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Long-eared Owl Biology
A Reference for North and Central American Owls

Long-eared Owl - Asio otus

Breeding Range Map  
Other Common Names: American Long-eared owl (wilsonianus); Western Long-eared Owl (tuftsi); Wilson's Owl; Cod Owl; Lesser Horned Owl.

Subspecies: The Long-eared owl is spread across the Northern Hemisphere around the world. There are two recognized races in North America (one more on the Canary Islands and one more that stretches across Eurasia to the Orient).
A. o. wilsonianus is found from south central and Southeast south into the U. S. to Northern Oklahoma and Virginia.
A. o. tuftsi is found from Western Canada south to Northwest Baja California and east to Western Texas.

Measurements and Weights:
Wingspan: 36 - 42 in.
Length: 13 - 16 in.
Tail: 4 3/4 - 6 1/4 in.
Average Weight:
Male: 8 3/4 oz.
Female: 10 oz.

Description: The Long-eared Owl is a medium sized owl with conspicuous ear tufts. The ear tufts may be completely invisible when they are laid down, as they are in flight. Its colors are similar to the Great Horned Owl although its slender shape, smaller size, large round orangey facial disk, (that extends far above its eyes), and cross barred chest set it apart. The facial disk is circled with black that often has distinctive white inner and outer borders; white eyebrows and lores; orange to lemon yellow iris; and black around the eyes. The upper parts are dark brown mixed with white, black, orange, buff, and gray. The under parts have a white base color with some mix of orange and bold dark brown cross barring. The white tail feathers are barred with dark brown (note the distinct difference of the fine horizontal bars on the under parts of the Great Horned Owl).

Young: The juvenile's facial disk, wings, and tail are similar to the adult. The other parts of the juvenile plumage are orangey-brown to russet-tinted and broadly barred with blackish-brown and grayish-white.

Habitat: The Long-eared Owl requires wooded areas for daytime roosting with adjacent open areas to forage. Their habitat requirements do not change between breeding and wintering although during breeding season the owls become very territorial and subsequently dispersed, where as during the winter months they roost communally in groups of 7 to 50 birds. Long-eared Owls are often associated with coniferous (evergreen) forest edges or patches of conifers adjacent to grasslands, agricultural lands, or riparian habitat. In the west and south-west they are also found in deciduous woods near lakes and streams where growth of climbing vines provide dense roosting cover during winter. They can be found from sea level to 9,000-ft. elevation.

Food and Feeding: Small mammals are the primary food of the Long-eared Owl although small birds may also be taken. A wide variety of small mammals make up as much as 98% of their diet although mice and voles are the most common prey items. The Long-eared Owl is an active search hunter, coursing back and forth over areas of low cover in search of prey. It has exceptional hearing and can locate prey audibly in complete darkness.

Breeding: The Long-eared Owl does not build its own nest and instead will use old Crow, Magpie, dreys of squirrels, or other large abandoned stick nests. Irregularly it will also use a natural cavity in a tree, cliff, or on the ground. North American egg records are from Mid-March through early June. The average clutch consists of 5 -7 eggs, more during years of abundant prey. The incubation period is usually 25 -28 days. The incubation is done by the female although the male may irregularly sit on the eggs for short periods. At 21 days the chicks will leave the nest to adjacent branches although remain flightless until they are about 35 days old. The male and the female will feed the young while in the branching stage (stage where the young live on nearby branches) and the male alone, after he is deserted by the female, will continue to feed the young for up to 10 weeks of age (2 - 3 weeks after the female has left).

Movements and Life Span: The movements of the Long-eared Owl are poorly understood although there is some unquestionable degree of migratory movements each year. The movements do not necessarily involve all birds and degrees of movements are obviously related to food availability and weather conditions. Long range movements between Alberta and Idaho and Ontario and California have been found on banded birds. The Long-eared Owl can have a lengthy life and the record for a wild owl is 27 years 9 months.

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