Long-eared Owl

Asio otus

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The long-eared owl is found almost throughout Europe and is one of the most common species of owl. It is slim and resembles both the barn and tawny owls in size. Among its striking features are the luminescent orange eyes, the prominent ear tufts and the light, sand-colored facial discs. These are rimmed black. A broad and light-coloured “X” covers the middle of the face. The plumage is similar to that of the horned owl: a light brown, sandy to yellow ochre upperparts mottled with black-brown markings. The female plumage tends to be characterised by darker, rufous feathers while the slightly smaller males are lighter in colour. Both legs and feet are covered in feathers as well as the four talons, the fourth being so formed as to be able to swivel backwards. The compact-looking head can turn through up to 270 ° in both directions. Long-eared owls are well camouflaged and, therefore, difficult to spot. However, its mating call, the sing-song of the young owls or its regurgitated pellets give it away. The crepuscular long-eared owl hunts both perched and on the wing during dusk and at night. It hunts relatively close to the ground, preying primarily upon field mice. It requires a loosely-vegetated and open habitat with shrubs and low undergrowth. A fellow inhabitant of our anthropogenic landscapes, it will roost in parks and cemeteries. During winter, they gather on trees in groups, collectively known as a “parliament” (perhaps alluding to the commonly-received though perhaps erroneous notion that owls are wise) where they form communal roosts. These trees are always revisited and the birds retain a minimal physical distance from one another. Rather than build their own nests, long-eared owls will use the vacated nests of other birds of prey, crows or magpies. The female lays a clutch of 4 to 6 white eggs over two days and incubates them for a further 27 to 28 days. The male provides for the female and the chicks, which leave the nest after between 21 and 30 days. At this point they cannot yet fly and so they climb amongst the branches as “branchlings,” being guided by the parent birds. During dusk and at night, they repeat their calls at regular, short intervals, thereby communicating their presence to the parent birds as well as their siblings. They fly the nest after about 11 weeks.

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