Owls are masters of stealth. While hunting at night, their superior hearing and nocturnal vision allow them to locate faraway prey and their near-silent flight lets them sneak up on their dinner unannounced. Compared to the owl’s silent gliding flight, many other birds can seem downright noisy as they move through the air. But what allows owls to fly so quietly, when other birds can be heard flapping and fluttering from far away?

As Gizmodo says, a group of researchers decided to answer that question in the short BBC Earth video above. Using sensitive sound equipment, the BBC Earth team recorded the sounds of a pigeon, a peregrine falcon, and a barn owl, all in flight. Then, they filmed each bird flying over a pile of feathers to study how their wings disturbed the air—and the feathers—beneath them. They found that differences in sound came down to each bird’s proportions: The pigeon, for instance, has small wings in relation to its body, forcing it to flap desperately to stay in flight. The owl, meanwhile, supports its small body with relatively large wings, allowing it to glide further on a single wingstroke, creating less air turbulence.

“The barn owl is far more graceful,” the video explains. “Just one gentle wingbeat sees her gliding effortlessly through the air, creating little more than a whisper in the feathers below.” Learn more about the science behind the silent flight of the barn owl above.

[h/t Gizmodo]

Banner Image Credit: BBC Earth, YouTube