Birds are among the most fascinating and diverse creatures on the planet. Despite that, they all share a few common features, such as the feathers on the outside and the wings.
Yet, one common feature among birds is also the lack of ear structures on their head, so do birds have ears?
Since birds are either attracted or spooked by sounds, it’s safe to say that birds can hear, and therefore, they do have ears. However, unlike mammals, birds’ ear structure is quite different, as they lack the external part of the ear. Instead, they have ear holes that are covered by feathers.
If you’re interested in birds, how they hear, and the anatomical structure of their ear, you’re in for a treat! Today, we’ll answer some of the most frequently asked questions regarding birds’ ears and how they work. So without further ado, let’s dive right in!
The short answer to this question is yes. Birds do have ears and a full auditory sensing system that allows them to hear things.
However, birds’ ears are quite different from our ears in terms of systems and structures, especially when it comes to the external ear shape.
Now that you know that birds have ears, but they differ in the anatomical structure of mammal ears, let’s have a quick look at the anatomical structure of birds’ ears and what they’re composed of:
Similar to reptiles and amphibians, birds have ear holes that are found in the back of the head and slightly below the line of the eye. These ear holes are usually as large as the bird’s eyes, but they’re usually covered with feathers known as “auricular feathers”.
These feathers are soft enough so they don’t interfere with the incoming waves that reach the external bird ear, but they’re also solid enough to protect the ear hole from dust and wick away moisture.
Author Note: These external ear structures are usually shaped like a funnel, which helps in collecting sound waves from all directions and resonates the sound in the bird’s ear for better hearing without being interrupted by the noises of the wind, especially while flying.
In some birds, the two ears are not located on the same level, which gives the birds an advantage when it comes to localization while flying, according to a 2014 study.
Since these ear holes are usually quite small and hidden under feathers, birds usually look like they don’t have any ears.
Birds also have a skin muscle, called the meatus, that allows them to partially open and close the ear hole at will. When air passes through the outer earholes, sound waves come in contact with the bird’s eardrum.
Similar to ours, these eardrums are delicate membranes, scientifically known as “tympanic membranes” that relay these vibrations and sound waves into the middle ears.
The middle ears in birds have the same functions as our middle ears as humans, which is connecting the eardrum from the out ear with the cochlea in the inner ear through the columella bone.
The middle ear plays a critical role in improving the sound transmission efficiency by isolating the sounds from the surrounding medium, such as air, water, or ground noises.
This way, the sound waves reach the inner ears in a purified form for better recognition and reception.
The inner ears are the final major section of the ear in birds, and they’re very much like the ones we have.
In other words, the birds will have a very similar cochlea structure, despite being different in size.
Top Tip: The cochlea has a semicircular bony tube structure that measures as little as 2.5 mm and all the way up to 10 mm in birds with excellent hearing.
When it comes to functionality, inner ears play an essential role in both birds and humans. The first role is to receive the pure sound waves and turn them into a sensory impulse that the nerves that transmit to the brain to be identified.
The second role is maintaining the bird’s balance while flying. Inner ears are a major sensory organ that gives the bird a good sense of its acceleration, orientation, and gravity force, which is critical while flying as well as on land.
The audible frequency range will vary from one species of bird to another. However, when it comes to the average audible frequency range, it mostly lies between 100 Hz and 14,000 Hz.
Compared to us, this is a slightly narrow range, which means that we can hear more sounds than most birds. Humans can hear the lowest deepest sounds at 20 Hz and high pitched sounds of up to 20,000 Hz.
Additionally, the human ear is far more sensitive than birds’ ears when it comes to noises between 1,000 to 4,000 Hz.
Yet, birds have adapted a variety of techniques and methods to improve their overall sense of hearing, such as the previously mentioned study regarding the birds’ ability to locate things by hearing them, which is far better than humans thanks to the asymmetry when it comes to their ear levels on either side of the head.
Since birds are known for their songs and tones, there was always that curiosity about the birds’ ability to listen to music, and whether they enjoy them as we do.
Author Note: It’s widely established that birds use their songs for the purposes of attracting mates and communicating with other birds. However, it turns out that it may also bring them pleasure!
According to a study by the Department of Psychology at Emory University, birds do enjoy the music they make when they sing. Not only that, but they have enough capacity in their brains to listen to pleasant melodies in general.
In fact, an old study found that pigeons can like certain music over others, as the birds were able to identify and differentiate between different pieces of music played by different composers.
In addition to all that, there are plenty of wholesome videos online of birds jamming and dancing to their favorite music!
Many birds, especially raptors, are known for their excellent sight. Yet, when it comes to hearing, not many birds come close to the abilities of owls.
Owls have excellent far-sighted eyes, which means that they’re not good at seeing objects that are too close to them. For that, owls depend more on the sounds.
For starters, nearly all owls have misaligned ear holes to pinpoint the location of the sound much better and quicker than other birds.
They’re also capable of hearing a wide range of noises from decent distances at frequencies as low as 5 Hz, making them capable of detecting infrasound waves.
Combined with the owls’ facial disks that act like built in radars to collect and refine sounds, they’re capable of hearing the quietest movements of rodents in forests.
In addition to music, there were many claims by humans that their flying pals recognize their voices from a distance.
According to a new study that was published in Science Daily, birds are, in fact, capable of identifying the voice of their human friends in addition to distinguishing between different voices.
Although no birds have external ears like the ones mammals have, there are some birds that look like they have ears.
Author Note: One of the most notable examples, in that case, is the Great Horned Owl, which looks like it has large cat-like ears, hence the name.
These are known as ear tufts or “fake ears”, which are projections of skin that are found above ears in some bird species, especially owls. While the main function of these tufts is still unidentified by scientists, many believe that they contribute through the following:
- Help in directing the ear towards a certain area
- Making the owls look more intimidating to predators (foxes and coyotes) as well as competitor owls and raptors.
Although some species of owls are capable of hearing infrasound, no birds are capable of hearing ultrasound waves (anything above 20,000 Hz).
The flying animals that are capable of hearing ultrasound waves are bats and moths, which are mammals and insects respectively.
This wraps it up for today’s guide that covers everything you need to know about bird ears and how they hear.
As you can see, birds have ears just like all other animals, but unlike mammals that have noticeably large external ears, birds have small orifices that collect sound waves and direct them to the middle and inner ears, just like other animals.
Despite that, many birds actually have a very good sense of hearing that allows them to hear the faintest of noises.
However, unlike bats, there aren’t any species of birds who can hear ultrasonic waves of 20,000 Hz and above.
Yes they can. Species of parrot for instance, can hear (and see for that matter) more things per second that humans can.
No surprise here. It is the owl.
While we advise methods that are less invasive to deter pest birds, they don’t like synthetic sounds such as high-frequency, ultrasonic sounds.