The Silence of Owls

Owls are nearly silent hunters, able to swoop down on their prey without the rush of air over their wings giving away their approach, thanks to several key features of their feathers. The trailing edge of their feathers–or any lifting body, like an airplane wing–are a particular source of acoustic noise due to the interaction of turbulence near the surface with the edge. Since owls are especially good at eliminating self-produced noise in a frequency range that overlaps human hearing, investigators want to learn what works for owls and apply to it aircraft. A recent theoretical analysis uses a simplified model of the feather as a porous, elastic plate. The researchers found that the combination of porosity with the elasticity of the trailing edge significantly reduced noise relative to a rigid edge. (Photo credit: N. Jewell; research credit: J. Jaworski and N. Peake)

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