Prey Detection by Bats and Owls


Owls locate prey by listening to the sounds produced by the prey whereas bats actively produce sounds and locate prey by listening to the echoes that bounce off the prey.

Keywords: prey localization; passive sound localization; active sound localization; echo; biosonar; echo location; maps

Figure 1.

(a) Passive localization (barn owl). Owls listen for sounds produced by the prey. The direction to the prey can be determined by comparing the difference between sound level at the owl’s ears and the time difference between the sound at the ears. (b) Active localization (bat). The bat emits a sound pulse and receives an echo off the prey. The echo delay is proportional to distance and prey size. Movement of the bat towards or away from the prey cause the frequency components of the echo to increase or decrease, respectively (i.e. Doppler shift).

Figure 2.

Schematic of owl auditory circuits. Pathways that cross the midline enable binaural comparison of level and time.



Carr CE and Konishi M (1990) A circuit for detection of interaural time differences in the brain stem of the barn owl. Journal of Neuroscience 10: 3227–3246.

Knudsen EI (1982) Auditory and visual maps of space in the optic tectum of the owl. Journal of Neuroscience 2: 1177–1194.

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Further Reading

Feldman DE and Knudsen EI (1997) An anatomical basis for visual calibration of the auditory space map in the barn owl’s midbrain. Journal of Neuroscience 17: 6820–6837.

Fenton MB (1992) Bats. New York: Facts on File.

Griffin DR (1958) Listening in the Dark: the Acoustic Orientation of Bats and Men. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Knudsen EI and Brainard MS (1995) Creating a unified representation of visual and auditory space in the brain. Annual Review of Neuroscience 18: 19–43.

Knudsen EI and Konishi M (1978) A neural map of auditory space in the owl. Science 200: 795–797.

Konishi M (1993) Listening with two ears. Scientific American 268: 66–73.

Payne RS (1971) Acoustic localization of prey by barn owls (Tyto alba). Journal of Experimental Biology 54: 535–573.

Popper AN and Fay RR (1995) Hearing by Bats. Berlin: Springer‐Verlag.

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How to Cite close
Moiseff, Andrew, and Haresign, Tim(Apr 2001) Prey Detection by Bats and Owls. In: eLS. John Wiley & Sons Ltd, Chichester. [doi: 10.1038/npg.els.0000096]