Do Birds Have Ears? Yes, But Here’s How They Work, a Guide


The answer to the question do birds have ears, can be both yes and no. Birds, like mammals, do not have regular ears in the traditional sense, but they do have good hearing.

Birds possess a vent like an ear cavity or depression. They do not have any outer ear structure. However, the ear pits are covered with layers of feathers called auriculars

Birds have funnel-shaped ear openings located on either side of their head. The ears are positioned behind and slightly below the eyes and covered with soft protective feathers called auriculars. The shape of their head facilitates sound wave location and they can identify between human voices.

Do Birds have ears and what are birds ears called

Birds lack structured ears in the sense that humans have a clearly visible outer ear auricle or pinna on the outside of their heads. That’s why a bird’s hidden ears are called ear-holes, meatus, or indeed auriculars.

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The ears of birds are quite similar in structure to the ears in reptiles …more on that shortly.

The outer ear consists of a short external passage or meatus, normally hidden under an array of feathers (auriculars).

They are funnel-shaped and are further divided into distinct divisions, like a mammalian ear. Most birds have a layer of muscle around the opening which serves to open or close the ear way partially. 

The function of the head in avian hearing

For a long time, it was believed that birds lack external ears and could not perform functions like differentiation of sound from a variety of angles as the mammalian ear normally performs

But modern deep anatomical and physiological research has revealed that their slightly oval-shaped head transforms the sound waves coming from different elevations.

The shape of the head helps to screen and diffract the sound, and as it passes through the head, it triggers the response in the opposite ear that is then processed in unison by the brain to discern location, distance, volume, and therefore recognition.

A study published in 2014, using a head-related impulse response measurement technique, proves that the shape of a bird’s head plays an important role in the avian hearing process.

Do birds have ears that are sensitive to sound?

Birds have sensitive ears relating to sounds from 1-4 kHz. Birds like owls can detect their surroundings mostly through their sensitive hearing.

Generally, birds are more sensitive to certain rhythms of sounds so they can more easily pick out specific sounds, even in a noisy environment.

So a problem that’s common in humans and birds is that their sensory receptors are damaged at higher frequencies. Birds residing in active areas like airports or industrial areas are more prone to hearing damage.

Size & location of an avian ear

The birds possess an excellent sense of hearing and are more powerful in them as compared to humans.

The ear holes of birds are present just below the eyes and are not visible because of the presence of feathers. Some birds like great horned owls seem to have visible ears, but it is a tuft of feathers that appears like ears but is not related to hearing in any sense.

The size of the ear is almost equal to the bird’s-eye, covered with auriculars. The auriculars run on backward and then continue down from the eye and protect the ears from noise, moisture, and dust as the bird flies.

Structure of a birds ear

Like humans, birds have three parts to their ears:

  • The outer ear channels the sounds into the eardrum.
  • The middle ear sends the vibrations from the eardrum to the columella bone
  • The inner ear transmits the vibrations to the central nervous system.

Some more structures of a bird’s ear are as follows:-

Tympanic membraneDouble membranous structure, the outer membrane protects the inner membrane from injury
Ossicular chainArises from the inner surface of the tympanic membrane and transmits vibrations to the cochlea
CochleaConsists of a slightly curved bony tube in which the basilar membrane lies
Basilar membraneConsists of sensory receptors and is variable in size in different birds.
table showing the physical elements of a birds ear and their purpose

Sounds that birds dislike

There are some sounds that birds dislike. These can be both natural sounds, or synthetic.

  • Natural sounds might include predatory sounds such as a shriek from a hawk or distress calls from other birds, etc.
  • Synthetic sounds are the artificial sounds made by devices like amplifiers, ultrasonic bird repellers or audible bird repellers, etc.
  • Placing a fake predatory bird with a frightening shriek can scare birds away.
  • Ultrasonic bird repellers are devices using specific frequencies strategically placed to keep birds away from specific areas such as agricultural crops. Often using specific frequencies only audible to specific birds.

Birds can differentiate and understand human voices

Some birds can differentiate between human voices. This might therefore imply that birds generally know if a human is mimicking a bird sound. However, a bird may well respond to this sound anyway.

In the past, the quality of sound heard by birds was not fully understood. But modern studies have shown that some birds can differentiate the varying frequencies of voices, and can make the distinction between the voice of a friend or foe.

This kind of recognition makes sense. as it helps them to survive in the wild and in a variety of encounters.

Some birds such as songbirds, parrots, and myna can understand human voices. Some, like parrots, can even learn to mimic them over time.

do birds have ears. image of a parrot
image of a parrot

The difference between mammalian and avian ears

Mammals and Aves are two different classes both belonging to the animal kingdom. They have morphologically and functionally different ears and processes of hearing.

Mammal and bird ear differences are listed below.

  • Mammals possess external ears and are important for guiding sound waves into the ears. However, birds do not have human type funneled ears and so perform this task with the help of their elliptical head.
  • Mammals use their external ear structures like pinna and external auriculars to locate sounds from different gradients, however, birds can locate sounds without external ears due it their morphologically ovoid skull.
  • Mammalian ears receive the same sound frequency from both ears by measuring the volume of sound in both ear-holes of the bird at different angles.

On the last point, scientists observed that “noise coming from one side hit the eardrum on the same side with a certain frequency, but the other ear registers the sound with different frequency”.

These differences in frequencies allowed the bird’s brain, on a subconscious level, to determine the direction of sound without external ears.

This essentially means that the bird’s head reflects the sound into the ear from different angles.

Do hummingbirds have ears?

So I’ve answered the question do birds have ears. But some people ask specifically in terms of the hummingbird, presumably because of its name and its vocal uniqueness, but there is nothing unusual regarding the hummingbird’s hearing.

The hummingbird also has two ears located on both sides (one on each side) of the head the same as other birds. Like most birds, they can hear sound wave fluctuations more precisely than humans as the ears are more sensitive.

However, a hummingbird is a type of bird that does not make a noise, as it chirps so slowly that it appears to be silent. 

Due to its slightly different anatomy, people often get their hearing and vocal properties confused.

You might also find these related articles interesting:

Do birds have teeth

Do birds reuse nests

Why do robins hop

Do wasps sting birds

Do birds have ears [Answered]

I hope this has helped you to understand more about the question do birds have ears. Be sure to check out lots of my other interesting other articles on Rangerplanet.com.

Michael

A Certified Ecologist and an Entomologist, Michael has been interested in all aspects of Nature for many years. It's only now he's decided, along with his partner Fran, to begin documenting what he knows.

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