Friday, October 12, 2012

Owl of the Week: Long-Eared Owl
Remember when I wrote about the characteristics of owls, and how some owls have ear tufts, and others don't?  Well, here's the king of the tufted owls for you: the Long-Eared Owl.  While it's apparent where the owl gets its name, keep in mind that the ear tufts are just feathers, not ears.  However, this is one of those cool situations where the Long-Eared Owl, though named after its feather tufts, actually has long ears, too.   Kind of.  Owls don't have any external ear, so the ear is essentially a hole going into the head.  With many raptors, this hole is small, about the size of a pea.  In owls, the hole is larger.  In Long-Eared Owls, the hole is massive.  Check it out:
Ears aside, the rest of the Long-Eared Owl is pretty awesome, too.  They're smallish owls, only about a third of the size of me, so they weigh half a pound to one pound.  They are rather tall and skinny for owls, and their tall profile topped with the tall ear tufts helps them blend into tree bark and branches.  
Can you see the owl?  (

One of my personal favorite things about Long-Eared Owls, including the educational ambassador Long-Eared Owl here at the RMRP, is their facial expression.  Okay, it's not really an expression, it's just the way they look.  Great Horned Owls like me always appear angry because of our markings and feathers, and Long-Eared Owls always look surprised.  Surprised might not be right...perhaps appalled?  You decide:

But make no mistake: despite their slightly giggle-inspiring miens, they are fierce and capable wild creatures.  These birds are very adept at defending themselves and their nests in myriad ways, including posturing to make themselves look huge, acting injured to draw attention away from a nest, hissing and clacking the beak, and, of course, flying at their attacker feet-first.  Their feet are relatively small, but the needle-like talons are plenty sharp and long enough to catch and kill their favorite prey:  small rodents that recklessly leave the safety of their burrows at night.
Long-Eared Owls are widespread throughout the United States and southern Canada, as well as in Europe and parts of Asia.  There are even a few pockets of Long-Eared Owls in East Africa.  They live in forested and vegetated areas, and nest in the abandoned nests of other birds.  Though not on any T&E lists, the Long-Eared Owl is subject to the same dangers that threaten all owls in populated areas:  car strikes, poisoning, illegal shooting, entanglement in barbed wire, and more.  The RMRP admits Long-Eared Owls infrequently, generally no more than one or two a year.  Along with all birds that come through the doors, they receive the best care possible to help them get back out to the wild.

That's all I have for you this time.  Tune in next week to learn about the Short-Eared Owl, the close cousin of the Long-Eared Owl.  As always, you can email me with questions or comments at, follow me on Twitter @RaptorProgram, check us out on Facebook (Rocky Mountain Raptor Program), and find out more information and stories on our main website (which is brand new and shiny!).  If you would like to subscribe to this blog, use the box in the toolbar to the right.  Thanks for reading and supporting the RMRP!

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