Outdoors just for kids: Why owls can fly so quietly

2013-12-12T00:00:00Z Outdoors just for kids: Why owls can fly so quietly The Billings Gazette

Owls are amazing predators. The mostly flat-faced birds typically hunt at night. Female owls tend to be larger than males. The great gray owl, one of 12 species of owls found in the West, is the biggest. It can range from 24 to 33 inches in height – that’s a pretty big bird.

Owls eat a variety of prey species, like rodents, reptiles, other birds and fish. They even eat large bugs. The owls capture their prey with their large talons – sharp claws – as well as their pointed beaks.

Even though they mostly hunt at night when it is hard to see them, owls have uniquely built wings that help them glide almost silently when they zero in on prey.

Scientists have found that three characteristics make the owls’ wings so quiet: stiff feathers along the front of the wing; a flexible fringe on the back of the wing; and soft, downy feathers across the top of the wing.

Scientists are interested because similar features may be used to make thinks like airplanes, big wind turbines that generate electricity and even submarine propellers more quiet.

“Silent owl technology,” as the scientists are calling their discovery, is just one more example of how nature has so many lessons to teach us.

– Brett French, Gazette Outdoors editor

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Brett French

Outdoors editor for the Billings Gazette.

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