Burrowing Owl In Flight Showing Flight Feather Fringing

This image shows one of those unique adaptations of owls that I seldom see in my photos. I photographed this juvenile Burrowing Owl just over two weeks ago after it took off from its perch in Box Elder County, Utah.


burrowing owl 4067b ron dudley1/3200, f/7.1, ISO 640, Canon 7D Mark II, Canon EF500mm f/4L IS II USM +1.4 tc, not baited, set up or called in

The crisp flight feathers of most birds make a very noticeable gushing noise as they pass through the air, as anyone who has been close to a bird in flight as it flaps its wings is well aware. This would be a distinct and obvious disadvantage for nocturnal hunters like owls who hunt by stealth at night. But one edge of most owl flight feathers is fimbriate (fringe-like) rather than “crisp” (imagine the fringe on the edge of a scarf). This fringe breaks down the air turbulence into small groups called micro-turbulences that effectively muffle the sound produced as air rushes over the wing surface and allows owls to fly silently. One theory suggests that the fringing actually transforms the sound energy to a higher frequency that most critters, including humans and prey, cannot hear. Silent flight allows owls to use their own hearing to stealthily locate prey at night.

The position of the wings and the relative sharpness of their tips in this image allow us to see the fringing on the tips of at least four of the flight feathers of the right wing. I’m sure that many of my readers are well aware of this characteristic of owls but I thought it was interesting to see the fringing in a wild bird in flight.

The effectiveness of the fringing is dramatic and education birds are often used to demonstrate that fact to the audience. Typically the educator first holds a hawk or falcon on the fist as the bird is raised and lowered causing it to flap its wings. The noise produced by the wings is loud and can be distinctly heard some distance away. Then the very same thing is done with an owl and when it flaps its wings in response there is virtually no sound produced.

Folks who see this demonstration are usually quite impressed by the contrast. When it was done for my Zoology and Utah Wildlife students when I was teaching it definitely left an impression.

Here’s a link to a fascinating video clip that demonstrates silent flight in a Barn Owl if you’re interested.


Note: I have a question. Multiple internet sources refer to the fringing as being on the “leading edge” of the primary wing feathers. But this image and other experience I’ve had with owl feathers suggest to me that the fringing is instead on the “trailing edge” where most of the air resistance is. I can be a little dense at times (especially after a long night with little sleep because of extremely annoying fireworks in my neighborhood) so I’d appreciate some enlightenment on the subject. What am I missing?… 




Hummingbirds And Rocky Mountain Bee Plant

Rocky Mountain Bee Plant is a hummingbird magnet. A showy, native species it is often found in disturbed areas in the west. It has a beautiful flower but an unpleasant odor and is largely avoided by livestock. The nectar filled blossoms attract a wide variety of pollinators including bees, butterflies, moths and wasps. It was important culturally for Native Americans (one common name is Navajo spinach) and is still used as a source of yellow-green dye for their beautiful wool rugs and blankets.

And hummingbirds simply love it.


rufous hummingbird 0992b ron dudley

 1/3200, f/5.6, ISO 640, Canon 7D, Canon EF500mm f/4L IS II USM, not baited, set up or called in

Bee plant attracts all sorts of hummingbird species including Broad-tailed, Black-chinned, Calliope and these Rufous Hummingbirds.



rufous hummingbird 1009 ron dudley 1/3200, f/5.6, ISO 640, Canon 7D, Canon EF500mm f/4L IS II USM + 1.4 tc, not baited, set up or called in

 They flit from flower cluster to flower cluster collecting the abundant nectar as the whir of their wings fills the air.



rufous hummingbird 1161b ron dudley

  1/3200, f/6.3, ISO 640, Canon 7D, Canon EF500mm f/4L IS II USM, not baited, set up or called in

They defend feeding territories and their skirmishes are a delight to watch. And I can’t think of a better situation for the photographer to hone his/her skills than at a wildflower patch buzzing with hummingbirds – the little rascals will certainly challenge your focusing, timing and other skills and they’re guaranteed to provide amusement to assuage your photographic frustrations.



white-lined sphynx moth 0582b ron dudley

  1/4000, f/5.6, ISO 640, Canon 7D, Canon EF500mm f/4L IS II USM + 1.4 tc, not baited, set up or called in

If you’re lucky White-lined Sphinx Moths will also appear at the bee plant. They compete with hummingbirds for nectar (they’re also called hummingbird moths) and I’ve seen them both chase each other off the flowers.

Hummingbirds are most often photographed at feeder setups or in back yard gardens but I much prefer to photograph them in a more natural setting so I’m always on the lookout for Rocky Mountain Bee Plant. These hummingbirds (and the moth) were photographed last August on Antelope Island when the island had several patches of bee plant close to roads and available for photography but so far this year bee plant on the island seems to be very scarce.

It’s still too early for it to bloom around here so maybe I’m just missing it and once August rolls around I’ll once again have an absolute blast photographing nectar feeders at bee plants on the island.

Happy Independence Day everyone!