Long-Eared Owl

Long-Eared Owl

Northern long-eared owl, Lesser horned owl, Cat owl

Asio otus
Population size
2.1-5.5 mln
Life Span
25-30 yrs
50 km/h
160-435 g
31-40 cm
86-102 cm

The Long-eared owl is one of the most widely distributed and most numerous owl species in the world. It is a rather slim and long-winged bird with usually prominent erectile ear tufts, which are positioned closer to the center of the head than in many other types of owl. In general, the coloration of the Long-eared owl is often considered a hue of ochraceous-tawny with a grayish or brownish wash. The base color is commonly overlaid with variable blackish vertical streaks (and occasionally spots), which are usually more apparent about the wings and back. The facial disc is visibly well developed and variably colored in the species. The ear tufts are usually dusky in front and paler tawny on the back. The Long-eared owl possesses a blackish bill and its eyes may vary from yellowish-orange to orange-red.


Long-eared owls breed in many areas through Eurasia, as well as in North America. Northern populations are migratory and wander south in autumn. Southern birds are sedentary. Long-eared owls prefer open landscapes with groups of trees, hedges or small woods, as well as pastureland with rows of trees and bushes, any type of forest with clearings, forest edges, semi-open taiga forest, swampy areas and bogs, orchards with old fruit trees, parks, even gardens and timbered areas in villages, towns or cities. In many parts of the world, Long-eared owls have even adapted to deserts, though more commonly semi-desert, and may nest and roost in available oases and hunt prey over the open desert ground.

Long-Eared Owl habitat map

Climate zones

Habits and Lifestyle

Long-eared owls breed are nocturnal with most activity at dusk. During the day they usually roost on a branch, closer to the trunk within dense foliage. When approached, the owl will freezes with its body stiffly upright, eyes closed to narrow slits, and ear tufts erect. This is called the “tall-thin position”. If approached closer, the owls will alternately open and close their eyes (apparently trying to fool potential predators into thinking the owl is still at rest), finally lowering ear tufts, fluffing body plumage, and flying to another roost. Unlike many owls, Long-eared owls are not strongly territorial and often roost in groups that may include up to 6 to 50 owls at times. They tend to roost in the depths of the "darkest stands of trees" in order to conceal their presence from predators. Long-eared owls hunt mainly on the wing, flying low and fairly slowly. Once prey is spotted, the owl's flight suddenly stalls, then they quickly drop with talons spread to pounce on prey. Long-eared owls communicate with the help of various vocalizations. The song of the male is a deep 'whoop', which is repeated at intervals of several seconds. Females give a weaker, less clear, and much higher-pitched song with a nasal quality. Females usually call only in a duet with male during courtship, but also when the nest is selected and during incubation. When disturbed near the nest with owlets, both parents may utter a series of tinny tones 'watt-watt-watt-watt', hiss, or snap with their bills. Other calls produced by these birds include cat-like, hoarse 'jaiow' or high 'yip-yip' notes and clapping sounds; fledglings call with high-pitched 'feek, peeyee' and 'pzeei' notes.

Group name
Seasonal behavior

Diet and Nutrition

Long-eared owls breed are carnivorous specialized predators; these birds focus their diet almost entirely on small rodents, especially voles, which often compose most of their diet. They also hunt various small mammals, small birds, small snakes, lizards, and insects.

Mating Habits

27-30 days
2 months
owlet, fledgling
3-5 eggs

Long-eared owls usually form monogamous pairs (one male to one female). Breeding usually occurs from March through May. Males claim their territory with singing and display flights with wing clapping. Females typically take on the duty of inspecting potential nesting sites and duets with its mate; perched on a chosen nest, she sings to contact the male. Long-eared owls usually use nests that are built by other animals hidden in the dense vegetation of a tree. They prefer stick nests of large birds such as raptors and herons. Generally, the female lays 3-5 eggs that are incubated about 27-30 days. The female alone incubates while the male provides food, which is brought directly to the nest. The chicks hatch helpless and blind (altricial); their eyes open at 5-7 days and they are brooded by the mother for about 2 weeks, often while the male perches nearby and watches over. The female alone feeds the chicks and does a majority of nest defenses. The young leave the nest at 20-27 days of age but are initially flightless, often climbing about surrounding branches. At this stage, they are called "branchers". Quite often owlets fall to the ground, but they are usually able to climb back up using their claws and bill with heavy wing flapping. At about 35-37 days, they are fully-fledged and can fly well. The owlets often follow their parents and are fed by them for up to about 2 months. Reproductive maturity is usually reached when they ar 1 year old.


Population threats

Long-eared owls are common and widespread in many regions. Local threats typically include pesticides, persecution by humans, high nest predation, and loss of habitat. Many Long-eared owls are also often killed by road traffic.

Population number

According to the IUCN Red List, the total Long-eared owl population size is around 2,180,000-5,540,000 mature individuals. The European population consists of 304,000-776,000 pairs, which equates to 609,000-1,550,000 mature individuals. Currently, this species is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List but its numbers today are decreasing.

Fun Facts for Kids

  • The Long-eared owl has relatively large ear slits placed asymmetrically on the sides of its head; the left ear is placed higher and right lower which allows the birds to absorb sound both from above and below. Due to its ear structure, the hearing of a Long-eared owl is around ten times better than humans.
  • On calm nights, the song of the Long-eared owl males may be heard up to 1-2 km (0.62-1.24 mi) away.
  • When flying by day, Long-eared owls are often mobbed by diurnal birds such as corvids and other birds of prey.
  • Often Long-eared owls discharge a fairly large amount of pellets and drop them below regular day roosts; this is an easy way to locate where the birds were roosting.
  • When defending the nest with owlets, the Long-eared owl parent ruffles up their plumage and partially spreads the wings to half-open, trampling from one foot to the other, hissing and bill snapping and can look surprisingly large in this posture. If a perceived threat continues towards the owls, they may leap up and try to rake and grab at the threat with their talons.
  • When sensing danger, the chick of a Long-eared owl has a specific threat posture; the owlet will spread its wings trying to appear larger and to scare off a potential predator.


2. Long-Eared Owl on The IUCN Red List site - https://www.iucnredlist.org/species/22689507/131922722

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