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What is a Long-Eared Owl?

By Henry Gaudet
Updated Jun 04, 2024
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The long-eared owl is a medium sized woodland owl that can be found throughout the Northern Hemisphere. It can be most easily identified by its distinctive tufts of feathers, which resemble a cat’s ears. Like most owls, the long-eared owl is a nocturnal predator, feeding primarily on small birds and mammals.

An average long-eared owl stands about 13-16 inches (35-40 cm) tall, with females typically larger than males. It is covered in brown and buff mottled feathers, and females are darker than males. This bird has a large facial disk and a black beak. The long-eared owl is best known, however, by the ear tufts sticking up from the top of its head.

Long-eared owls can be found throughout much of the northern half of the world, including most of North America, Europe, northern Asia, Japan and northern Africa. They typically choose open fields, pastures and grasslands for hunting but prefer more sheltered areas for nesting. Often, they will select a heavily wooded area, hedgerow or similar dense shelter located near an open hunting ground for their nesting area.

Like other species of owl, the long-eared owl has excellent night vision and is a nocturnal predator. When hunting, these owls fly low to the ground, listening closely for movement. They feed primarily on small mammals such as mice and voles but might also go after larger prey, such as rabbits, frogs and moles. They will also attack small birds on the ground or in flight. Small prey is devoured immediately, but larger animals will be carried away before being eaten.

Long-eared owls are less vocal than other species of owl, and they cannot commonly be heard except during mating season. The male call is a low pitched “hoo hoo,” repeated every few seconds up to 200 times. Female calls are a rasping sound, most often heard in response to the male call.

When selecting a nest, the long-eared owl most often selects abandoned stick nests built by other birds such as crows, hawks, magpies or ravens. Occasionally, these owls will nest in crevices or hollows. The owl will not build a new nest, choosing open ground when no suitable nest can be found.

Females will lay a clutch of three to eight eggs, and incubation takes about a month. During this time, the female remains in the nest, and the male hunts and returns with food. After the eggs hatch, the male will continue to bring food for the whole family. Hatchlings begin to walk at about three weeks and usually are ready to fly at five weeks. After about two months, the young owls are independent and must look after themselves.

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