Skip to main content

Sound localization by the barn owl (Tyto alba) measured with the search coil technique

Summary

  1. 1.

    The dynamics and accuracy of sound localization by the barn owl (Tyto alba) were studied by exploiting the natural head-orienting response of the owl to novel sound stimuli. Head orientation and movement were measured using an adaptation of the search coil technique which provided continous high resolution azimuthal and elevational information during the behavior.

  2. 2.

    The owls responded to sound sources with a quick, stereotyped head saccade; the median latency of the response was 100 ms, and its maximum angular velocity was 790°/s. The head saccade terminated at a fixation point which was used to quantify the owl's sound localization accuracy.

  3. 3.

    When the sound target was located frontally, the owl's localization error was less than 2° in azimuth and elevation. This accuracy is superior to that of all terrestrial animals tested to date, including man.

  4. 4.

    When the owls were performing open-loop localization (stimulus off before response begins), their localization errors increased as the angular distance to the target increased.

  5. 5.

    Under closed-loop conditions (stimulus on throughout response), the owls again committed their smallest errors when localizing frontal targets, but their errors increased only out to target angles of 30°. At target angles greater than 30°, the owl's localization errors were independent of target location.

  6. 6.

    The owl possesses a frontal region wherein its auditory system has maximum angular acuity. This region is coincident with the owl's visual axis.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

References

  • Bizzi, E., Polit, A., Morasso, P.: Mechanisms underlying achievement of final head position. J. Neurophysiol.39, 435–444 (1976)

    Google Scholar 

  • Bizzi, E., Dev, P., Morasso, P., Polit, A.: Effect of load disturbances during centrally initiated movements. J. Neurophysiol.41, 542–556 (1978)

    Google Scholar 

  • Brown, C.H., Beecher, M.D., Moody, D.B., Stebbins, W.C.: Localization of primate calls by old world monkey. Science201, 753–754 (1978)

    Google Scholar 

  • Butler, R.A.: Monaural and binaural localization of noise bursts vertically in the median sagittal plane. J. Aud. Res.3, 230–235 (1969)

    Google Scholar 

  • Casseday, J.H.: Auditory localization: the role of the brainstem auditory pathways of the cat. Ph.D. Thesis, Indiana University (1970)

  • Collewijn, H., Mark, F. van der, Jansen, T.C.: Precise recording of human eye movements. Vision Res.15, 447–450 (1975)

    Google Scholar 

  • Dice, L.R.: Minimum intensities of illumination under which owls can find dead prey by sight. Am. Nat.79, 384–416 (1945)

    Google Scholar 

  • Dixon, W.J., Massey, F.J.: Introduction to Statistical Analysis, 2nd Ed., New York, Toronto, London: McGraw-Hill 1957

    Google Scholar 

  • Hecht, S., Pirenne, M.H.: The sensibility of the nocturnal longeared owl in the spectrum. J. Gen. Physiol.23, 709–717 (1940)

    Google Scholar 

  • Knudsen, E.I.: Sound localization in birds. In: Comparative studies of hearing in vertebrates. Popper, A.N., Fay, R.R. (eds.). New York: Springer (in press)

  • Knudsen, E.I., Konishi, M.: A neural map of auditory space in the owl. Science200, 795–797 (1978a)

    Google Scholar 

  • Knudsen, E.I., Konishi, M.: Space and frequency are represented separately in the auditory midbrain of the owl. J.Neurophysiol.41, 870–884 (1978b)

    Google Scholar 

  • Knudsen, E.I., Konishi, M.: Mechanisms of sound localization by the barn owl (Tyto alba). J. Comp. Physiol.133, 13–21 (1979)

    Google Scholar 

  • Konishi, M.: How the owl tracks its prey. Am. Sci.61, 414–424 (1973)

    Google Scholar 

  • Masterton, R.B., Heffner, H.E., Ravizza, R.J.: Evolution of human hearing. J. Acoust. Soc. Am.43, 966–985 (1969)

    Google Scholar 

  • Mills, A.W.: On the minimum audible angle. J. Acoust. Soc. Am.30, 237–246 (1958)

    Google Scholar 

  • Naumann, C.: Sound localization: the role of the commissural pathways of the auditory system of the cat. Ph. D. Thesis, University of Chicago (1958)

  • Norberg, R.Å.: Occurrence and independent evolution of bilateral ear asymmetry in owls and implications on owl taxonomy. Philos. Trans. R. Soc. Lond. (Biol.)280, 375–408 (1977)

    Google Scholar 

  • Payne, R.S.: Acoustic location of prey by barn owls (Tyto alba). J. Exp. Biol.54, 535–573 (1971)

    Google Scholar 

  • Pettigrew, J.D., Konishi, M.: Neurons selective for orientation and binocular disparity in the visual wulst of the barn owl (Tyto alba). Science193, 675–678 (1976)

    Google Scholar 

  • Ravizza, R.J., Masterton, R.B.: Contribution of neocortex to sound localization in the opossum (Didelphis virginiana). J. Neurophysiol.35, 344–356 (1972)

    Google Scholar 

  • Renaud, D.L., Popper, A.N.: Sound localization by the bottlenose porpoiseTursiops truncatus. J. Exp. Biol.63, 569–585 (1975)

    Google Scholar 

  • Robinson, D.A.: A method of measuring eye movement using a scleral search coil in a magnetic field. IEEE Trans. Biomed. Electron.10, 137–145 (1963)

    Google Scholar 

  • Young, L., Sheena, D.: Survey of eye movement recording methods. Behav. Res. Meth. Inst.7, 397–429 (1975)

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations

Authors

Additional information

We thank R.B. Coles, D.C. Van Essen, D. Margoliash and D.P. Corey for critically reviewing the manuscript. This work was supported by a grant from NIH (NS-14617A).

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Knudsen, E.I., Blasdel, G.G. & Konishi, M. Sound localization by the barn owl (Tyto alba) measured with the search coil technique. J. Comp. Physiol. 133, 1–11 (1979). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF00663105

Download citation

  • Accepted:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/BF00663105

Keywords

  • Azimuth
  • Alba
  • Localization Accuracy
  • Angular Distance
  • Median Latency