Are you a night owl? About every night, I wake up, do a little reading or writing and go back to sleep. One of my friends, also a night owl, walks his dog about 10 p.m. He sees and hears great horned owls near his house. This article is about long-eared and short-eared owls. It is really helpful to know their calls, since they are active at night.
Long and short-eared owls don't hoot. They make a sound with their wings and their carpal bones. The bones hit each other when the owls are flying.
In courtship, the male flies slowly in a zigzag pattern and touches his wings together under his body. It glides from a branch, flies very low and then climbs in altitude fast to another branch. There, he'll feed a female in courting.
This long-eared owl is well camouflaged in a spruce tree.
Photo by Bob Paucelli
When the female is successfully wooed, she will select a site for a nest. Often that would be in an abandoned nest of a large bird like a crow, hawk, heron, raven or squirrel's drey. Those would be found in both coniferous forests and mixed forests where deciduous trees are also present. Look for the nests also in parks, orchards and farms with woodlands. Less often, they might scrape an area on the ground. The nest is made of small sticks, inner bark strips and pine needles. Sometimes, they will nest in colonies. The closeness of these nests will depend on the availability of food.
The female will lay four to five eggs. The male again feeds her during this period. The young hatch in about 26-28 days. These chicks are born immobile with their eyes closed. They are fed by their parents for about 56-63 days.
Hunting at night, they mostly find rodents, in fields, to eat. However, amphibians, reptiles, fish and insects are rare alternatives. After eating, they will eject a pellet containing the crushed bones that could not be digested. When you walk in the woods, always be on the lookout for these pellets. However, don't forget that it is illegal to collect any bird feathers, pellets or bones.
How do the short-eared owls compare with the long-eared owls? Habitat, for one thing. Short-eareds like grasslands as in prairies and meadows, tundra, marshes and savannas.
In courtship, the males also soar with their wings clapping below the body. They also start very high and swoop down to the female. Their wings are held back, and they call at the same time. The last courtship practice is the male feeding the female.
The nest is near the ground, hidden by low plants. Rarely, it might place it in a hole in the ground. Like the long-eared owls, they prefer rodents. The best time to look for them is at dawn and dusk, when they hunt. Like the long-ears, they migrate to south and central Mexico for the winter.
As we need to preserve woodlands for the long-eared owls, we need to also save natural grasslands for the short-ears. From 1976-86, the latter were on the Blue List, because of man's cultivating their foraging areas.
Short-eared owls are irruptive, because they follow the rodent populations. If there is enough food, they might even hunt with other owls. In those areas, with abundant food, they mate and breed.
These birds will try to trick you from getting too close to their nests by pretending that they have broken wings. That reminds me of the killdeer distracting you away from their nests.
These birds are not here year-round, like the great-horned owls. Both the long and short-eared owls migrate to south and central Mexico.
Owls are treasures in our area. We need to save their habitats. It would be good if farmers did not cultivate all their meadows. Also, some forests should be left untouched by lumbermen.