Long-eared owl

Long-eared owl

©Stefan Johansson

Long-eared owl

Scientific name: Asio otus
Unsurprisingly, the nocturnal long-eared owl sports large 'ear tufts' on its head, while the short-eared owl has much smaller ear tufts. A shy bird, it is best spotted around the coast when migrating, or in its communal winter roosts.

Species information


Length: 35-37cm
Wingspan: 95cm
Weight: 290g
Average lifespan: 4 years

Conservation status

Classified in the UK as Green under the Birds of Conservation Concern 4: the Red List for Birds (2015).

When to see

January to December


Long-eared owls are shy, nocturnal birds of coniferous forests, plantations and mixed woodlands and can be seen in communal roosts of more than 20 birds. Small mammals, such as voles, form the majority of the long-eared owl's diet, but small birds are also important. The long-eared owl hunts out its prey by sweeping clearings and fields in a zig-zag flying pattern, scanning the ground for movement. Once prey is spotted, the owl swoops down and dispatches its victim on the ground by biting the back of the head. Long-eared owls breed from February onwards, laying their eggs in old nests or tree hollows.

How to identify

The long-eared owl is mottled brown, with big, orange-red eyes and long wings. Long 'ear tufts' provide its common name. The similar short-eared owl is paler, with yellow eyes and short ear tufts and is usually found near grassland and saltmarshes.


Breeds across the UK, but fewer birds are found in the South West and Wales. Most likely to be seen on migration at the coast or returning to winter roosts.

Did you know?

The 'ear' tufts of both long- and short-eared owls are not actually ears at all, but feathers that can be raised when the owl is alarmed, or wants to make itself look bigger.

How people can help

The Wildlife Trusts manage many woodland nature reserves for the benefit of the wildlife they support. You can help by supporting your local Trust and becoming a member; you'll find out about exciting wildlife news, events on your doorstep and volunteering opportunities, and will be helping local wildlife along the way.