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Often, when overheard from far away, I find myself saying/thinking:

[S]he has the ears of a hawk!

Which doesn't really make sense as hawks aren't particularly well known for their sense of hearing.

Is there a common saying, equivalent to "eyes of a hawk", relating to someone's sense of hearing?

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Isn't it like crying over spilled beer? –  Lukasz Feb 28 at 9:48
    
Dolphins and bats have such good hearing, that it is thought they can form images out of echoes. :) –  astabada Feb 28 at 10:08
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I've heard ears of a wolf but this is much less common than eyes of a hawk books.google.com/ngrams/… –  virmaior Feb 28 at 10:42
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"I have the ears of someone that hears very well". –  Oldcat Feb 28 at 18:49
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Regardless of what animal you go for, I would say "hearing of an X", not "ears of an X". Talking about somebody's ears comes across as referring to their appearance, rather than their effectiveness. –  David Richerby Mar 2 at 10:38

11 Answers 11

Bats are known for their impressive hearing, so that could be an option, while owls also have excellent hearing ability.

However, the animal with the best hearing is the Greater Wax Moth, which can hear sound frequencies of up to 300,000 Hz. In comparison, most humans can only hear up to 20,000 Hz.

However, I don't think

She has the ears of a greater wax moth

will work too well. May be best to stick with the owl.

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I think that 'ears of a bat' could be understood as someone having big, ugly ears instead of good hearing. –  Lukasz Feb 28 at 10:15
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+1 I love "She has the ears of a greater wax moth". I will be using it! –  oerkelens Feb 28 at 10:32
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@RonanMurphy You are neglecting dolphins, which notoriously do not have big, ugly ears. In addition, the best hearing might have to do with sensitivity rather than frequence coverage.I agree with the example of the owl, though –  astabada Feb 28 at 11:19
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I would consider "best hearing" to be the animal which can hear the quietest sounds, not the animal which can hear the widest range of frequencies. –  BlueRaja - Danny Pflughoeft Feb 28 at 17:19
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Let us not overload the poor owl. He is already a symbol of wisdom. That is enough! –  P i Mar 1 at 17:04

There's a famous quote of Gimli (LOTR):

I have the eyes of a hawk and the ears of a fox

Google returns about 500k results for "ears of a hawk" and 250k results for "ears of a fox" so it's quite popular, and should be quite well understood, because our 4-legged hairy friends, as well as their wild cousins, are known for their excellent hearing.

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You need to be careful with those Google counts. A lot of those hits are talking about fox ears, not someone's acute sense of hearing. I think "ears of a fox" is a worthy candidate to consider, but I don't agree that "it's quite popular" (search through these results; only a small handful are using the expression in the same way Gimli did). –  J.R. Feb 28 at 10:12
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Also, see this related Ngram. It looks like rabbit wins, but, when you investigate further, you start to wonder if that's because some of the hits are referring to antenna adjustments, or something similar. –  J.R. Feb 28 at 10:17
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Note that this is a quote of Peter Jackson. Tolkien didn't write this. It's popular on Google because this one movie is popular. –  Gilles Feb 28 at 10:58
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@J.R. A perhaps better search would be to associate “ears of a …” with “eyes of a hawk”, which suggests, in addition to Peter Jackson's fox, a wolf from BraveStarr and various seemingly unrelated occurrences of owl. –  Gilles Feb 28 at 11:05
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Fennec foxes have funny ears. –  tobyink Feb 28 at 15:56

I'm reminded of the old cartoon, Marshall BraveStarr;

"Eyes of the Hawk, Ears of the Wolf".

The premise being that the titular character had these qualities, including the "strength of the Bear", and "speed of the Puma".

He also had a robot horse and was a Wild West-era cowboy sheriff in space, so this might not be relevant.

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youtube.com/watch?v=EVISzBSBYnU at 56s - ah, fun times... –  Tobias Kienzler Feb 28 at 13:22
    
Thinking the same thing! (Yeah, I grew up then, too.) –  EthanB Mar 1 at 14:01

When a leaf falls in the forest, the deer hears it, the eagle sees it, and the bear smells it.

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How poetic. But, this isn't the best way to answer a question on this site. –  David M Feb 28 at 20:51
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It is a perfect answer! +1 –  P i Mar 1 at 16:55

Bat would seem to be most common.

It's not very sensible upon consideration, as bats' hearing is famously very different to humans' and we normally don't want to suggest that someone is using echolocation, but it is indeed used.

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  • eyes of a hawk
  • ears of a wolf
  • loyal as a dog
  • wise as an owl
  • sly as a fox
  • brave as a bear
  • fierce as a lion
  • stubborn as a mule
  • slimy as a snake
  • free as a bird
  • fast as a gepard (cheetah)
  • stupid as a sheep
  • proud as a pavlin (peacock)
  • quiet as a mouse
  • restless as a chicken
  • slow as a turtle

(source)

This is a little off topic, but certain animals are associated with other attributes under certain circumstances. Here are a couple examples: - happier than a pig in mud - nervous as a cat on a hot tin roof (nervous as a long-tail cat in a room full of rocking chairs)

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Your 'pig in mud' is the PC version, I notice :) –  Ronan Mar 5 at 17:07
    
Your source appears to be referencing Marshall BraveStarr, mentioned in @Weirdy_Beardy's answer. –  RobEarl Mar 5 at 17:18
    
Yep, Rob. I wanted to give a fuller spectrum of animal similes. And to Ronan, with my pedigree containing a bit of redneckedness, I could probably quote a few more that are off-color, but that no one would have given a second thought to back in the day. –  Jim Mar 5 at 17:37
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Then there's "busier than a cat burying s_ _ t"! Having a cat with whom I am very much attached, I particularly like this one, though my upbringing keeps me from using it. In fact, our cat's litter box is in the same room as our toilet, and our cat likes to put her front paws on the edge of the porcelain throne and watch the toilet as it flushes. Strange! Maybe she's thinking to herself, "Gee, that makes more sense than burying it!" –  rhetorician Mar 6 at 19:57

When I was growing up in Liverpool, my family often used to say I had Cornish pixie ears. Pixies are mythical small people, like leprechauns, with pointed ears. I don't know if they are actually fabled to have exceptional hearing, but the implication is obvious. The myth is common to Cornwall (in the south-west corner of England) and Brittany (just across the Channel in France).

This expression may be specific to northern England: since moving south, I've never heard it used, and it doesn't seem to be very popular on Google.

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Background: "Eyes of a hawk" is a far more common phrase. Google ngrams has 0 results for "ears of a hawk" and there are half as many results for it on Google and Bing.

Therefore, if you said "Ears of a hawk" with a comedic intent, this could be an anti-proverb ("eyes of the hawk" is admittedly not a direct proverb, but it would be fair to describe said hawk as "proverbial" - see definition #5). It isn't really a malapropism as you aren't mistakenly substituting ears for eyes. The closest terms to exactly describe this figure of speech would be a Goldwynism or Yogiism, which seems to just mean "something funny these famous people might have said."

My point is that if you were to describe someone as "She has the ears of a hawk!", you would probably be perfectly well understood by most English speakers as meaning "She has superior hearing."

If you want to strive for correctness over comedy or colloquialism, there are many animals with exceptional hearing to choose from. But that can also be made humorous; deriving humor from exacting explanations is apparently called 'reframing.' As the other answers here have proved, there is not a single most accepted animal for hearing comparison, so you really can pick your favorite.

One other side note, you could make a pun on a poor fellow with very hairy ears by saying "He has the ears of an arachnid!" or "He has ears like Trichobothria!" The joke is that spiders don't have hearing organs like mammals, but detect vibrations with nerves connected protruding hairs called trichobothria. As you can clearly see from this youtube video of a spider dancing to a saxophone, arachnids can hear just fine with these organs.

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Be careful saying out loud, "she has the ears of a ----". Even though you meant, "she has exceptional hearing", it may be interpreted as "her ears look like such and such animal's" -- in other words, an insult. I would prefer to say something like, "she hears like a ----" or "...as well as a ----". –  Phil Perry Feb 28 at 17:08
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Indeed, a search on "he has the ears of a" turns up far fewer results than "he has the eyes of a," and a large proportion of those results refer to shape: he has the ears of of a mule, he has the ears of a bunny, he has the ears of a Vulcan, etc. There does not seem to be any animal particularly associated with keen hearing. –  choster Mar 1 at 13:24
    
There aren't 549K hits for "ears of a hawk"; there's more like 70 or 80. (Never trust the number on the first page.) That said, at least most of the hits you point to are talking about human hearing, and not hawk ears: Grandma had the ears of a hawk when I was trying to be sneaky about something. –  J.R. Mar 2 at 10:52

I always thought "Ears of a cat" and "Ears of a bat" were common comparisons.

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As others have remarked, those Google counts can be very misleading. When I tried it just now, the first return for "ears of a cat" was "Examining and Medicating the Ears of a Cat." Who knows what percent of those 56,400,000 returns are figures of speech for human aural acuity?<p>Corpus searches are better indicators. In COCA and the BNC combined, there were 35 "the ears of a", of which six were acuity metaphors: two bats, one cat, one fox, one CIA eavesdropper, and one parrot (but that was more a metaphor for mimesis). –  Gwillim Law Feb 28 at 16:06
    
whoops, well noticed @GwillimLaw, I was wondering why I'd got a negative on that one, thanks! Time to backpedal :D –  Alexander Troup Feb 28 at 16:11
    
In Germany we say "Ohren wie ein Lux haben." Lux is a special kind of cat that has bushels on her ears that enable it to hear very well. I don't know if there is an equivalent in english. So I'd vote for cat. –  DisplayName Mar 5 at 17:32

If you want the flavor of the phrase to be the same, then maybe

She has the ears of a hare!

However, as already pointed out, she has the ears of a hawk would be just as clear (at least to me).

Of course, if you want to be sneaky, there is always

She has Van Gogh's ear for music.

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Ears of an Elephant!

Show me bigger ears than those...

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The question is asking about ear sensitivity, not ear size, and I do not believe elephants are particularly known for the keenness of their hearing. –  choster Mar 11 at 0:36
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I do suppose that one would hear this phrase and think of someone with particularly large ears. –  Laizer Mar 11 at 10:09

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