31 - 40cm
0.9 - 1m
178 - 435g
10 - 15 yrs
The long-eared owl is a species of typical owl named for its distinctive ear tufts; its Latin name literally means “owl with small ears”. However, it should not be confused with the similar short-eared owl, which it shares much of its range with across Europe, Asia and North America. It is one of only six owls native to the UK.
It is a medium-sized owl with large, black ear tufts designed to make it appear taller. The plumage are brown and streaked, with the colouration of the female being darker, and it possesses distinctive rusty-brown eye discs. The eyes are orange, as opposed to the yellow of the short-eared owl, which is also paler and sandier than the long-eared.
What Does it Look Like?
What Does it Sound Like?
The primary call of the male is a low "hoo" repeated in intervals of a few seconds, up to 200 times. In response, the female will let out a buzzing rasp and perform a duet with the male. This calling ritual is almost always nocturnal. The alarm call is a barking "whek-WHEK-whek" and they are capable of making cat-like hisses or shrieks.
Voles are the primary prey species, but they also feed on other small mammals such as squirrels, shrews and bats. They will also hunt birds on the wing and may take doves, blackbirds or even smaller owls on rare occasions. They fly at dusk, low to the ground over open fields listening for their prey, before pinning it down with their talons.
What Does it Eat?
Where Does it Nest?
They reuse old stick nests, usually built by crows or ravens, and line them with forest debris before laying 3 to 8 eggs at intervals of 1 to 5 days each. Chicks will leave the nest at about 3 weeks old, but are not capable of flight until about 5 weeks and only achieve independence after 2 months. Their success is strongly linked to food availability and predation.
Long-eared owls are widely distributed in North America, Eurasia and northern Africa. In Europe, it fares better where its main competitor - the tawny owl - is absent, notably in Ireland. It inhabits open woodlands and forest edges, using any nearby open spaces for hunting. During winter, they need dense conifer groves or brushy thickets to roost in.
Where Does it Live?
What is its Status?
Although considered Least Concern, its population appears to be trending downwards. In Britain, this decline may be due to competition with the tawny owl, which dominates hunting and nesting sites. However, as losses have been recorded over much of Europe, the primary cause is most likely related to falling vole populations, which are its main prey species.
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