At a Glance
This medium-sized owl is widespread but not particularly well known in North America. It seems to call less often or less conspicuously than many of our other owls, so it may be overlooked in some areas where it nests. In winter, sometimes groups of a dozen or more may be found roosting together in groves of conifers, willows, mesquites, or other trees.
All bird guide text and rangemaps adapted from Lives of North American Birds by Kenn Kaufman© 1996, used by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
Forests and Woodlands, High Mountains, Shrublands, Savannas, and Thickets
Alaska and The North, California, Eastern Canada, Great Lakes, Mid Atlantic, New England, Northwest, Plains, Rocky Mountains, Southeast, Southwest, Texas, Western Canada
Range & Identification
Migration & Range Maps
Some withdrawal in winter from northern part of breeding range, and some movement south into southeastern United States and Mexico, but species is found year-round in many regions. May be nomadic at times, moving about in response to changing food supplies.
15" (38 cm). W. 3' 3 (1 m). Like a smaller, slimmer version of Great Horned Owl, but has stripes (not horizontal bars) on belly, black markings around eyes. Shows buff patches in outer part of wings in flight.
About the size of a Crow, About the size of a Mallard or Herring Gull
Black, Brown, Orange, Red, White, Yellow
Rounded, Short, Square-tipped
Songs and Calls
Soft low hoots; also whistles, whines, shrieks, and cat-like meows. Seldom heard except during breeding time.
Woodlands, conifer groves. Favored habitat includes dense trees for nesting and roosting, open country for hunting. Inhabits a wide variety of such settings, including forest with extensive meadows, groves of conifers or deciduous trees in prairie country, streamside groves in desert. Generally avoids unbroken forest.
Sign up for Audubon's newsletter to learn more about birds like the Long-eared Owl
2-10, usually 4-6. White. Incubation is by female only, usually 26-28 days. Male brings food for female during incubation period.
Female remains with young almost continuously for first 2 weeks, while male brings food for female and young. In latter part of nestling period, female also hunts. Young climb out of nest onto nearby branches after about 3 weeks, can make short flights at about 5 weeks. Adult male feeds young until they are 10-11 weeks old, when they disperse from area.
Hunts mostly at night, sometimes before dusk, especially when feeding young. Forages over fields or in open woods, flying back and forth a few feet above the ground. Locates prey by sound or by sight, then swoops down to capture it with talons.
Mostly small mammals. Usually feeds heavily on common local rodents. Depending on region, may be mostly voles, deer mice, kangaroo rats, pocket gophers, etc. Also known to eat small birds, shrews, bats, lizards, snakes, other small creatures.
Early in breeding season, male performs aerial display, flying in zigzags around nesting area with deep wingbeats and glides, occasionally clapping wings together loudly below body. Nest site is usually in tree, 4-30' above ground, usually at about mid-level in tree; sometimes in giant cactus or on cliff ledge. No nest built; uses abandoned nest built by other birds, such as crows, ravens, magpies, various hawks.
Status not well known; local numbers rise and fall, but some surveys and migration counts suggest that overall population in North America is declining. Loss of habitat may be part of cause.
Audubon’s scientists have used 140 million bird observations and sophisticated climate models to project how climate change will affect the range of the Long-eared Owl. Learn even more in our Audubon’s Survival By Degrees project.
Climate Threats Facing the Long-eared Owl
Choose a temperature scenario below to see which threats will affect this species as warming increases. The same climate change-driven threats that put birds at risk will affect other wildlife and people, too.