Photo: Brian E. Small/Vireo

Long-eared Owl

Asio otus

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.
Conservation status 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.
Family Owls
Habitat 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.
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.
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Feeding Behavior

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.


Eggs

2-10, usually 4-6. White. Incubation is by female only, usually 26-28 days. Male brings food for female during incubation period. Young: 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.


Young

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.

Diet

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.


Nesting

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.

Illustration © David Allen Sibley.
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Text © Kenn Kaufman, adapted from
Lives of North American Birds

Migration

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.

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Migration

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.

  • All Seasons - Common
  • All Seasons - Uncommon
  • Breeding - Common
  • Breeding - Uncommon
  • Winter - Common
  • Winter - Uncommon
  • Migration - Common
  • Migration - Uncommon
Songs and Calls
Soft low hoots; also whistles, whines, shrieks, and cat-like meows. Seldom heard except during breeding time.
Audio © Lang Elliott, Bob McGuire, Kevin Colver, Martyn Stewart and others.
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How Climate Change Will Reshape the Range of the Long-eared Owl

Audubon’s scientists have used 140 million bird observations and sophisticated climate models to project how climate change will affect this bird’s range in the future.

Zoom in to see how this species’s current range will shift, expand, and contract under increased global temperatures.

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.

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