Long-eared Owl

(Asio otus)

Asio is the Latin word meaning "an owl with ear tufts," and otus is a Greek word meaning "an owl with ear tufts." But in the case of the long-eared owl, the tufts are not ears!

They are tufts of feathers that can be stood up or laid down as the owl wishes. Long-eared owls, like other tufted owls, use these as a sign language and the tufts are also part of their camouflage when they wish to hide.


They are a medium-sized owl with about a three-foot wingspan. They weigh about 9 oz. (260 grams).

Besides the long feather tufts, they also have an orange-brown facial disk and a white chin patch. They have dark vertical stripes running through their eyes.

Males are paler and smaller than the females.

Long-eared Owls have ear openings that are very large and asymmetrically located on the side of their heads. The left ear opening is below the line of sight, behind the facial disk and looks like an upside down comma. The right ear opening is above the line of sight, tight to the edge of the facial disk and looks like a comma.

The results of this arrangement is that if an owl adjusts its head to receive a maximum sound in each ear, its line of "sight" will be on target to the prey.

Long-eared Owls usually choose coniferous forests and mixed coniferous-deciduous forests especially near water for roosting and nesting. Farmland with hedgerows, golf courses, cemeteries, and open land along rivers are common hunting areas.

Long-eared Owls eat mostly rodents, rarely amphibians, reptiles, fish or insects. They are strictly nocturnal. They often hunt on the wing, flying low, just a few feet above the ground, looking down, the better to listen for deer mice or meadow mice. Once an owl is locked onto a prey, it stalls in midair, then drops feet first to make the grab.

They don't snow-plunge like other northern owls. They often migrate south in winter to reach areas where the snow is not so thick and food is more accessible.

The Long-eared Owl is one of a very few owls that is able to glide for long distances with just an occasional flapping of their wings.

The male's courtship call is a series of low-pitched hoots with fairly long pauses between hoots. A sound similar to the male's courtship call can be made by blowing over the top of a narrow-necked bottle.

The female's nest call is a variable nasal and buzzing note, something like that produced by blowing through a paper-covered comb. The alarm call of Long-eared Owls sounds like a barking dog.

In March, Long-eared Owls nest in abandoned crow, squirrel, or hawk nests. Occasionally they will nest in loose colonies. An egg is laid every other day with incubation beginning immediately. Thus the 4-5 eggs hatch asynchronously in 26-28 days. The last eggs to hatch suffer competition from their older and larger siblings when the adult birds bring food to the nest. The male feeds the incubating female.

The Long-eared Owl is one of the few owls that uses the "wounded bird act" to lead strangers away from their nest. When alarmed or frightened, the owls will drop to the ground as if wounded and will flutter as if they have a broken wing. They will cry and flutter just ahead of the stranger, leading it away from their nest.

Long-eared Owls tend to disperse in random directions their first fall and winter. Older birds usually over-winter on breeding territories (if weather and prey permit) or congregate where prey are abundant.

The Long-eared Owl is a rare-to-uncommon breeder in New York State. The population of Long-eared Owls in New York State has decreased by as much as 50 percent in the last 20 years. It is listed as Endangered in Connecticut, Threatened in New Jersey, and Of Special Concern in Massachusetts.

2003-2012 Friends With Feathers Ltd.