Do owls really have ears? Yes, all birds have ears! However, birds’ ears are actually openings hidden beneath the feathers behind their eyes. The so called “ears” that the Long-Eared Owl is named for are really just tufts of feathers atop its head. Researchers believe that these tufts may help them blend into their surroundings. There are several species of owls that share this feature, including the more common Great-Horned Owl. So how can you tell a Long-Eared Owl from a Great-Horned Owl? These two owl species can be distinguished by their size (Great-Horned Owls are much larger than Long-Eared Owls), and also by the shape of their ear tufts. Great-Horned Owls’ ear tufts are widely spaced and face outwards, while Long-Eared Owls’ tufts stand close together and upright.
Though the two owls’ habitats can overlap, Great-Horned Owls prefer tall trees in dense forests, while Long-Eared Owls are commonly found in thick brushy areas. Long-Eared Owls have an interesting relationship with some of their neighbors; instead of building their own nests, these resourceful owls will reuse the stick-nests of Corvids like Magpies, Crows, and Ravens. In the winter, Long-Eared Owls often roost communally in groups of 2 to 20. Early spring, before the leaves are out, is a great time to find their large nests. If you find one, look carefully, and you just might see a pair of “ears” poking out!
Maps provided by The Birds of North America Online and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.