Head-related transfer functions of the barn owl: measurement and neural responses

Hear Res. 1998 Apr;118(1-2):13-34. doi: 10.1016/s0378-5955(98)00014-8.


Sounds arriving at the eardrum are filtered by the external ear and associated structures in a frequency and direction specific manner. When convolved with the appropriate filters and presented to human listeners through headphones, broadband noises can be precisely localized to the corresponding position outside of the head (reviewed in Blauert, 1997). Such a 'virtual auditory space' can be a potentially powerful tool for neurophysiological and behavioral work in other species as well. We are developing a virtual auditory space for the barn owl, Tyto alba, a highly successful auditory predator that has become a well-established model for hearing research. We recorded catalogues of head-related transfer functions (HRTFs) from the frontal hemisphere of 12 barn owls and compared virtual and free sound fields acoustically and by their evoked neuronal responses. The inner ca. 1 cm of the ear canal was found to contribute little to the directionality of the HRTFs. HRTFs were recorded by inserting probetube microphones to within about 1 or 2 mm of the eardrum. We recorded HRTFs at frequencies between 2 and 11 kHz, which includes the frequencies most useful to the owl for sound localization (3-9 kHz; Konishi, 1973). Spectra of virtual sounds were within +/- 1 dB of amplitude and +/- 10 degrees of phase of the spectra of free field sounds measured near to the eardrum. The spatial pattern of responses obtained from neurons in the inferior colliculus were almost indistinguishable in response to virtual and to free field stimulation.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Acoustic Stimulation
  • Animals
  • Birds
  • Ear Canal / diagnostic imaging
  • Ear Canal / innervation*
  • Ear Canal / physiology
  • Evoked Potentials, Auditory, Brain Stem / physiology*
  • Frontal Lobe / physiology
  • Inferior Colliculi / physiology*
  • Neurons / physiology
  • Neurophysiology
  • Predatory Behavior / physiology
  • Radiography
  • Software
  • Sound Localization / physiology*
  • Tympanic Membrane / innervation
  • Tympanic Membrane / physiology