Sound Localization in the Owl

  • Masakazu Konishi
Part of the Readings from the Encyclopedia of Neuroscience book series (REN)


Finding the source of a sound by ear is called sound localization, and most animals, including nocturnal owls, that use sound signals for communication, prey capture, and predator evasion can localize sound. Sound localization and its brain mechanisms are better known in the barn owl than in any other animal. The barn owl can localize sound equally well in two dimensions, azimuth, or the horizontal plane, and elevation, or the vertical plane. Experiments show that the barn owl uses interaural time difference for determining sound azimuth and interaural intensity difference for elevation. When a sound signal reaches one ear before the other ear, an interaural time difference results. Sound travels 1 cm in 29 μsec. The maximum interaural time difference experienced by the barn owl is about 170 μsec when sound propagates along the aural axis; the minimum time difference is zero when sound emanates from a place equidistant to the two ears. Thus, interaural time disparity varies systematically as a function of sound azimuth. Interaural intensity difference is due to the head’s shadow in the sound field. The ear in the shadow registers a weaker signal than the other ear.


Inferior Colliculus Cochlear Nucleus Sound Localization Interaural Time Difference Nucleus Magnocellularis 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

Further reading

  1. Konishi M, Sullivan WE, Takahashi T (1985): The owl’s cochlear nuclei process different sound localization cues. J Acoust Soc Am 78:360–364CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Sullivan WE, Konishi M (1984): Segregation of stimulus phase and intensity in the cochlear nuclei of the barn owl. J Neurosci 4:1787–1799Google Scholar
  3. Takahashi T, Moiseff A, Konishi M (1984): Time and intensity cues are processed independently in the auditory system of the owl. J Neurosci 4:1781–1786Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Birkhäuser Boston, Inc. 1988

Authors and Affiliations

  • Masakazu Konishi

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