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