Owl Feathers: Falcon v. Owl

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Falcons and nocturnal owls are, quite literally, birds of different feathers. And that biological variation between the two makes all the difference in their survival. I’m Jim Metzner, and this is the Pulse of the Planet. Kim Middleton is a raptor biologist with the Peregrine Fund in Boise, Idaho.

“A peregrine falcon uses a different hunting strategy than owls do. First of all, they hunt during the day, and they use their sense of sight to find their prey. A peregrine falcon uses a high-speed dive to capture their prey, and to be able to fly fast and maneuver fast you need to have very precise cut to your feathers. So, this peregrine feather is very stiff. These edges are very uniform.”

Compared to a sleek falcon feather, an owl’s feathers look loose and tattered. Rather than depending upon high-speed, an owl uses a silent, stealthy approach that catches its night time prey off-guard. The feathers’ role in these different styles of hunting can be demonstrated with just one quill.

The peregrine feather will create a turbulence. It will create sound. Whereas the owl feather, with its soft upper surface and tattered edges, will break that turbulence up into many many small turbulences, which will counteract each other, and the sound will be much reduced. So let’s first do the peregrine’s feather.”

ambience: sound of beating peregrine’s feather

“This is the owl’s feather being flicked through the air at about the same force as that peregrine feather.”

ambience: sound of beating owl’s feather

Pulse of the Planet is presented with support provided by the National Science Foundation. I’m Jim Metzner.

music

Owl Feathers: Falcon v. Owl

Owls and falcons use different strategies to capture their prey and they're helped by the aerodynamic design of their feathers.
Air Date:11/26/2002
Scientist:
Transcript:


music

Falcons and nocturnal owls are, quite literally, birds of different feathers. And that biological variation between the two makes all the difference in their survival. I'm Jim Metzner, and this is the Pulse of the Planet. Kim Middleton is a raptor biologist with the Peregrine Fund in Boise, Idaho.

"A peregrine falcon uses a different hunting strategy than owls do. First of all, they hunt during the day, and they use their sense of sight to find their prey. A peregrine falcon uses a high-speed dive to capture their prey, and to be able to fly fast and maneuver fast you need to have very precise cut to your feathers. So, this peregrine feather is very stiff. These edges are very uniform."

Compared to a sleek falcon feather, an owl's feathers look loose and tattered. Rather than depending upon high-speed, an owl uses a silent, stealthy approach that catches its night time prey off-guard. The feathers' role in these different styles of hunting can be demonstrated with just one quill.

The peregrine feather will create a turbulence. It will create sound. Whereas the owl feather, with its soft upper surface and tattered edges, will break that turbulence up into many many small turbulences, which will counteract each other, and the sound will be much reduced. So let's first do the peregrine's feather."

ambience: sound of beating peregrine's feather

"This is the owl's feather being flicked through the air at about the same force as that peregrine feather."

ambience: sound of beating owl's feather

Pulse of the Planet is presented with support provided by the National Science Foundation. I'm Jim Metzner.

music