This Owl is much more abundant in our Middle and Eastern Atlantic Districts than in the Southern or Western parts. My friend Dr. BACHMAN has never observed it in South Carolina; nor have I met with it in Louisiana, or any where on the Mississippi below the junction of the Ohio. It is not very rare in the upper parts of Indiana, Illinois, Ohio, and Kentucky, wherever the country is well wooded. In the Barrens of Kentucky its predilection for woods is rendered apparent by its not being found elsewhere than in the "Groves;" and it would seem that it very rarely extends its search for food beyond the skirts of those delightful retreats. In Pennsylvania, and elsewhere to the eastward, I have found it most numerous on or near the banks of our numerous clear mountain streams, where, during the day, it is not uncommon to see it perched on the top of a low bush or fir. At such times it stands with the body erect, but the tarsi bent and resting on a branch, as is the manner of almost all our Owls. The head then seems the largest part, the body being much more slender than it is usually represented. Now and then it raises itself and stands with its legs and neck extended, as if the better to mark the approach of an intruder. Its eyes, which were closed when it was first observed, are opened on the least noise, and it seems to squint at you in a most grotesque manner, although it is not difficult to approach very near it. It rarely on such occasions takes to wing, but throws itself into the thicket, and makes off on foot by means of pretty long leaps.
The Long-eared Owl is careless as to the situation in which its young are to be reared, and generally accommodates itself with an abandoned nest of some other bird that proves of sufficient size, whether it be high or low, in the fissure of a rock or on the ground. Sometimes however it makes a nest itself, and this I found to be the case in one instance near the Juniata river in Pennsylvania, where it was composed of green twigs with the leaflets adhering, and lined with fresh grass and sheep wool, but without feathers. The eggs are usually four, nearly equally rounded at both ends, thin-shelled, smooth, when newly deposited pure white, with a slight blush, which is no longer observable when they have been for some time sitten upon; their average length an inch and a half, their greatest breadth an inch and three-sixteenths. I found eggs of this bird on the 15th of April, and again on the 25th of June, which induces me to believe that it rears two broods in the season in the State of Pennsylvania, as it probably does also to the westward. WILSON relates the following instance of its indifference as to the place selected for its eggs. "About six or seven miles below Philadelphia, and not far from the Delaware, is a low swamp, thickly covered with trees, and inundated during a great part of the year. This place is the resort of great numbers of the Qua-bird or Night Raven (Ardea Nycticorax), where they build in large companies. On the 25th of April, while wading among the dark recesses of this place, observing the habits of these birds, I discovered a Long-eared Owl, which had taken possession of one of their nests, and was sitting: on mounting to the nest, I found it contained four eggs, and breaking one of these, the young appeared almost ready to leave the shell. There were numbers of the Qua-birds' nests on the adjoining trees all around, and one of them actually on the same tree."
When encamped in the woods, I have frequently heard the notes of this bird at night. Its cry is prolonged and plaintive, though consisting of not more than two or three notes repeated at intervals.
Dr. RICHARDSON states that it has been found "as far north as lat. 60 degrees, and probably exists as high as the forests extend. It is plentiful in the woods skirting the plains of the Saskatchewan, frequents the coasts of Hudson's Bay only in the summer, and retires into the interior in the winter. It resides all the year in the United States, and perhaps is not a rare bird in any part of North America; but as it comes seldom abroad in the day, fewer specimens are obtained of it than of the other Owls. It preys chiefly on quadrupeds of the genus Arvicola, and in summer destroys many beetles. It lays three or four roundish white eggs, sometimes on the ground, at other times in the deserted nests of other birds in low bushes. Mr. HUTCHINS says it lays in April, and that the young fly in May; and Mr. DRUMMOND found a nest on the ground, containing three eggs, on the 5th of July, and killed both the birds. On comparing the above mentioned eggs with those of the English Long-eared Owl, the American ones proved to be smaller, measuring only an inch and a half in length, and 1.27 inches in breadth; while the English ones measured 1.8 inch in length, and 1 1/4 in breadth. The form and colour were the same in both."
The food of this Owl consists of rats, mice, and other small quadrupeds, as well as birds of various species; its stomach having been found by me crammed with feathers and other remains of the latter.
There is a marked difference between the sexes. The males are not only smaller than the females, but darker; and this has tempted me to consider the Strix Mexicanus of Mr. SWAINSON and the Prince of MUSIGNANO as merely a large female of our Long-eared Owl.
LONG-EARED OWL, Strix otus, Wils. Amer. Orn., vol. vi. p. 52.
STRIX OTUS, Bonap. Syn., p. 37.
LONG-EARED OWL, Strix otus, Nutt. Man., vol. i. p. 130.
LONG-EARED OWL, Strix otus, Aud. Orn. Biog., vol. iv. p. 573.
Tufts elongated; general colour of plumage buff, mottled and spotted with brown and greyish-white; dirty whitish anteriorly, with the tips black; posteriorly reddish-white; ruff mottled with red and black; upper part of head minutely mottled with whitish, brownish-black, and light red; the tufts light reddish towards the base, brownish-black in the centre toward the end, the inner edge white, dotted with dark brown; upper parts buff, variegated with brown and whitish-grey, minutely mottled or undulatingly barred; first row of coverts tipped with white; quills and scapulars pale grey, barred with dark brown; the primaries buff towards the base externally. Tail with ten bars on the middle and eight on the outer feathers; lower parts with more buff and fewer spots than the upper; each feather with a long dark brown streak, and several irregular transverse bars; legs and toes pure buff.
Male 14 1/2, 38. Female, 16, 40.
A male sent in spirits from Boston by Dr. BREWER:--The roof of the mouth is flat, with two longitudinal ridges, the sides ascending; the posterior aperture of the nares oblong, 4 twelfths long, with an interior fissure. The tongue is 7 1/2 twelfths long, deeply emarginate and papillate at the base, flattish above, with a faint median groove, the sides parallel, the tip narrowed and emarginate. The mouth is very wide, measuring 1 inch and 1 1/2 twelfths. The oesophagus is 5 1/2 inches long, of nearly uniform diameter throughout, as in all other Owls, its breadth being 1 inch. The proventricular glandules form a belt 9 twelfths in diameter. The stomach is large, round, 1 inch 9 twelfths long, 1 inch 7 twelfths broad, its walls thin, its muscular coat composed of rather coarse fasciculi, but without distinction into lateral muscles; the tendinous spaces circular, and about 8 twelfths in diameter; its epithelium soft and rugous. The duodenum is 3 twelfths in diameter, and curves at the distance of 3 inches from the pylorus. The intestine is 23 inches long, its smallest diameter only 1 twelfth. The coeca, Fig. 2, are in this individual unequal, as they very frequently are in Owls; the largest being 2 inches 10 twelfths in length, their greatest diameter 5 1/2 twelfths, their distance from the anus 3 inches and a quarter. The cloaca is of an enormous size, ovate, 2 inches long, 1 inch 2 twelfths broad. It contains a calculous concretion 9 twelfths long, 7 twelfths broad, and 3 twelfths thick.
The trachea, which is 3 inches long, is 3 1/2 twelfths in breadth at the upper part, 2 1/2 twelfths in the middle, and 3 twelfths at its lower extremity; its rings about 75 in number, cartilaginous, and considerably flattened. The lateral muscles are strong, the sterno-tracheal moderate, and there is a single pair of very slender inferior laryngeal muscles. Five of the lower rings are elongated, arched, and slit. The bronchi are rather long, of 12 half rings.
The conch of the ear, Fig. 1, is of enormous size, extending from the level of the forehead over the eye to the chin, in a semilunar form, of which the posterior curve is 3 inches, and the distance between the two extremities in a direct line I inch and a half. There is an anterior semicircular flap in its whole length, 5 twelfths in breadth at the middle. The aperture or meatus externus is of a rhomboidal form, 4 1/2 twelfths in length, 3 1/2 twelfths broad, bounded anteriorly by the eye, posteriorly by a ligament extended along the edge of the occipital bone, above by a ligament stretching to the operculum, below the articulation of the lower jaw. Above the meatus is a deep depression covered with skin, above which another ligament stretches across to the operculum.
In another specimen, a female, the oesophagus is 5 1/2 inches long, its average diameter 11 twelfths. The intestine is 21 inches long, from 2 1/2 twelfths to 1 twelfth in diameter; the coeca are 2 1/4 inches in length; their greatest diameter 4 twelfths; the cloaca still larger than that of the other individuals, being 2 inches long.
For more on this species, see its entry in the Birds of North America Field Guide.