Long-eared owlsare slender, medium-sized owls that can be found across much of North America, Europe, Asia, and the extreme northern tip of Africa. They are sometimes confused with their cousin the short-eared owl, which can be found over much of the same range. In flight, the length of the ear tufts cannot always be determined as they are flattened against the head, making positive identification more challenging.
Scientific & Common Names
Kingdom - Animalia
Phylum - Chordata
Class - Aves
Order – Strigiformes
Family – Strigidae
Genus - Asio
Species – A. otus
Common Name – Long-Eared Owl, Northern Long-Eared Owl
The long-eared owl is a dark brown bird, notable for its long, erect “ear tufts” which help it appear larger to potential predators. Like all owls, it has specialized feathers on its face that form a “facial disc” that focuses sound to help the owl locate its prey.
It can be differentiated from the short-eared owl (A. flammeus) by the length of its ear tufts, but also by the lighter, sandier feather coloration of the short-eared. The long-eared owl also has orange eyes, while those of the short-eared are yellow.
The long-eared owl breeds from February to July and makes its nest in those left behind by other birds, such as ravens and hawks. The female typically lays between four and six eggs, which hatch in just under a month. The mother will stay with her chicks for two weeks while the father hunts for food for the rest of the family. After five weeks, the babies begin taking short practice flights, and at ten weeks they will leave the nest permanently.
Like most owls, long-eared owls are nocturnal, which means they do their hunting at night. It flies over open fields, locating its prey using both sight and sound. It feeds on small mammals like rodents, as well as birds.
These owls are migratory, spending the winter months in the southern areas of its range and the summer months in the north. They are reclusive owls that are often heard rather than seen, as they can become quite vocal. They occasionally roost communally in trees during the winter.
Owls are some of the oldest non-dinosaur bird types, and are thought to have first appeared around 65 million years ago. There are two modern owl families, the barn owls (Tytonidae), and the “typical” owls (Strigidae), of which the long-eared owl is a member. Owls are considered “birds of prey” like hawks, eagles and vultures, but they are not closely related to them. Their closest relatives are the nightjars and nighthawks.
There are five subspecies of long-eared owl, mostly separated by their range. Two of these are located in North America, and other than location, they can be identified by the color of their facial discs. Western birds usually have more orange feathers around the face.
The long-eared owl is a species of Least Conern, though their numbers have not been extensively studied. It is thought that they may be declining, with habitat loss being the main culprit.
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