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Help develop a Bird ID tool!

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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Keys to identification Help

Owls
Owls
Typical Voice
  • Size & Shape

    Long-eared Owls are medium-sized, slender owls with long ear tufts. The head, roughly as wide as it is long, looks squarish. The facial disks are long and narrow.

  • Color Pattern

    Long-eared Owls are fairly dark birds with buff or orange faces and intricate black, brown, and buff patterning on its feathers. The ear tufts are black with buff or orange fringes, the face has two vertical white lines between the eyes, and the eyes are yellow.

  • Behavior

    Long-eared Owls are nocturnal and generally spend days roosting in dense parts of trees, often near the trunk where their plumage provides excellent camouflage. The species is quite vocal, and makes an incredible variety of hoots, squeals, barks, and other noises. They hunt by making low, coursing passes over open ground, but they rarely hunt before true dark. In winter, the species often roosts communally.

  • Habitat

    Long-eared Owls require a combination of grassland or other open country for foraging, and dense tall shrubs or trees for nesting and roosting. Pine stands and windbreaks or shelterbelts are favored winter roost habitat.

Range Map Help

Long-eared Owl Range Map
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Field MarksHelp

  • Adult

    Long-eared Owl

    Adult
    • Medium-sized, slender-bodied owl
    • Obvious, elongated "ear" tufts
    • Rufous/orange facial disc
    • Roosts during daytime in dense cover, often in conifers
    • © Anne Elliott, Calgary, Alberta, Canada, November 2010
  • Adult

    Long-eared Owl

    Adult
    • Medium-sized owl with prominent "ear" tufts
    • Slender appearance
    • Heavy barring on underparts
    • White "x" at center of face contrats with rufous facial disc
    • © Cameron Rognan, San Bernardino, California, October 2007
  • Adult

    Long-eared Owl

    Adult
    • Slender-bodied with obvious "ear" tufts
    • White "x" at center of face
    • Rufous/orange facial disc
    • Barred underparts
    • © Christian Hunold, John Heinz NWR, Pennsylvania, March 2011
  • Adult

    Long-eared Owl

    Adult
    • Medium-sized owl with obvious "ear" tufts
    • Slender-bodied, usually perched in vertical posture
    • Heavily patterned overall with barred underparts
    • Usually roosts in dense cover, sometimes colonially
    • © Ganesh Jayaraman, Mercy Hot Springs, Panoche Valley, California, December 2009
  • Adult

    Long-eared Owl

    Adult
    • Medium-sized, slender-bodied owl
    • Dark markings overall
    • Prominent "ear" tufts
    • Rufous/orange facial disc
    • © Tony Morris, Jaw Bone Canyon, Kern County, California, May 2006

Similar Species

  • Adult

    Great Horned Owl

    Adult
    • Much larger and heavier-bodied than Long-eared Owl
    • "Ear" tufts more widely spaced on head
    • Paler markings
    • © Kurt Kirchmeier, Saskatchewan, Canada, December 2011
  • Adult

    Short-eared Owl

    Adult
    • Much paler than Long-eared Owl, especially on face
    • "Ear" tufts very small, sometimes not visible
    • Perches conspicuously in open
    • No barring on underparts
    • © Michael J. Andersen, Freezeout Lake, Montana, June 2011

Similar Species

Great Horned Owls are larger than Long-eared Owls, with facial disks that don’t span as far up and down the face. They have shorter ear tufts that they typically hold at a lower angle than the Long-eared Owl’s almost vertical position. Great Horned Owls also sport a large white patch at the throat (often called a “bow tie”) that in Long-eared Owls is substantially smaller or lacking. Short-eared Owls have very inconspicuous ear tufts and paler plumage with less marking on the underparts and no barring. Short-eared Owl’s rump is a buffy yellow that contrasts with the brown back. Short-eared Owls usually roost on the ground and only rarely roost in trees. Eastern Screech-Owl and Western Screech-Owl are much smaller and more compact than Long-eared Owls, and tend to be in more forested habitats.

Regional Differences

Western Long-eared Owls tend to have faces that are more orange than those of Eastern birds, but there is much variation in this feature.

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.