Vancouver Avian Research Centre

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Species: Long-eared Owl Asio otus


The Long-eared Owl, the slimmest of all North American Owls, is more strictly nocturnal than all other N. American owls except for the Elf and Saw-whet.  It is a secretive bird, and most birders have seen it only during the winter when it may gather in groups to roost in groves of pines or spruces.  It is and Old and New World Owl.  Within N. America these owls breed as far north as the southern Yukon and Northwest Territories and as far south as northern Baja California and Nuevo Leon.  They winter from southern Canada to Oaxaca and Veracruz in Mexico. 


General: This is a medium sized owl, fairly long-winged and slender with conspicuous ear tufts.  Length:  33-41 cm, weight:  260 g. 

Adult Male: Long, close-set ear tufts are prominent on perched birds but barely discernible in flight. Yellow to golden eyes are surrounded by elongated black patches.  White eyebrows and a white patch at the base of the black bill contrast with the buff to rusty facial disk. The dark brown ear tufts are edged with light rust and white.  The whitish to buff under parts are boldly streaked and barred dark brown.  The dorsal plumage is dark brown with whitish to buff mottling.  Buff wing patches and black wrist markings on the underside of the wings are visible in flight.  The densely feathered legs and feet are buff to rust. 

Adult Female: Females are distinctly darker overall than males, with richer rust colouring on the face and under parts, especially the thighs. 

Similar Species: Might be confused with the Great horned owl but is smaller and the  breast is streaked up and down, not crossed-barred as in the Great horned; also it lacks the white throat and its long, dark ear tufts, when raised are much closer together than those on other “eared owls”. 

Behavior: Usually strictly nocturnal the Long-eared owl sometimes begins hunting before sunset, especially when feeding nestlings.  They feed primarily on small mammals, concentrating on those that are locally abundant.  Voles dominate their diet in much of North America.  They mostly hunt on the wing, coursing back and forth close to the ground and seizing prey from the ground or from low vegetation.  They sometimes hunt from perches, especially during windy weather. 

Habitat: Nest and roost in dense or brushy vegetation such as stands of coniferous or deciduous trees or willow thickets.  They hunt in open habitats such as grasslands, meadows, open forests and deserts. They inhabit areas from near sea level to more than 2,000 m. 


By day breeding males roost in trees near their nests, usually singly but occasionally with other males whose nests are nearby.  During the nonbreeding season, long eared owls roost in dense thickets or tree groves beside open foraging        areas, either alone or communally with up to a hundred other owls (usually 20 or less), often perched less than one meter apart.  Long-eared owls sometimes nest in loose colonies with nests as close as 14 meters apart. They typically use stick nests made by other birds and lay two to ten white eggs. 

Conservation Status:   

Long term trends are difficult to determine.  There is evidence of declines in some parts of N. America.  This species is listed as endangered, threatened or of special concern in a number of American States.
Capture Rates

Although consistently seen in the area, Long-eared owls are almost exclusively active at night and therefore not commonly captured at our station. The graph reflects capture of one individual caught in September of 2010. Capture rates are standardized as birds captured per 100 net hours from 2010 - 2012.


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