The Owl Pages

Long-eared Owl ~ Asio otus


The Long-eared Owl is a medium-sized woodland owl with prominent ear-tufts. It is also called the Northern Long-eared Owl.

Photo Gallery (19 pictures)

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Sound Gallery

Typical male - Unden Västra Götaland, Sweden. March 2014. CC Patrik Åberg.


Description: The facial disc is pale ochre-tawny with a blackish rim. Eyebrows are short and whitish, eyes are orange to yellowish-orange. The cere is brownish-flesh and the bill is grey. Ear-tufts are prominent, erectile, and mainly blackish-brown with tawny edges.
Upperparts are ochre-tawny, finely peppered with dusky spots and blackish streaks on a greyish 'veil'. The crown is finely mottled dusky, while the nape and hindneck have dusky shaft-steaks. The outer webs of the scapulars are whitish, forming a row across the shoulder. Primaries are uniform ochre-tawny at the base and barred light and dark towards the tip. Secondaries are barred ochre and dusky. The tail is ochre-tawny with a greyish wash, and has 6-8 narrow dark bars.
Underparts are pale ochre, the foreneck and upper breast having blackish-brown streaks. The rest of the underparts become paler towards the belly and are marked with dusky shaft-streaks and narrow cross-bars. The underwing has distinct barring and a dark comma-like mark at the wrist.
Tarsi and toes are feathered whitish-buff. Claws are blackish-grey.

Size: Length 35-40cm. Wing length 252-319mm. Tail length 120-160mm. Weight 210-430g. Females are heavier than males.

Habits: Nocturnal, with activity normally begining at dusk. They appear slim and slouch forward when perched. Long-eared Owls are buoyant fliers, appearing to glide noiselessly even when their wings are flapping. They are very manoeuvrable and can fly through fairly dense brush. They fly moth-like, often hovering and fluttering while looking for prey. When roosting, a Long-eared Owl will stretch its body to make itself appear like a tree branch.

Voice: The main advertisement call of the male is a low "hoo, hoo, hoo, hoo, .....", repeated 10 to 200 times, with one note every 2 to 3 seconds. The female responds with a raspy buzz call, and often duets with the male. Calling occurs almost always during nocturnal hours. When alarmed, Long-eared Owls bark "whek-WHEK-whek" or shriek like a cat. Both males and females hiss during exchange of prey or when alarmed. During courtship, the male flies around and flaps its wings below its body, producing a clapping sound. Fledged young call with high-pitched, drawn-out feeh notes.

Hunting & Food: Long-eared Owls hunt mainly by ranging over open rangeland, clearings, and fallow fields. They rarely hunt in woodlands where they roost and nest. They hunt mainly from late dusk to just before dawn, flying low to the ground (1-2 m), with the head canted to one side listening for prey. When prey is spotted, the Owl pounces immediately, pinning the prey to the ground with its powerful talons. Smaller prey is usually swallowed immediately, or carried away in the bill. Larger prey is carried in the talons.
Long-eared Owls feed primarily on mammals. In most areas voles are the most common prey, but deer mice are the most important prey in other areas. In southwestern deserts, pocket mice and kangaroo rats are primary foods. Other mammal prey includes squirrels, bats, chipmunks, gophers, shrews, moles, and cottontail rabbits. Birds are also taken, occasionally on the wing. Most bird prey are smaller species that occur on or near the ground. Bird prey includes meadowlarks, blackbirds, juncos, Horned Larks, doves, bluebirds, and thrashers. Larger birds such as grouse and screech-Owls are occasionally taken. Long-eared Owls sometimes eat insects, frogs, and snakes.
Pellets are fairly large, about 5.1x1.9 cm. They are oval or cylindrical, greyish, and compact with many bones, skulls, and teeth. They are regurgitated 3 to 4 hours after eating.

Breeding: Males occupy nesting territories first and may begin their territorial calling in winter. Nesting occurs mainly from mid March through May. During courtship, males perform display flights around nests. Display flights involve erratic gliding and flapping through the trees with occasional single wing claps. Females respond by giving their nest call. The female selects a nest by hopping around it, while the male displays above. She then performs display flights as well, and flies repeatedly to the nest. Leading up to mating, the male approaches the female after calling and performing display flights, then waves his wings as he sidles up to her. Mutual preening and courtship feeding also occur. After pairing, adults roost close together, but the female tends to roost on the nest after it has been selected.
Long-eared Owls nest almost exclusively in old stick nests of crows, magpies, ravens, hawks, or herons. They nest rarely in rock crevices, tree cavities, or on open ground. Nests are almost always located in wooded sites, often screened by shrubbery, vines, or branches and are commonly 5-10m above ground.
Long-eared Owls have an impressive nest defence display - the female spreads her wings out widely facing the intruder, flares her flight feathers, and lowers her head. This display makes her appear 2 to 3 times as large as she really is. They also perform a distraction display near nests, where the Owl pretends to capture prey, or feign injury, and flop away from the nest on the ground making various noises. They will occasionally attack viciously, aiming the talons at the face and throat of the intruder.
Old nests are lined with bark strips, feathers, leaves, and moss before eggs are laid. Clutch sizes range from 3 to 8 eggs, with an average of 4 to 5 eggs. Clutch sizes tend to increase from south to north and from east to west. Eggs are laid irregularly every 1 to 5 days and incubation begins with the first egg laid, so that a clutch of 6 eggs may hatch over a period of 10 to 12 days. The female performs the incubation which lasts 25 to 30 days. Nestlings begin to walk out of the nest onto nearby branches at about 3 weeks, but are not capable of flight until about 5 weeks. Young become independent from parents at about 2 months. Nesting success is strongly linked to food availability and predation. Long-eared Owls are usually single-brooded, however double-brooding has been observed. If a clutch of eggs is lost, a replacement clutch may be laid about three weeks later.
Densities of breeding birds are relatively low, except when local food and nesting habitat availability allow loosely colonial nesting.

Mortality: Captive Long-eared Owls have been known to live for over 10 years. Many are killed by shooting and collision with vehicles. Natural enemies of adult birds in North America include Great Horned and Barred Owls. Raccoons are major predators of eggs and nestlings.

Habitat: Long-eared Owls inhabit open woodlands, forest edges, riparian strips along rivers, hedgerows, juniper thickets, woodlots, and wooded ravines and gullies. Breeding habitat must include thickly wooded areas for nesting and roosting with nearby open spaces for hunting. During winter, they need dense conifer groves or brushy thickets to roost in. Roosting sites are usually in the heaviest forest cover available. They will also roost in hedgerows, or in caves and cracks in rock canyons.
Unlike most other Owls, during winter they may roost communally (7 to 50 Owls) in dense thickets and range over very large undefended foraging areas. Communal roost sites are often used year after year, probably by the same birds.

Distribution: Long-eared Owls are widely distributed in North America, Eurasia, the Middle East and northern Africa. Northern populations are largly migratory, wandering south during Autumn.

Range of Long-eared Owl (Asio otus)
Range of the Long-eared Owl Asio otus

Status: Rather common and widespread in many regions. Listed as 'Least Concern' by Birdlife International.

Original Description: Linnaeus, Carolis. 1758. Systema Naturae (Syst. Nat.) ed. 10: p. 92.

References: (may contain affiliate links)
BirdLife International. 2020. "IUCN Red List of Threatened Species". IUCN.
Boyer and Hume. 1991. "Owls of the World". BookSales Inc.
Campbell, Wayne. 1994. "Know Your Owls". Axia Wildlife.
Duncan, James R.. 2003. "Owls of the World: Their Lives, Behavior and Survival". Firefly Books.
Duncan, James R.. 2013. "The Complete Book of North American Owls". Thunder Bay Press.
Johnsgard, Paul A.. 2002. "North American Owls: Biology and Natural History". Smithsonian.
König, Claus & Weick, Friedhelm. 2008. "Owls: A Guide to the Owls of the World (Second Edition)". Yale University Press.
König, Weick and Becking. 1999. "Owls: A Guide to the Owls of the World". Yale University Press.
Long, Kim. 1998. "Owls: A Wildlife Handbook". Johnson Books.
Mikkola, Heimo. 1983. "Owls of Europe". Buteo Books.
Voous, Karel H.. 1988. "Owls of the Northern Hemisphere". The MIT Press.
Asio otus at Xeno-canto.

See also: Other owls from North America, Africa, Europe, The Middle East, Asia, Genus: Asio.

Page by Deane Lewis. Last updated 2020-11-08. Copyright Information.