Both parts of the scientific name relate to the ear tufts, being derived from the Latin "asio", meaning a kind of horned owl & the Greek "otus", meaning an eared owl.
Long-Eared Owls are found throughout North America, the central band of Europe & Asia & the more northerly reaches of Africa.
Long-Eared Owls are very wary of people & very seldom seen, this makes their populations very difficult to estimate. A survey taken between 1988 & 1991, put estimates between 1620 & 5334 breeding pairs in the UK (including Northern Ireland), though the report admits to the figures being unreliable. The mid-winter population in the UK, which includes visitors, is estimated as anywhere between 10,000 & 35,000 individuals.
Long-Eared Owls are very good at camouflaged posturing to remain hidden. They most often perch close to the trunks of trees, often in coniferous woods, & maintain a tall narrow posture with the ear tufts raised, eyebrows spread & "moustache" feathers raised to hide the beak, so they look like a stubby tree branch, thus hiding themselves effectively. They will also remain very still & are not easily flushed when approached.
Long-Eared Owls prey almost exclusively on small mammals and rodents, but in the winter may prey on small roosting birds, amphibians and invertebrates. They are predominantly nocturnal hunters, relying mainly on their hearing to catch their prey, though they also have extremely good night vision. Although normally silent in flight, Long-Eared Owls have been observed flying low over hedgerows beating their wings to disturb & flush out their prey, particularly roosting songbirds (so have Tawny Owls & Barn Owls).
They prefer woodland conifers as nesting sites, though they are adaptable to local conditions, including marshes & sand-dunes, & will nest on the ground in dense vegetation or tree hollows. They normally use the old nest of another bird, or occassionally an old squirrel drey, rather than build their own nest. Pairs of Long-Eared Owls will tend to occupy the same territory throughout the year, but will tend to use a different nest each year, though they may return to a previous nest after some time. The numbers of eggs laid is dependent on the amount of food available, but is normally around 7, with up to 10 being laid when there is plenty of food available. The eggs are incubated by the female, while the male provides food. Incubation starts when the first egg is laid & lasts for 26-28 days. The young leave the nest at around 24 days after hatching, but cannot fly for around another 10 days.
Long-Eared Owls are very aggressive & will vigourously defend their nesting sites & territory. When disturbed in their nest, even the young act aggressively, leaning forward & spreading their wings clear of the body in a large semi-circle, making them look twice the size they really are. Despite their aggression, they often come off worst from any dispute & are often killed by Tawny Owls (which are smaller), European Eagle Owls, Goshawks & other predators.
The American Ornithologists Union (AOU) reports the longevity record in the wild as just over 11years, but a European ringing study found a Long-Eared Owl that had been shot in Finland that was nearly 18 years old.
In Ancient Greece, the Long-Eared Owl was considered rather unintelligent, & "otus" was used a term for simpletons.
The short-lived RAF 622 Squadron (formed in 1943 at Mildenhall in Suffolk, disbanded in 1945, reformed in 1950 & finally disbanded in 1953) used the Long-Eared Owl on its badge - described as "A long eared owl volant affrontée, carrying in the claws a flash of lightning".
Least Concern (LC)
Species Number : 366.0
Alpha Code : LEOW
Common Name : Long-eared Owl
Longevity Record : 11yrs 1month
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