Long-eared owls are medium-sized owls. They have long, rounded wings and a long tail. The wings are so long that they cross each other in the back when the bird is perched. The wingspan of adults ranges from 90 to 100 cm. Long-eared owls are brownish gray, with vertical streaks. They have pale patches on their face that look like eyebrows, and a white patch below the bill. They have a black bill, orange or yellow eyes, and their legs and toes are covered with feathers. Long-eared owls have long blackish tufts that look like ears, but are really just feathers.
Female long-eared owls are usually much larger than males. Females weigh 260 to 435 g and are 27 to 40 cm long. Males weigh 220 to 305 g and are 35 to 37.5 cm long. Females are also darker than males. Young long-eared owls look like adults, but have softer, looser feathers.
Long-eared owls are the slimmest of all North American owls. This shape helps them hide from predators. When they are perched, long-eared owls stretch out their body flatten their feathers to make themselves look like a tree limb.
Long-eared owls are found throughout the northern hemisphere. Their range extends throughout temperate North America, through Europe and the former Soviet Union as far east as Japan. Isolated populations are also found North and East Africa, the Azores, and the Canary Islands.
Long-eared owls live in forests and shrub lands that are near to open areas, such as grasslands. They can be found from sea level up to 2000 m elevation. They are common in tree belts along streams in dry habitats. They can also be found in shelterbelts, small tree groves, thickets surrounded by wetlands, grasslands, marshes and farmlands.
Long-eared owls are monogamous. Pairs begin to form in winter, and they breed between February and mid-July. Males attract a female by singing songs and showing off their flying skills.
Long-eared owls breed between February and July. They raise one brood per season. Long-eared owls nest in trees in nests built by other species. Once they choose a nest, the female lays 2 to 10 (usually 5 to 6) eggs. She lays one egg every other day. The eggs are white, smooth and glossy. The female incubates the eggs for 25 to 30 (usually 26-28) days. She never leaves the eggs uncovered during the day, but she takes short breaks at night. The chicks are semi-altricial. The female broods them for at least 2 weeks. The young leave the nest when they are about 21 days old, but they cannot fly yet. They leave the nest by walking, and live on branches near the nest. They begin flying when they are about 35 days old. The male brings food for the female and chicks until the chicks become independent. This happens when they are 10 to 11 weeks old. Long-eared owls usually begin breeding at 1 year.
Female long-eared owls incubate the eggs and brood the semi-altricial chicks for at least two weeks. During incubation and brood rearing, the male provides food for the female and chicks. The male continues to feed the chicks until they become independent at 10 to 11 weeks old.
The oldest wild long-eared owl lived 27 years and 9 months.
Long-eared owls are nocturnal. They live in pairs during the breeding season, but may roost together in small groups during the winter. Long-eared owls are not territorial. They defend only the area right around their nest. Nests may be as close to each other as 14 m.
Some long-eared owls are migratory. Others stay in the same area year-round. Other long-eared owls are nomadic. These owls move around throughout the year to find better food supplies.
The home range size of long-eared owls is between 0.7 and 20.25 square kilometers. The home range size is probably very different for different pairs and changes between winter and summer.
Long-eared owls use calls and displays to communicate. They have many calls that they use during the breeding season. During the rest of the year, they are mostly silent. The most common calls are soft musical hoots and single quavering hoots. When excited, long-eared owls may also shriek or whistle. When chicks are threatened, parents use calls to scare away the predator. They may also pretend to be crippled to distract the predator from the nest. Long-eared owls use threat displays when disturbed by humans or predators. They don’t usually threaten each other.
Long-eared owls have excellent hearing and vision. These senses help them to be excellent hunters.
Long-eared owls hunt at night in open habitats. They have excellent eyesight and hearing that they use to catch prey.
Long-eared owls eat small mammals, including voles, deer mice, pocket mice, kangaroo rats, pocket gophers, shrews (genera Glarina, Cryptotis and .Sorex), juvenile rabbits (genera Sylvilagus and Lepus) and juvenile rats. They also eat some small birds, small snakes, and insects. After they catch prey, long-eared owls kill it by biting the back of the skull and then they swallow it whole. They store extra food in the nest during incubation and while chicks are in the nest. We do not know how long-eared owls drink water.
Adult long-eared owls are preyed upon by many other raptors. Raptors that have been observed taking long-eared owls include great-horned owls, barred owls, golden eagles, red-tailed hawks, red-shouldered hawks, northern goshawks, eagle owls, common buzzards, and peregrine falcons. Incubating female long-eared owls have been killed by raccoons.
Roosting adults are difficult to see because their coloration, slender body and ear tufts help them to look like a branch of the tree that they are roosting in. When a predator approaches a nest, adult long-eared owls defend the eggs or young by circling the nest and snapping their bill at the predator, or dive-bombing the predator while making alarm calls. They may also pretend to be injured in order to draw the predator away from the nest. In some cases, adults from several nearby nests may all perform defense displays when a single nest is threatened.
Long-eared owls affect the populations of animals they eat. They also provide habitat for many external and internal parasites.
Long-eared owls have no known negative effect on humans.
Long-eared owls help to control populations of rodents that are considered to be agricultural pests.
Long-eared owl populations in the United States are healthy. Most long-eared owl deaths are probably caused by starvation or predation. Adult long-eared owls are sometimes killed by cars or shot by hunters in the U.S., but this is not common.
Long-eared owls are protected under CITES Appendix II and the U.S. Migratory Bird Act. They are not federally endangered or threatened in the United States, but they are considered threatened in the state of Michigan.
There are six subspecies of long-eared owls (Asio otus).
Kari Kirschbaum (author, editor), Animal Diversity Web.
Alicia Ivory (author), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.
Marks, J.S., D.L. Evans, and D.W. Holt. 1994. Long-eared owl (Asio otus). In The Birds of North America, No. 133 (A. Poole and F. Gill, Eds.). Philadelphia: The Academy of Natural Sciences; Washington, D.C.: The American Ornithologists' Union.
Terres, J. The Audubon Society Encyclopedia of North American Birds. Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 1980.
"The Raptor Center; University of Minnesota College of Veterinary Medicine" (On-line). Accessed (Date Unknown) at http://www.ahc.umn.edu/ahc_content/colleges/vetmed/Depts_and_Centers/Raptor_Center/index2.cfm/nav/9773/parent/9748/type/F/content_path/colleges@vetmed@Depts_and_Centers@Raptor_Center@Information_about_Raptors/content_name/Long-eared_Owl.htm/pic/none/bold/Information_about_Raptors.