• Barn Owl
  • Barred Owl
  • Boreal Owl
  • Burrowing Owl
  • Eastern Screech Owl
    Eastern Screech
  • Elf Owl
  • Ferruginous Pygmy Owl
    Ferruginous Pygmy Owl
  • Flammulated Owl
  • Great Grey Owl
    Great Grey
  • Great Horned Owl
    Great Horned
  • Long Eared Owl
  • Northern Hawk Owl
    Northern Hawk
  • Northern Pygmy Owl
    Northern Pygmy
  • Northern Saw-whet Owl
    Northern Saw-whet
  • Short-eared Owl
  • Snowy Owl
  • Spotted Owl
  • Western Screech Owl
    Western Screech
  • Western Screech Owl
    Whiskered Screech Owl

LONG-EARED OWL (Asio otis)

Long-Eared OwlsDo owls really have ears? Yes, all birds have ears! However, birds’ ears are actually openings hidden beneath the feathers behind their eyes. The so called “ears” that the Long-Eared Owl is named for are really just tufts of feathers atop its head. Researchers believe that these tufts may help them blend into their surroundings. There are several species of owls that share this feature, including the more common Great-Horned Owl. So how can you tell a Long-Eared Owl from a Great-Horned Owl?  These two owl species can be distinguished by their size (Great-Horned Owls are much larger than Long-Eared Owls), and also by the shape of their ear tufts. Great-Horned Owls’ ear tufts are widely spaced and face outwards, while Long-Eared Owls’ tufts stand close together and upright.

Though the two owls’ habitats can overlap, Great-Horned Owls prefer tall trees in dense forests, while Long-Eared Owls are commonly found in thick brushy areas. Long-Eared Owls have an interesting relationship with some of their neighbors; instead of building their own nests, these resourceful owls will reuse the stick-nests of Corvids like Magpies, Crows, and Ravens.  In the winter, Long-Eared Owls often roost communally in groups of 2 to 20. Early spring, before the leaves are out, is a great time to find their large nests. If you find one, look carefully, and you just might see a pair of “ears” poking out! 

Maps provided by The Birds of North America Online and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

  • Medium-sized owl; buff-colored facial disks, yellow eyes, white eyebrows, black beak, and conspicuous ear tufts

    Males: whitish-gray with dark brown streaking and barring

    Females: tend to have more dark brown than males

    Young: feathers mostly brown with lighter tips, ear tufts much smaller than adults

  • Female larger than male

    Males 35-38 cm (13.8-15.0 in), Females 37-40 cm (14.6-15.7 in)

    Weight: Males 220-305g (7.8-10.8 oz), Females 260-435g (9.1-15.3 oz)

    Wingspan Both: 90-100cm (35.4-39.4 in)
  • Range: in North America ranges from southern Canada through most of U.S. south to New Mexico; circumpolar in northern hemisphere; northern populations tend to migrate seasonally, while more southern populations are non-migratory

    Habitat: a variety of habitats from dense vegetation to open forests, usually near open land, such as meadows or farm fields

  • Mostly small mammals such as voles and mice, sometimes birds
  • Usually silent except during breeding season

    Males: a long series of “hoo”s every few seconds, alarm call a barking “ooack, ooack, ooack”

    Females: most commonly a soft “shoo-oogh”

  • Nest Site: does not build nests; reuses abandoned nests, or nests in tree cavities, cliffs, or even on the ground

    Eggs: usually 5-7, more if food sources are abundant

    Incubation: 26-28 days
  • Mostly nocturnal, occasionally crepuscular (during breeding season); an active-search hunter, flies silently back and forth; locates prey by hearing (can capture rodents in complete darkness); kills small mammals by biting the back of their head; swallows prey whole

Long-Eared Owl Range Map

Long-Eared Owl Range Map

Long-Eared Owl Audio

Long-Eared Owl Facts

Other Names: Common Long-Eared Owl or Northern Long-Eared Owl
Family: Strigidae
Closest Relative: Short-Eared Owl

Conservation Status

Considered a “species of special concern” in some parts of the U.S., listed as threatened in Iowa, endangered in Illinois.


Learn more about ORI's research on this species.