Long-eared owl

Country Life Every Week - - Contents - Edited by Vic­to­ria Marston Il­lus­tra­tion by Bill Dono­hoe

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-re­ KBH

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