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Long-eared Owl

Asio otus ORDER: STRIGIFORMES FAMILY: STRIGIDAE

IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern

Long-eared Owls are lanky owls that often seems to wear a surprised expression thanks to long ear tufts that typically point straight up like exclamation marks. These nocturnal hunters roost in dense foliage, where their camouflage makes them hard to find, and forage over grasslands for small mammals. Long-eared Owls are nimble flyers, with hearing so acute they can snatch prey in complete darkness. In spring and summer, listen for their low, breathy hoots and strange barking calls in the night.

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Songs

Long-eared Owls are silent most of the year, but during breeding season they draw on a complex repertoire analogous to a songbird’s song. Males give a series of 10 to more than 200 whoo notes evenly spaced about 2–4 seconds apart. This deep and forceful utterance, akin to the sound made by blowing across the lip of a very large bottle, can be heard more than half a mile away.

Calls

The female’s nest call is higher pitched than the male’s advertising song, and richer in harmonics; it sounds more like a bleating lamb, or like blowing through a comb and paper. Both sexes utter a variety of alarm calls, including barks, squeals, and a gruff, catlike mew.

Other Sounds

Perturbed owls snap their mandibles together, producing a loud pop. During courtship and at other times, both sexes clap their wings together below the body during flight, to produce a whiplike sound.

Search the Macaulay Library online archive for more sounds and videos

Backyard Tips

Long-eared Owls may nest in artificial baskets and open-fronted nest boxes.

Find This Bird

Long-eared Owls are secretive, nocturnal, and superbly camouflaged. One good way to find them is to listen at night in spring and summer for their long, low hoots. During winter these owls often roost in large numbers, and this can make them easier to find. Methodically search pine stands or shelterbelts near grassland or pasture for roosting owls, often close to the tree trunk among dense branches. Also look along the ground for pellets (gray, roughly oval cylinders of regurgitated fur, feathers, and bone). If you find a large number of these, you may be under a roost tree. Long-eared Owl pellets are typically 2-3” long, while pellets of other owls found in such situations are either larger and less elongate (Great Horned Owl) or smaller and rounder (Northern Saw-whet Owl). Also scan the ground and lower branches for extensive whitewash (bird droppings), which can also indicate recent roosting by owls.