Properties of low-frequency head-related transfer functions in the barn owl (Tyto alba)

J Comp Physiol A Neuroethol Sens Neural Behav Physiol. 2010 Sep;196(9):601-12. doi: 10.1007/s00359-010-0546-0. Epub 2010 Jun 16.


The barn owl (Tyto alba) possesses several specializations regarding auditory processing. The most conspicuous features are the directionally sensitive facial ruff and the asymmetrically arranged ears. The frequency-specific influence of these features on sound has consequences for sound localization that might differ between low and high frequencies. Whereas the high-frequency range (>3 kHz) is well investigated, less is known about the characteristics of head-related transfer functions for frequencies below 3 kHz. In the present study, we compared 1/3 octaveband-filtered transfer functions of barn owls with center frequencies ranging from 0.5 to 9 kHz. The range of interaural time differences was 600 micros at frequencies above 4 kHz, decreased to 505 micros at 3 kHz and increased again to about 615 micros at lower frequencies. The ranges for very low (0.5-1 kHz) and high frequencies (5-9 kHz) were not statistically different. Interaural level differences and monaural gains increased monotonically with increasing frequency. No systematic influence of the body temperature on the measured localization cues was observed. These data have implications for the mechanism underlying sound localization and we suggest that the barn owl's ears work as pressure receivers both in the high- and low-frequency ranges.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Hearing / physiology*
  • Sound Localization / physiology*
  • Strigiformes / physiology*