Great grey owls are impressive predators. They are able to detect their prey and catch it even if it is hiding under more than two feet of snow. And now we know how they do it.
A recent study performed by a group of scientists from the University of California, Riverside, indicates that owls can detect voles under snow by hearing them. And they are able to do it despite being over 160 feet away.
According to the study, a great grey owl might be able to pick up the low-frequency sounds produced by voles as they are digging or moving through the snow. The shape of their face helps here since the ring of feathers surrounding their eyes “filters and amplifies sound.”
“The Great Gray Owl has the largest facial disc of any,“ the study explains. “As size sets the lower frequency of sound that this disc filters, the large size of their disc implies that the Great Gray is specialized for hearing low-frequency sound.”
A big part of this fascinating technique is also hovering. The great grey owl has been observed to hover in the air for 10 to 15 seconds before making an attack. The scientists believe that this allows them to avoid being distracted by other sounds or misled by the acoustic mirage.
You can find more details about this fascinating study in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B journal.