Birds – American Long Eared Owl

Called also : CAT OWL

Length—14 to 16 inches; female the larger.

Male and Female—Conspicuous blackish ear tufts bordered by white and buff; upper parts dusky brown, finely mottled with ash and dull orange; facial disk pale reddish brown with darker inner circle and yellow eyes; under parts mixed white and buff, the breast with long brown stripes, the sides and underneath irregularly barred with dusky; dark broken bands on wings and tail; legs and feet completely feathered; bill and claws blackish.

Range—Temperate North America; nesting throughout its range. Season—Permanent resident.

A strictly nocturnal prowler, unlike its short-eared relative that hunts much by day, the long-eared owl keeps concealed through the hours of sunshine in the woods, the alder swamps, or high, dry, shady undergrowth, giving no hint by sign or sound of its hiding place. Come upon one suddenly, and by pressing its feathers close to its body, erecting its ear tufts, and sitting erect, it doubtless hopes to be overlooked as a part of the weather-beaten tree on which it is perching, since its thick, downy, mottled plumage might readily be mistaken for rough bark; but as it blinks its staring eyes knowingly, it looks amusingly like a mischievous, round-faced joker, half bird, half human. It is not easily frightened away, and is ever peaceably disposed. To look formidable when liberties are taken with it, it may ruffle up its feathers until its circumference is doubled; but nothing happens, unless it be a noiseless gliding off among the trees to another perch.

At nightfall, it flies with almost uncanny softness, skimming along the ground, exploring leafy avenues and grassy meadows and swamps; its wide, staring eyes, immovably fixed in the sockets, scanning the hunting ground, as the head, inclined down-ward, turns now this way, now that. Shy, skulking mice, pounced upon unawares by the silent prowler, other small mammals, and very rarely a bird, are carried off in the talons, to be devoured at leisure. Like other owls, this species flies slowly and almost uncertainly, but with a buoyancy that gives no suggestion of effort.

About three-fourths of all nests reported are those built by crows and afterward permanently appropriated by the cat owl. It almost never builds for itself; even a squirrel’s nest is prefer-able to one of its own construction. Three to six white eggs require about three weeks of close incubation.

It is chiefly at the nesting season that these usually silent birds lift up their voices. ” When at ease and not molested,” says Captain Bendire, “the few notes which I have heard them utter are low toned and rather pleasing than otherwise. One of these is a soft-toned wu-hunk, wu-hunk, slowly and several times repeated. . . Another is a low, twittering, whistling note, like dicky, dicky, dicky, quite different from anything usually expected from the owl family. In the early spring they hoot somewhat like a screech owl, and may often be heard on a still evening; but their notes are more subdued than those of the latter.” The most common cry of the long-eared owl, the one that has given it its popular name, is a prolonged me-ow-ow-ow, so like a cat’s cry that it would seem folly for a bird that lives chiefly on mice to utter it.