Owls of Iowa: Long-eared owl

They might be called the long-eared owl (Asio otus), but you actually can't see their ears.

Instead, this state-threatened owl has feathered tufts on top of its head that look like it has long, pointy ears.long-eared owl in a tree

They have a loud call.

Like the great-horned owl, the long-eared owl has a hoot, like we expect from owls. The male's call can sometimes be heard from up to 1 kilometer away. Listen here:

Long-eared owls are truly nocturnal.

The long-eared owl fits into about every description we typically think of with owls, including that it is strictly nocturnal. Its ears position and facial disc amplify sounds so that it has amazing hearing and can hunt in even pitch black darkness.

It eats mostly small mammals and eats them whole, regurgitating indigestible parts such as fur and bone into owl pellets.

They are scarce.

The long-eared owl is state threatened, and it was listed on the 2016 State of North America's Birds' Watch List. However, they have wonderful camouflage and secretive, nocturnal behavior, so their population trends are actually difficult to determine.

They need a mix of grassland --- for foraging --- and wooded areas --- for roosting and nesting --- so they are susceptible to habitat loss.

Long-eared owls are nest stealers.

Instead of making their own nests, long-eared owls will commandeer another bird's nest for their own use --- usually from magpies, crows, ravens and hawks.

According to Cornell University's All About Birds site,

They could be confused for a great-horned owl.

Since they have a hooting call and tufts on top of the head, they could be easily confused for a great-horned owl. However, long-eared owls are smaller. They are about crow-sized, growing up to 15.8 inches in length, weighing an average of 10 ounces and having a wingspan up to 39.4 inches.

Plus, long-eared owls have longer tufts on top of the head. Some people say the long-eared owl always looks surprised because of the length and placement of these tufts.

Great-horned owl

long-eared owl on a tree branch

Long-eared owl



Owls of Iowa: Burrowing owl

The burrowing owl (Athene cunicularia) is certainly an independent creatures amidst Iowa’s other eight owl species. It looks like an owl, but it acts a bit different than others that we have addressed in our Owls of Iowa series. Here are some interesting facts about the burrowing owl: It does indeed burrow. We expect owls Read More »

Read More

Owls of Iowa: Snowy owl

Snowy owls are not constant winter guests in Iowa. Their behavior is known as irruptive, which means they might appear in some winters and not in others. That means that when a snowy owl is spotted, it’s a big deal. Let’s check out some reasons why snowy owls are such a neat bird. 1. Large Read More »

Read More

Owls of Iowa: Barred owl

Even without the tufts of the great horned owl, barred owls (Strix varia) still have that classic owl shape and are easily diagnosed as owls from far away. Their haunting black eyes make them a beautiful addition to the owls of Iowa series. Who cooks for you? The barred owl has one of the most Read More »

Read More

Owls of Iowa: Barn owl

  We’ve talked about the large great horned owl, tiny northern saw-whet owl and adorable eastern screech owl, so this week we moved on to the state endangered barn owl. Barn owls are not federally endangered but their populations are low in Iowa. That could be because of habitat loss and prey loss because of Read More »

Read More

Owls of Iowa: Eastern screech owl

They are called the eastern screech owl (Megascops asio), but that doesn’t mean all you’ll hear from them is screeches. Typically, these small owls only screech when they are defending their nest or fledglings. Otherwise, you will hear a variety of calls, including trills, whinnies, hoots and barks. They even make a clacking sound by Read More »

Read More

Owls of Iowa: Northern saw-whet owl

Great-horned owls may be the most well-known and most common owl in Iowa, but I don’t think there’s any disputing that the northern saw-whet owl is the cutest. Only slightly heavier than a hairy woodpecker and about the size of a robin, the saw-whet owl (Aegolius acadicus) is tiny and adorable. Saw-what owls hide easily. Read More »

Read More

Owls of Iowa: Great horned owl

There are nine species of owls in Iowa, and the great-horned owl (Bubo virgianus) may be the most well-known species. Great-horned owls have the quintessential owl call. When you think owl, you think “Whoooo. Whoooo.” That is actually not the call of every owl but the call of the great-horned owl. You can’t see their Read More »

Read More