• barbs;
  • barn owl;
  • feather;
  • flow control;
  • fringes;
  • silent flight


It is a challenge to understand how barn owls (Tyto alba) reduce noise during flight to be able to hunt small mammals by audition. Several specializations of the wing and the wing feathers have been implicated in noise reduction. What has been overlooked so far are the fringes at the inner vanes of remiges. We demonstrated, by using precise imaging techniques combined with morphometric measurements and air-flow studies, that these fringes merge into neighboring feather vanes by gliding into the grooves at the lower wing surface that are formed by parallel-oriented barb shafts. The connection of adjacent feathers results in a smooth lower wing surface and thus reduces sharp and noisy edges. This finding sheds new light on the mechanisms underlying noise reduction of flying owls.