Owl Wing Feather Adaptations

It turns out that cottontail bunnies have more to worry about in the neighborhood than just hawks and coyotes.

As my husband and I were walking the dogs this morning, we found a Great Horned Owl wing feather lying next to the sidewalk. This stealthy hunter takes birds, skunks, mice — and rabbits.

Great Horned Owl wing feather. It probably dropped out because it was a bit worse for wear, and needed to be replaced.

And owls do so silently. The tailing edge of their wing feathers are frayed, preventing the air from generating noise-producing turbulence as it passes over and under the wing.

The trailing edge of the feather, an the bottom of the picture, has evolved to be frayed to keep the air from popping when the owl beats its wings.

But scientists have recently discovered another adaptation on feathers that helps owls keep quiet as they fly — a comb-like set of barbules on the leading edge of the feathers. These small structures “break up the turbulent air that typically creates a swooshing sound. Those smaller streams of air are further dampened by a velvety texture unique to owl feathers and by a soft fringe on a wing’s trailing edge. These structures together streamline the air flow and absorb the sound produced.” (https://www.audubon.org/news/the-silent-flight-owls-explained)

The “comb” on the leading edge of the feather helps to disrupt the turbulence, and make owl flight even quieter.

After whipping out my trusty camera and snapping these photos, I left the feathers by the sidewalk. Under the Migratory Bird Treaty, it is illegal to collect any native birds or their feathers for any reason.

Published by Amy Law

Amy Law is a science geek. She feels about science the way some people feel about music, or art, or sports – a total and complete emotional connection. She thinks in science. For Amy, there’s nothing better than helping people see the beauty of science as she does. She loves to untangle a complicated subject into its parts, explaining it so that anybody can understand what’s happening. Let her show you her world...

6 thoughts on “Owl Wing Feather Adaptations

  1. Whoa…so THAT’S what an owl feather looks like, eh? What cool info about the feather adaptation. Yesterday we encountered a couple of bunnies at Sprouts on 38th on our walk. Elsa decided she could rival any owl or coyote in the neighborhood. That girl is quick like a bunny but probably needs to work on her zig/zag technique (course having me as ballast didn’t help but did manage to save both bunnies). 😇 Luckily no circle of life scene played out.

    Like

  2. When my son was 8, I let him walk our German shephard-whippet mix home from school. All went well until she saw a squirrel. My son still has scars on his elbow. But he smiles when he tells the story of when he went flying.

    Like

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