The Enigma of the Forest: A Comprehensive Guide to the Long-Eared Owl



Long-Eared Owl

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Distinguished by its prominent ear tufts and penetrating gaze, the Long-Eared Owl remains one of the most elusive nocturnal birds of the forest. As mysterious as it is mesmerizing, this owl species is both a marvel to observe and a master of disguise.

Join us on a deep dive into the captivating world of the Long-Eared Owl.

Physical Characteristics

Distinctive Ear Tufts

The Long-Eared Owl is easily recognizable by its distinctive ear tufts, which are feathers that resemble small horns on top of its head. These tufts are not actual ears, but they serve a purpose. The tufts can be raised or lowered depending on the owl’s mood or level of alertness.

When the owl feels threatened or wants to appear larger, it raises its ear tufts. Conversely, when it is relaxed or trying to blend in with its surroundings, the tufts are lowered.

Bright Orange Eyes

Another striking physical characteristic of the Long-Eared Owl is its bright orange eyes. These vibrant-colored eyes are surrounded by dark feathers, which further enhances their intensity.

The orange coloration helps the owl to see clearly in low light conditions, as it maximizes its ability to gather light. This adaptation is crucial for the owl’s nocturnal hunting behavior as it relies heavily on its exceptional vision to locate and capture prey in the darkness.

Mottled Orange-Brown Feathers

The Long-Eared Owl’s plumage consists of mottled orange-brown feathers, which provide excellent camouflage in its woodland habitats.

The irregular patterns and varying shades of brown and orange help the owl to blend seamlessly with the tree bark and leaf litter found in its environment. This natural camouflage is essential for the owl’s survival, as it allows it to remain hidden from predators and ambush prey without being detected.

Size Comparison to Other Owl Species

Long-Eared Owls are medium-sized owls, slightly larger than Barn Owls but smaller than Short-Eared Owls. On average, they measure around 35 to 40 centimeters (14 to 16 inches) in length and have a wingspan of approximately 90 to 100 centimeters (35 to 39 inches).

Females are generally larger and heavier than males, with some reaching lengths of up to 45 centimeters (18 inches). Despite their medium size, Long-Eared Owls are skilled hunters and excellent aerial predators.


The vocalizations of Long-Eared Owls are distinct and characteristic. The males emit a low-pitched “whoop” call, which is often heard during the breeding season. This call is typically repeated several times in quick succession and can be quite resonant.

The purpose of the male’s ‘whoop’ call is to establish territory and attract females. It serves as a way for males to communicate their presence to potential mates and warn off rival males from their territory.

While the male’s ‘whoop’ call is well-known, the vocalizations of female Long-Eared Owls are much softer and higher-pitched. Their calls are often described as a soft, raspy bark or a gentle trilling sound.

Female calls serve multiple purposes, including communicating with their young and maintaining contact with their mate. This distinction in vocalizations between males and females helps in identifying individuals and understanding their behavior during nesting seasons.


Prey Species

Long-Eared Owls have a diverse diet that primarily consists of small mammals and birds. They primarily feed on prey species such as field voles, wood mice, bank voles, common rats, and small birds like finches and thrushes.

The availability of prey and seasonal variations can impact the composition of their diet. These adaptable owls can adjust their hunting techniques and prey preferences depending on the local ecosystem and the abundance of specific prey species.

Feeding Habits

Long-Eared Owls are skilled hunters, relying on their exceptional hearing and vision to locate and capture prey. Their unique ear structure allows them to accurately pinpoint the sounds made by small mammals scurrying in the undergrowth or birds moving through the trees.

Once the owl has located its prey, it swoops down silently from a perch, using its powerful talons to seize and secure the target. It then swallows the prey whole, later regurgitating pellets of undigested bones, fur, and feathers.


Long-Eared Owls are highly adapted to woodland habitats and are most commonly found in forested landscapes. They inhabit a variety of woodland types, including mixed or coniferous forests, deciduous woodlands, and dense groves.

These owls prefer areas with a mixture of open spaces, shrubs, and tall trees, as it provides them with suitable roosting and nesting locations, as well as a diverse range of prey species.

Long-Eared Owls have specific vegetation preferences when it comes to nesting and roosting. They are known to utilize dense vegetation such as coniferous trees, dense shrubs, and even dense grasses for these purposes. The thick foliage provides them with ample cover and camouflage, helping to protect them from potential predators and disturbance.

Long-Eared Owls are distributed across various regions in Europe, Asia, and North America. They can be found throughout most of Europe, excluding some northern regions. In Asia, they are present in countries such as Russia, China, and Japan.

In North America, their range extends from Alaska and Canada down to the northern parts of the United States. The exact distribution and population density can vary depending on the specific region and prevailing environmental conditions.

Conservation Status

Despite being rated as a species of least concern on the Birds of Conservation Concern list, Long-Eared Owls have experienced population declines in certain regions. These declines can be attributed to several factors, including habitat loss, fragmentation, and human disturbance.

As their woodland habitats continue to be cleared for agriculture, urban development, and other human activities, the Long-Eared Owl’s populations face increasing pressure and are becoming more vulnerable.

The Birds of Conservation Concern list is an important tool used to assess the conservation status of bird species in the United Kingdom. The Long-Eared Owl is currently listed as a species of least concern on this list.

While this designation suggests that the species is not currently at significant risk of extinction, it does not mean that conservation efforts should be disregarded. Continuous monitoring and conservation initiatives are necessary to ensure the long-term survival of the species.

In the United Kingdom, Long-Eared Owls are protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act of 1981. This legislation makes it illegal to intentionally kill, injure, or disturb these owls or their nests. It also prohibits the possession, sale, and transportation of these birds or their parts without a valid license. The protected status aims to safeguard the breeding populations and preserve the ecological importance of Long-Eared Owls within the UK.


Long-Eared Owls typically nest in abandoned stick nests or cavities created by other bird species, such as crows or magpies. They do not build their own nests but utilize existing structures for breeding purposes.

This behavior allows them to evade some of the challenges associated with nest construction and potentially reduces their exposure to predators.

After mating, the female Long-Eared Owl takes on the sole responsibility of incubating the eggs. Incubation lasts for approximately 26 to 28 days before the eggs hatch.

During this period, the female remains dedicated to keeping the eggs warm and protected, rarely leaving the nest except for brief hunting trips to sustain herself. The male plays a crucial role during this time, providing food to the female while she incubates the eggs.

The selection of abandoned stick nests or cavities for nesting is a strategic choice made by Long-Eared Owls. These structures provide a secure and well-hidden location for nesting, minimizing the risk of predation and disturbance.

By using existing nests or cavities, Long-Eared Owls maximize their chances of successfully raising their young, as well as conserve energy and time that would otherwise be required for nest construction.


As a nocturnal species, Long-Eared Owls exhibit an active and alert behavior during the nighttime. They have excellent night vision and rely on their acute hearing to locate and capture prey.

Long-Eared Owls are most active during the hours of darkness, using the cover of darkness to their advantage as they silently glide through their woodland habitats in search of food.

During daylight hours, Long-Eared Owls adopt a more secretive behavior. They rest in heavily foliated areas, such as dense vegetation or thicket-covered trees, to remain hidden from potential predators and human disturbance.

Their cryptic plumage helps them blend in with their surroundings, providing an added layer of protection. By minimizing their movement and staying concealed during the day, Long-Eared Owls can conserve energy for their nocturnal activities.

Migration patterns of Long-Eared Owls can vary depending on the region and local environmental conditions. Some populations of Long-Eared Owls exhibit migratory behavior, traveling to different regions during colder months in search of better foraging opportunities.

These owls can cover long distances, benefiting from shifting prey populations and avoiding harsh winter conditions. Meanwhile, other populations of Long-Eared Owls are resident throughout the year, not undertaking extensive migrations.

Threats to Long-Eared Owls

One of the primary threats facing Long-Eared Owls is habitat loss and degradation. As human activities continue to encroach on their woodland habitats, large tracts of forests are being cleared for agriculture, urban development, and infrastructure projects.

This loss of suitable nesting and foraging areas directly impacts the availability of food and shelter for the owls, leading to declining populations and increased vulnerability.

Human disturbance can have significant impacts on Long-Eared Owls, particularly during the breeding season. Disturbance can occur through activities such as recreational activities, the presence of domestic animals, or deliberate harassment by humans.

These disturbances can disrupt nesting behavior, cause nest abandonment, and even lead to the mortality of eggs or young. It is crucial for humans to be aware of the sensitivity of these owl species and take appropriate measures to minimize their impact.

Another threat to Long-Eared Owls is pesticide exposure. The use of pesticides in agriculture and forestry can contaminate the food chain, ultimately impacting the prey species consumed by Long-Eared Owls. reproductive success and overall health. To mitigate this threat, sustainable pest control practices and the reduction of pesticide use are essential.

Distinguished by its tufted ears, the Long-Eared Owl is a sight to behold. While you’re exploring these fascinating birds, don’t miss out on the mysterious Elusive Owls or the captivating Scops Owl. If you’re keen on understanding the diversity of these raptors, the Little Owls and the powerful Great Horned Owl are worth a read. For an overarching understanding, our Guide to Owls provides a comprehensive overview.

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