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Long-eared Owl

Asio otus

Long eared Owl 8Young Long-eared Owls often give themselves away with a strange 'squeaky gate' begging call. Photo Luke Delve

The Long-eared Owl could possibly win the most attractive bird award. Stunningly beautiful, but the eponymous long ears (actually feather tufts – the actual ears are hidden on the side of the head under the facial disc feathers) are not visible when the bird is flying or isn’t feeling relaxed. When seen perched the finely speckled feathers are distinctive, along with orangey-rufous patches. The eyes are a striking orange, but the eyes are closed at roost if the bird feels threatened.

If seen in flight, at dusk, the likelihood of confusion with Short-eared Owl is surprisingly high, as the structure and wing markings are very similar. The best features to use are the lack of trailing white edge to the upper wings, and the presence of a dark ‘C-shaped’ ‘elbow’ mark below the wing, with blunt, diffusely marked wingtips. Due to its elusiveness, one of the best ways of discovering Long-eared Owls is to hear the strange calls of begging youngsters during summer – sounding remarkably like squeaky gates!

Long-eared Owls are found right across Europe and into Asia, with northern populations ‘leap-frogging' resident southerly populations, and wintering in North Africa, India and China. It is also a widespread bird in North America.

 VITAL STATISTICS

Size: Average 36cm, wingspan 95cm. Weight averages 290g.

Status: Resident breeder. Passage/winter visitor.

Population size: 3,500 pairs.

Conservation status: GREEN (Least concern).

Lifespan: Average age in the wild is 4 years. Adults have a 69% year-to-year survival. First year survival is just 48%. The oldest known wild bird was almost 13 years old (ringing recovery).

Nesting: Long-eared Owls are scarce and very elusive breeding birds. They favour conifers to nest in and use stick nests, often old corvid or raptor nests. Surprisingly they will readily take to provided nest baskets and will even nest in wicker dog baskets!

Number of eggs: 3-4

Incubation: 28 days

Fledging time: 29-34 days

Habitat and Distribution: Being such elusive and nocturnal creatures Long-eared Owls are very difficult to monitor and survey and it is likely that there are more present than recorded. Breeding season distribution shows a northerly and easterly focus, although birds are recorded breeding over the whole country, including off-shore islands and right over Ireland, where it is much more frequent. Nesting frequently occurs in conifers, so areas of conifer plantations such as Thetford Forest in East Anglia are hotspots for the species. Despite this, in some areas Long-eared Owls will nest in shelter belts, deciduous woodland or even scrub. In winter many Long-eared Owls from continental Europe visit us and these birds can sometimes be very approachable. Every year there are records of newly arrived birds roosting out in the open on garden fences, or other equally obvious locations. Long-eared Owls in winter tend to roost communally, often in hedges or patches of scrub.

Long eared owl Jwh at Wikipedia LuxembourgMigrant Long-eared Owls can sometimes be found roosting in surprisingly open habitats, and favour scrub. Photo Jwh at Wikipedia Luxembourg.

Movements: Long-eared Owl is one of the few owls that undertakes long distance journeys. Most of our resident birds are sedentary, especially towards the west of the UK but, in the east, varying numbers of birds from continental Europe, from as far afield as Finland, visit for winter, crossing the North Sea with apparent ease – although they are often encountered resting on oil rigs and ships.

Feeding: Small rodents are the main prey of Long-eared Owls although they will take other small mammals and even small birds. Its food requirements brings it into competition with Tawny Owl, a bigger and more dominant species. In Ireland, where there are no Tawny Owls, it is the dominant species and can be found in many different habitats, including urban ones. Despite being a bird of woodland, much of its prey is found in open grassland and other open habitats and Long-eared Owls habitually hunt outside of the wooded habitats they breed in.

Separating Long-eared and Short-eared Owls

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