RANGE:North and Central America
HABITAT:Temperate forests bordering open land
DIET: CARNIVOREPrimarily rodents and other small mammals; also small birds and occasionally insects, frogs, snakes
LIFESPAN:Captive: 10+ years; wild: shorter lifespan often due to predation or accidental death
OFFSPRING:2-10 eggs per clutch (usually 4-5)
LENGTH:13.75-15.75 in Wingspan: 38-39 inches
WEIGHT:9-10 oz (259-282 g)
“Where I live”
Long-eared owls range across much of North and Central America. They live in forest and hunt over open land.
At The Maryland Zoo in Baltimore, visitors can find long-eared owls in the Maryland Wilderness Marsh Aviary.
“How I live there”
This medium-sized owl roosts in trees during the day and hunts at night over open fields, meadows, and marshland. Its coloration and patterning provide it with excellent camouflage, giving it the uncanny ability to resemble a branch when sitting still and erect in a tree. Although common and widespread across its range, the long-eared owl is rarely seen.
Long-eared owls hunt from dusk until near dawn. They fly low over open land with their heads cocked to one side, listening for prey. Their flight is silent, whether gliding, flapping, or even hovering and fluttering while scanning for prey. When they spot prey they dive immediately, pinning their quarry to the ground with strong talons. Long-eared owls feed on rodents, other small mammals, and sometimes smaller birds.
“Making my mark”
Males advertise their presence with a low “hoo, hoo, hoo, hoo,” repeated anywhere from 10 to 200 times. Females respond with a raspy buzz call. Both sexes hiss or shriek like a cat when alarmed.
Long-eared owls typically occupy stick nests previously built by other birds such as crows, hawks, magpies, ravens, or herons. Males attract females by performing courtship flights around nests. Females choose a nest by hopping near it, and choose a mate by responding to him with a nest call. Once paired, a male and female will roost near each other. The female sits on the nest while the male sits nearby.
Females prepare their nests by lining what is already there with extra padding such as feathers, strips of bark, leaves, and moss. Each female lays a clutch of 2 to 10 eggs and incubates them until they hatch 25 to 30 days later. It can take a female several days to lay all of her eggs, and they will hatch over the course of several days.
A long-eared owl pair will defend its nest aggressively from any intruder. A female on the nest will spread her wings, lower her head, and fluff up her feathers to appear large and intimidating. Her mate may feign injury and cause a commotion to distract a possible intruder. If necessary, either bird will attack an intruder.
Both parents care for their nestlings for the first few weeks of life. At about 3 weeks of age, the baby owlets start to hop out of the nest and sit on nearby branches, but they will not be prepared to fly until they are about 5 weeks old. Young long-eared owls are fully independent by about two months.
“What eats me”
Larger owls such as great horned owls and barred owls may prey on adult long-eared owls. Raccoons frequently prey upon eggs and nestlings.
Long-eared owls are listed as a species of least concern by the IUCN, the world’s leading conservation organization. However, populations in some areas are declining, and habitat loss is the most pervasive threat. Long-eared owls once nested in Maryland but are now seen here only rarely when migrating through.