Living Bird Magazine
Long-eared OwlAsio otus
- ORDER: Strigiformes
- FAMILY: Strigidae
Long-eared Owls are lanky owls that often seem 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.More ID Info
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.
- Búho Chico (Spanish)
- Hibou moyen-duc (French)
Long-eared Owls may nest in artificial baskets and open-fronted nest boxes.
- Cool Facts
- The hoot of the male Long-eared Owl can sometimes be heard up to 1 kilometer (0.7 mi) away.
- Like other owls, the Long-eared has a body adapted for silent flight and precision hunting. Flight feathers with fringed edges and downy surfaces mute the sound of the owl’s passage through air. The owls gain incredible hearing from their asymmetrically placed ear openings and large, sound-catching facial disks.
- In 1994, a researcher discovered a nesting Cooper’s Hawk incubating two Long-eared Owl eggs along with three of its own. The hawk had probably usurped the nest from the owl. Another researcher documented three cases of Long-eared Owls appropriating nests that had been recently built by American Crows.
- Long-eared Owls swallow their prey whole and then regurgitate the indigestible parts in pellets, usually one per day. If you find these pellets they’re fascinating to pick through, full of tiny animal bones and fur. Some biologists collect these pellets and use them to learn about owl diets.
- In addition to the North American and Eurasian populations, isolated groups of Long-eared Owls occur in North and East Africa, the Azores, and the Canary Islands. While this owl’s biology has been extensively studied in the U.S. and Europe, little is known about it in other parts of its range.
- The oldest Long-eared Owl on record was at least 12 years, 1 month old. It had been banded in New York and was later found in Ontario, Canada.