How The Peregrine Fund is Helping
The Peregrine Fund is not working directly with Long-eared Owls, but our conservation efforts through habitat protection, education, and community outreach extend to all raptor species, including this owl. We also supply literature to researchers from our avian research library, which helps scientists around the world gather and share important information on raptor conservation.
Where They Live
Long-eared Owls are distributed across a wide geographical range. Like many other owl species, the expanse of their range depends on the time of year. Some of their range is considered year-round - meaning they are found there pretty much every day of the year. Their winter habitat is where they travel during the colder months, in search of more abundant prey. Breeding habitat is where they live while they are nesting and raising young. But, generally speaking, this owl can be found in North America from Canada through much of the United States, into Mexico. It is also found in Eurasia from the U.K. to Finland and Italy, and from Russia to Romania and the Canary Islands, all the way to parts of Iraq, Kuwait, China, Northern India and Indochina. In northern Africa it can be found in countries such as Egypt, Morocco and Algeria.
When it comes to choosing a habitat, the Long-eared Owl seems to have a preference for forests with dense stands of deciduous or coniferous trees. However, this owl also needs access to open areas, or clearings - since this is where it will do most of its searching for and hunting of prey. When it comes time to rest this lovely owl often chooses to roost in willow tree thickets along the banks of a babbling brook or stream that meanders through otherwise relatively open country, or in other densely packed trees. This helps keep it safe and well-hidden from potential predators. Occasionally, the Long-eared Owl might even venture into a city parks or city centers.
What They Do
The Long-eared Owl is a medium-sized owl with a slender body and head, long, dark ear tufts, and bright eyes which vary from a deep yellow to a bright orange. Its facial disc is rusty-tawny colored and trimmed in black. The rest of the owl's plumage - from its crown to its tail - is a variation of streaking and mottling in greys, browns, silvers, whites, creams and peppery blacks. Its coloration serves as the perfect camouflage. In fact, when this owl roosts, it often snuggles close up to the trunk of a tree. It blends in so perfectly with the bark, it remains very well hidden and safe from predators, allowing it to rest worry-free. This, along with their very shy nature, can make it hard to spot a Long-eared Owl. Because the Long-eared Owl is almost strictly nocturnal - starting its activities around dusk - it might be even harder to spot one.
One of the best ways to find this bird is to listen for its calls. The Long-eared Owl has a variety of different vocalizations. Perhaps its most well-known call consists of a series of low hoots emitted at intervals of just a few seconds each. This owl also has a repertoire of other calls including "shrieks, whines, and meows," as stated by the Idaho Department of Fish and Game.
Its flight has been described as moth-like and its long wings move silently and somewhat stiffly as it travels over open fields or deftly maneuvers through vegetation.
Long-eared Owls, like other owls, have asymmetrical ear openings. This means that one ear opening is located higher up on one side of the head, while the other ear opening is located lower on the other side of the head. There can also be one ear opening that is a bit farther forward on the head while the ear opening on the other side of the head is a bit farther back. The ear positions can be any combination of high, low, forward, and back! This helps owls better triangulate sounds, thus making finding prey that much easier.
Why They Need our Help
Though the Long-eared Owl is considered a species of "Least Concern" - meaning its populations are doing relatively well across its range, that doesn't mean this species isn't facing any risks. Perhaps the main threat it faces is habitat loss or fragmentation. With each forest that is cut for logging or development, this owl loses valuable roosting and nesting habitat which could have detrimental, long-term effects on the health of this species' populations.
What They Eat
The Long-eared Owl is a specialist in catching rodents. But, it also happily feeds on other small mammals, some birds and even insects. Some prey items include voles, kangaroo rats, squirrels, bats, rabbits, frogs, snakes, bluebirds, blackbirds, doves and occasionally larger birds such as grouse!
When hunting, the Long-eared Owl will fly slowly and low over the ground in forest openings and along forest edges searching for prey - often using its keen hearing to locate prey. In fact, scientists believe this owl can find prey in almost complete darkness, just using its hearing. A key physical feature to help it hear and pinpoint the location of its prey, this owl employs the use of its facial disc to help zero in on its quarry.
The facial disk is composed of feathers which grow around the owl's head and help direct sound to the bird's ears. To get an idea of how it works, cup your hands behind your ears and listen – sounds will be louder and clearer. Owls can raise their disk feathers slightly when on the hunt, allowing them to hear the rustle of a rodent in the grass or even one scurrying beneath the snow.
Once the Long-eared Owl zones in on its quarry it will swoop down and catch it on the ground or pluck it from brushy vegetation.
Nests, Eggs, and Young
Like many owl species, the Long-eared Owl doesn't build its own nest, nor does it nest in tree cavities. It actually depends on other birds to help it find the perfect nesting spot. Long-eared Owls will nest in stick nests made and abandoned by other birds, including raptors, crows, magpies or even herons.
The female will lay between five to seven almost pure white eggs. The female does the majority of the incubation. She will sit on her eggs for almost a month - making sure they don't get too hot or too cold, and are generally kept safe. If left unprotected, they might get eaten by crows, magpies or other predators.
Once the young owlets hatch, they will begin to grow quickly. In fact, after only about three weeks they will begin to explore life outside the nest. Though they aren't yet ready to fly, they are developed enough to begin walking along the nest tree branches, flapping their wings and exercising. After a total of about 5 weeks after hatching, they are ready to fledge, or fly for the first time. However, even though they are flying, they are still dependent on their parents' care for the next 2.5 months, though the young may stick around their parents' territory for even longer than that.
Young birds are able to breed at 1 year of age.
The Long-eared owl can be found living throughout the state, but it is more common at low elevations where it can find important roosting and nesting habitat. The species is most common in southern Idaho, and is considered to be uncommon or rare in other parts of the state. According to Idaho Fish and Game department, within the Palouse (an area that covers a part of the northwestern U.S.) of Idaho, this medium-sized owl may be found nesting and roosting in thickets.
Long-eared Owls and the World Center for Birds of Prey
The visitor center at our World Center for Birds of Prey has owls among its avian ambassadors, including a Eurasian Eagle Owl and a Western Screech Owl. This is a great chance to see owls up close and learn about the wonderful and interesting adaptations they have in order to survive in their respective habitats. There is also a touch table with owl feathers and other natural objects available for exploration. Our knowledgeable staff can help answer any questions you may have about Long-eared Owls or any other bird of prey.
Idaho Fish and Game Nongame Leaflet #4 “Idaho’s Birds of Prey, Part 2: Owls” 1987. Revised 2015 editors: Adare Evans & Deniz Aygen, IDFG
Marks, Jeffrey S., Dave L. Evans and Denver W. Holt.(1994).Long-eared Owl (Asio otus), The Birds of North America (P. G. Rodewald, Ed.). Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology; Retrieved from the Birds of North America: https://birdsna.org/Species-Account/bna/species/loeowl DOI: 10.2173/bna.133 http://www.avibirds.com/html/Long-Eared_Owl.html https://www.owlpages.com/owls/species.php?s=3550