Journal of Comparative Physiology A

, Volume 192, Issue 9, pp 927–940 | Cite as

On the barn owl’s visual pre-attack behavior: I. Structure of head movements and motion patterns

  • Shay Ohayon
  • Robert F. van der Willigen
  • Hermann Wagner
  • Igor Katsman
  • Ehud Rivlin
Original Paper


Barn owls exhibit a rich repertoire of head movements before taking off for prey capture. These movements occur mainly at light levels that allow for the visual detection of prey. To investigate these movements and their functional relevance, we filmed the pre-attack behavior of barn owls. Off-line image analysis enabled reconstruction of all six degrees of freedom of head movements. Three categories of head movements were observed: fixations, head translations and head rotations. The observed rotations contained a translational component. Head rotations did not follow Listing’s law, but could be well described by a second-order surface, which indicated that they are in close agreement with Donder’s law. Head translations did not contain any significant rotational components. Translations were further segmented into straight-line and curved paths. Translations along an axis perpendicular to the line of sight were similar to peering movements observed in other animals. We suggest that these basic motion elements (fixations, head rotations, translations along a straight line, and translation along a curved trajectory) may be combined to form longer and more complex behavior. We speculate that these head movements mainly underlie estimation of distance during prey capture.


Motion parallax Peering Movement Motor Motor primitive 






We would like to thank the coordinator of the Bursary program for Israeli students, at the Center of North Rhine-Westphalia, Dr. Arne Claussen, who made Shay Ohayon’s visit to Aachen possible. The experimental procedures were approved by the Regierungspräsidium Köln.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  • Shay Ohayon
    • 1
  • Robert F. van der Willigen
    • 1
  • Hermann Wagner
    • 1
  • Igor Katsman
    • 2
  • Ehud Rivlin
    • 2
  1. 1.Institute of Biology IIRWTH UniversityAachenGermany
  2. 2.Computer Science DepartmentIsrael Institute of Technology, TechnionHaifaIsrael

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