
  • Feathers / physiology*
  • Functional Laterality
  • Sound Localization / physiology*
  • Sound*
  • Strigiformes / physiology*