Silent Flight

Great Horned Owl, California

Great Horned Owl, California

More than once I have stood in a forest opening tentatively listening to the “who-who-whoooo” of a Great Horned Owl.  Then it would disappear in utter silence.  This is one of the many marvels of an owl.


This huge raptor, over 20 inches (50 cm) long and the second heaviest bird in North America, is built to fly soundlessly.  Even with an expansive wingspan of 3 to 5 feet (91-153 cm) there is no whoosh.


The specialized feathers of an owl’s wing are designed with numerous features to prevent it from detection.  A series of comb-like hooks on the wing feathers break the flowing air currents into micro-turbulences, then a flexible fringe breaks up the air more.  Under that are velvety down feathers that further absorb sound.  In addition, the broad wing surface allows for less flapping.


It is always thrilling to hear an owl hooting in the woods, and that silent flight is truly remarkable.


Photo credit:  Athena Alexander


56 thoughts on “Silent Flight

  1. Thanks for the education! Didn’t know about the silent flight. I have not yet spotted this owl who is supposed to nest in the park I frequent, hopefully one day.

    • You might hear it far more than see it, maybe you can spend some time in the park at night just listening…I bet you’ll hear it hooting. Thanks so much Tiny — and good luck! 😀

  2. Most interesting. I have experienced the same several times. Once I had an owl in the tree directly above me “chattering” with other nearby owls. Then it was gone and I did not hear it leave though I had been listening very carefully. Amazing! Thanks Jet.

    • Ah, always great to hear of similar experiences, thanks Jim. It is truly amazing how they can cruise by, this huge raptor, and you don’t hear a thing even when, like you said, you’re listening very carefully. 😀

  3. Oooops. The hazards of commenting by phone…pressed send to soon. It’s all fascinating and your description was magical. I’ll think of it the next time I see an owl in flight. More than likely on television. Have a great weekend.

    • I appreciate your kind comment, Elisa, and am glad you enjoyed the owl post. Maybe you’ll get a surprise and hear or see one outdoors. I’m planning on having a great weekend, thanks, and I hope you do too. 😀

    • I shot right over to your site, my friend, and am still smiling from the experience. How very exciting to not only see your first owl, but then to get the great photos and find the chicks on the nest too! Finding a nest is so wonderful. Thanks so much for stopping by today and sharing your great news. 😀

    • We are lucky because our neighbor calls us every spring when the owl returns to have chicks, then we hike back (it’s a rather harrowing hike) to that one tree and there she is. Owl photos in daylight rarely occur. Thanks so very much, dear Nan; I’m glad you enjoyed it. 😀

    • There is a nest on our neighbor’s private land, so we were lucky. Thanks so much, Laura, for stopping by. I’m really happy you got published, my friend, I just didn’t have time this morning to leave a comment. Congrats! 😀

      • You’re lucky they have a nest! i’ve never seen one in that position other than in a photo. And thank you for the congrats! No worries. 🙂

  4. In my backyard lives an owl, I know because I hear its call at night but I’ve seen it only once in ten years_ it was at dusk and I saw it flying in perfect straight line, no sounds at all I said to my wife I’ve just seen a ghost of an owl! Thank you Jet! )

  5. Truly messes with our senses! You SEE this extremely, very large wingspan, when it is flying so very close, but there is no sound, and almost dream-like. Thanks for the information, and for bringing up a past memory that will always be etched in my mind…

  6. I still remember falling asleep to the hoot of the Great Horned Owl at my old house. Hubby used to talk to one occasionally. It even answered him back. They are such a delight to hear. I sure miss them.

    • It is a gloriously deep sound, isn’t it Gunta. This morning at dawn I listened to a GH owl duet from my deck. I am glad you have had many wonderful experiences and memories with this bass voice of the forest. Thanks so much. 😀

  7. They are beautiful birds:) Very nice capturing it in the take off! I have yet to see one in the wild. ‘Fingers crossed’.

    • I have no doubt you will see one, Inger, with all the trekking you do. I find the goal of hearing one in the wild is a little easier to set for the first goal…. Thanks so very much. 😀

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