The Ural owl is a fairly large nocturnal bird of prey. Both its common name and scientific name refer to the Ural Mountains of Russia where this bird was collected. The Ural owl has a broad, rounded head with a correspondingly round facial disc, barring a tiny V-shaped indentation. The bird has an exceptionally long tail that bears a wedge-shaped tip. In color, this owl tends to be a plain pale greyish-brown to whitish overall, with a slightly darker grey-brown to brown back and mantle with contrasting whitish markings. The underparts are pale cream-ochre to grey-brown and are boldly overlaid with dark brown streaking, without crossbars. In flight, the Ural owl shows a largely buffish-white underwing marked with heavy dark bars around the trailing edge and tip, while the long white-tipped tail often appears slung downwards.
Ural owls have an extremely broad distribution. It extends as far west as much of Scandinavia, montane eastern Europe, and, sporadically, central Europe through Russia to as far east as Sakhalin and throughout Japan. These birds tend to occur in mature but not too dense primary forest, which can variously be in coniferous, mixed, or deciduous areas. Normally, they prefer to be close to an opening. These often include forest bogs with the wet ground underfoot, overgrown by a mixture of spruce, alder, and/or birch or damp heathland with scattered trees.
Ural owls are often considered nocturnal with peaks of activity at dusk and just before dawn. However, since they mainly live in the taiga zone where very long summer days are the norm against extensive dark during the winter, Ural owls are often fully active during daylight hours during the warmer months, while brooding young. Presumably during winter, they are mostly active during the night. Thus, the species may be more correctly classified as cathemeral as is much of their main prey. During the day, Ural owls may take rests on a roost, which is most typically a branch close to the trunk of a tree or in dense foliage. They are highly territorial and residential birds that tend to stay on the same home range throughout the year. Territories are generally maintained with songs, most often uttered by the male of the resident pair. Ural owls do most of their hunting from a perch. They usually prefer prey that comes into open spots of the forest rather than those that frequent the forest floor. These birds never attack prey from an active flight, instead nearly always dropping down on it directly from their perch. Ural owls have a wide range of calls; however, despite that, these birds are generally very quiet and may not vocalize even at peak times for perhaps up to nearly 2 days. The song of the male is a deep rhythmic series of notes, variously transcribed as 'wihu huw-huhuwo or huow-huow-huow'. The female has a similar but hoarser and slightly higher pitched song, giving it a more "barking" quality. Not infrequently, Ural owls will duet during courtship. In addition, a deep, hoarse heron-like 'kuwat' or 'korrwick' is probably used as a contact call.
Ural owls are carnivores and mostly prefer to take small prey, especially small mammals. Their diet uncludes various species of rodent, shrews, moles, any variety of small mammal, to the size of hares, as well as variable numbers of birds, amphibians and invertebrates. Rarely they may take reptiles and fish.
Ural owls are monogamous; pairs usually mate for life and maintain a territory for several years. Potential nesting sites include large natural holes in trees, cavities left by a large branch that have broken off, hollow trunks where canopies have been broken off, or fissures. These birds may also nest in holes in cliffs or between rocks and holes in buildings. Females lay a clutch of 3-4 pure white and quite rounded eggs. The egg-laying dates vary with location; in Fennoscandia it occurs between mid-March and late April. In montane Slovenia, it is slightly later in late March into early June. The eggs are laid directly to the bottom of the nesting surface in roughly 2-day intervals. Incubation lasts for 28 to 35 days done by the females alone. The chick hatch covered in white dawn; at the stage when they typically leave the nest the downy is pale dirty whitish and barred with greyish-brown on head, nape, mantle, and underparts. Owlets leave the nest at about 35 days old and can fly at 45 days. However, they are still fed and cared for by their parents an additional 2 months or so after leaving the nests. The young Ural owls usually reach reproductive maturity in the year after independence.
In recent history, most decreases in the Ural owl population have been caused due to removing of hollow and broken trees from forests. Occasionally, these birds are vulnerable to flying into manmade objects. Many such mortalities are due to wire collisions and electrocutions, which are likely increase especially as populations expand and move into areas closer to human habitations. Other collision kills, such as with glass buildings and, widely, with various automobiles, may too potentially be on the increase.
According to the IUCN Red List the total Ural owl population size is approximately 396,000-1,140,000 mature individuals. The European population is estimated at 50,000-143,000 pairs, which equates to 99,900-286,000 mature individuals. Overall, currently this species is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List and its numbers today are stable.