SPRING approaches and the birds are pairing up, including one of the most enigmatic of our native avians, the longeared owl. Even its name is a misrepresentation—those remarkable ‘ears’ that somehow increase its appearance of sagacity are not the real ears, but feather tufts that can be raised or flattened at will, having a role in communication, as well as assisting its camouflage when hanging out in the treetops.
Roosting is something this owl does a lot, but it’s still one of the most difficult owls for birders to spot, for the plumage—brokenup dabs of charcoal, tobacco, fawn, burntumber and grey—is a perfectly brindled disguise up in the branches, where it will sit silently snoozing or watching for hours at a time. The species is more abundant in northern regions than the south, largely due to their preference for coniferous woods. It’s also because tawny owls, widespread in southern counties, aggressively drive out their tufted cousins.
Long-eared owls are not given to nesting in tree cavities, but choose open accommodation, such as the abandoned nests of magpies and other corvids or a former squirrel’s drey. If no such nests are available, open baskets fastened in the trees may attract Asio otus to raise her family near you; helpful directions are shown in the projects section at www.wildlife-research.eu. KBH