Long Eared Owl Vs Great Horned Owl

Last Updated on April 22, 2023 by naime

The long eared owl and great horned owl are two of the most well-known owls in North America. These two species have captured the attention of researchers, naturalists, and bird enthusiasts for decades due to their unique physical characteristics and behaviors.

The long eared owl (Asio otus) is a medium-sized owl with distinctive ear tufts that sit upright on its head. Meanwhile, the great horned owl (Bubo virginianus) is one of the largest owls found in North America, recognizable by its large size, prominent ear tufts, and yellow eyes. Despite sharing some similarities in appearance, these two species differ significantly in habitat preferences, hunting strategies, vocalizations, and mating behavior. In this article, we will explore the differences between the long-eared owl and great horned owl to provide an insight into their ecology and behavior.

Physical Characteristics Of Long Eared Owls

The Long Eared Owl (Asio otus) is a medium-sized owl with distinct physical characteristics that set it apart from other species within its family. Their unique features make them easily identifiable, even when they are perched high up in trees or camouflaged against the bark.

One of the most prominent physical characteristics of the Long Eared Owl is their ear tufts. These tufts are not actually ears; rather, they are feathers that protrude above each eye and can be raised or lowered depending on the bird’s mood. The purpose of these ear-like tufts is to enhance their camouflage by breaking up their profile and resembling broken tree branches.

Another notable feature of this owl species is their facial disk, which helps direct sound towards their ears. This adaptation allows for excellent hearing capabilities, making them skilled predators both during day and night time hours. Moreover, they have large eyes relative to their head size, allowing them to see very well in low-light conditions.

Long Eared Owls possess fluffy plumage that varies in color from rusty brown to grayish-brown with black streaks throughout. They have long wings that taper at the tips, suited for silent flight while hunting prey such as rodents and small mammals. Additionally, males tend to be smaller than females but exhibit no significant differences in appearance between sexes.

In summary, the Long Eared Owl possesses several distinct physical attributes that enable it to thrive in its natural habitat successfully. From earlike tufts enhancing camouflage to acute hearing abilities aided by facial disks and big eyes along with muted feather patterns perfect for stealthy hunting tactics – all come together perfectly for an expert predator like Asio otus!

Physical Characteristics Of Great Horned Owls

Great Horned Owls are one of the largest owl species in North America. They can reach a height of 25 inches and have a wingspan of up to five feet. Their feathers come in various shades of brown, gray, and white, which helps them blend into their surroundings for camouflage.

One defining characteristic of Great Horned Owls is their prominent ear tufts or "horns," which aren’t actually ears at all but rather tufts of feathers that aid in communication and display. These owls also have large yellow eyes with black pupils, allowing them to see in low light conditions. Additionally, they have sharp talons that help them capture prey such as rodents, rabbits, and even other birds.

Great Horned Owls are known for their distinctive hooting call; however, they also make a variety of other sounds including hissing, screeching, and barking noises. They are territorial birds that mate for life and defend their nesting sites fiercely. In fact, some studies suggest that these owls may be responsible for up to 70% of all raptor attacks on humans.

Overall, Great Horned Owls are powerful predators with impressive physical characteristics that allow them to hunt effectively both day and night. Their unique appearance and vocalizations make them easily recognizable among other bird species in the wild.

Habitat Preferences Of Long Eared Owls

Perched atop a tree, the long-eared owl resembles an arrowhead. Its slender body and pointed wings make it an agile hunter in the thick forests where it thrives. The species is known for its preference for dense woodlands with tall trees that offer protection from predators while providing ample opportunities to hunt prey.

Long eared owls are most commonly found roosting in evergreen trees or groves of aspen, birch, or cottonwood trees during breeding season. They prefer habitats near water sources such as streams or wetlands which provide ideal hunting grounds for small mammals like rodents and rabbits. Long-eared owls have also been observed nesting on cliffs, rock outcroppings, and even abandoned buildings.

Studies suggest that these birds rely heavily on their hearing abilities to locate prey since they lack well-developed eyesight compared to other owl species. Their habitat preferences reflect this reliance on sound as they tend to avoid areas with high levels of human noise pollution. Additionally, conservation efforts aimed at preserving old-growth forest stands may benefit long-eared owl populations given their preference for mature woodland habitats.

To further understand the habitat preferences of long-eared owls:

  • Research has shown that male long-eared owls require larger territories than females due to competition for resources.
  • A study conducted in Montana found that the presence of snags (dead standing trees) positively influenced nest site selection by long-eared owls.
  • During winter months, long-eared owls may move to lower elevations where there is less snow cover and more abundant food sources.
  • Habitat fragmentation caused by deforestation can negatively impact long-eared owl populations by reducing available nesting sites and disrupting established territories.

Overall, understanding the specific requirements necessary for maintaining healthy populations of long-eared owls is crucial for effective conservation planning. By protecting their preferred habitats through measures such as land management practices and reduced human disturbance, we can ensure that these remarkable birds continue to thrive in the forests they call home.

Habitat Preferences Of Great Horned Owls

Great Horned Owls are found to inhabit a variety of habitats, including both forested and urban areas. Forests with large trees, open meadows and wetlands provide a suitable habitat for the Great Horned Owl, as they offer potential roost and nesting sites. Urban habitats also provide suitable habitat for Great Horned Owls, as they are able to find various food sources that are available in these areas. Studies have shown that the Great Horned Owl is a more adaptable species than the Long-Eared Owl and is more successful in urban areas.

Forested Habitats

Forested habitats play a crucial role in the habitat preferences of great horned owls. These adaptable birds can live in a variety of forest types, including deciduous and coniferous forests. They prefer areas with dense canopy cover that provides protection from predators and shelter from inclement weather.

The long-eared owl is also found in forested habitats but prefers different microhabitats within these ecosystems than the great horned owl. Long-eared owls are highly associated with mature forests characterized by large trees and an open understory for hunting small mammals. In contrast, great horned owls occupy more diverse habitats, ranging from urban parks to rural forests.

Despite their differences in preferred microhabitat, both species rely on healthy forest ecosystems for survival. Forest fragmentation and degradation have led to declines in populations of both species across North America. Conservation efforts aimed at preserving or restoring forest connectivity can help ensure suitable habitat remains available for these iconic bird species.

In summary, while both long-eared and great horned owls use forested habitats as part of their life history strategy, they differ somewhat in their specific habitat requirements within those systems. Nonetheless, protecting intact and connected forest landscapes will benefit not only these two owl species but many other wildlife species as well.

Urban Habitats

Great horned owls are known for their adaptability and ability to thrive in a variety of habitats, including urban areas. These adaptable birds have been able to successfully colonize parks, gardens, golf courses, cemeteries, and other human-modified landscapes. They can be found nesting on buildings or using streetlights as lookout posts.

Urban environments provide great horned owls with a consistent food source through small mammals such as rodents and rabbits that thrive in these areas. Additionally, these areas often have fewer predators than natural environments which allow the owl’s population to grow more easily. However, noise pollution from traffic and people can interfere with the great horned owl’s communication during breeding season.

Despite their success in urban areas, it is important to note that these modified habitats cannot replace natural forest ecosystems permanently. Urbanization leads to habitat fragmentation which can harm genetic diversity by isolating populations. Therefore conservation efforts should prioritize maintaining healthy forests while also taking into account the need for wildlife corridors within cities.

In conclusion, while great horned owls may use urban habitats due to its convenient access to prey species and reduced predation risks they do not substitute for properly managed ecosystem function. The preservation of intact forest landscapes should remain a priority for long term protection of this species’ existence despite their current adaptivity towards city life.

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Hunting Strategies Of Long Eared Owls

The long-eared owl (Asio otus) is a nocturnal bird of prey that inhabits open woodlands, grasslands, and marshes across North America. Like other owls, it hunts primarily at night using its excellent vision and hearing to locate prey. Long-eared owls are known for their unique hunting strategies which include perching on low branches or fence posts and flying close to the ground while listening for small mammals.

Long-eared owls have specialized feathers on their wings that allow them to fly silently through the air, making it easier to sneak up on unsuspecting prey. Once they have located their target, they use their sharp talons to snatch it up with precision. Common prey items for long-eared owls include mice, voles, shrews, and other small rodents.

In addition to traditional hunting methods, long-eared owls also employ a tactic known as "still-hunting". During this technique, the owl will perch motionless in a tree or shrub near an area where it knows there are potential prey items. It then waits patiently until one comes within range before swooping down quickly to catch it.

Overall, the hunting strategies of long-eared owls make them highly effective hunters in both wooded and open environments. Their ability to fly silently combined with their keen senses allows them to capture even the tiniest of prey items with ease. This makes them an important part of many ecosystems by helping to control rodent populations which can cause damage to crops and gardens.

Hunting Strategies Of Great Horned Owls

Great Horned Owls are formidable predators that use a variety of hunting strategies to capture their prey. Their silent flight and keen senses make them one of the most efficient nocturnal hunters in North America.

One of the Great Horned Owl’s signature hunting techniques involves stealthily approaching its prey from behind and striking with powerful talons. This method is particularly effective against small mammals, such as rabbits or rodents, which the owl can quickly dispatch with a swift blow.

Another hunting strategy employed by Great Horned Owls is perch-hunting, where they wait patiently on elevated areas for unsuspecting prey to pass below. They then swoop down with lightning-fast speed to catch their target before it has time to react.

In addition to these tactics, Great Horned Owls have been known to steal food from other birds, including smaller owls. These opportunistic hunters will also scavenge carrion when necessary, demonstrating an adaptive approach to survival in harsh environments.

Vocalizations Of Long Eared Owls

The pitch of the vocalizations of the Long Eared Owl is lower than that of the Great Horned Owl. The volume of the Long Eared Owl’s vocalizations is also lower than that of the Great Horned Owl. Long Eared Owls often sing duets with one another as part of their courtship behavior. Territorial calls of Long Eared Owls can vary in pitch and volume, and they often include hooting, whinnying and barking. Long Eared Owls also have a varied repertoire of contact calls and flocking calls. Long Eared Owls may also mimic the sounds of other birds, as well as chittering, kekking, and purring.


Long eared owls, like other owl species, communicate through vocalizations. The pitch of their calls plays a crucial role in conveying information to conspecifics and potential predators or prey. These birds produce a range of sounds, including hoots, trills, barks, and screeches. Pitch is one of the most distinguishing features of long-eared owl vocalizations.

The fundamental frequency of long-eared owl calls ranges from 600 to 1300 Hz, with individual variation based on age, sex, size, and location. Males typically have lower-pitched calls than females and juveniles. Long-eared owls use variations in pitch to signal aggression, mating readiness, territorial boundaries, alarm calls or distress signals when they feel threatened by an intruder.

Research has shown that long-eared owl chicks also modify their begging call pitches according to hunger levels; higher pitched notes are associated with greater food demand. Furthermore, adult males may advertise their status as high-quality mates by producing low-frequency hoots at dawn during breeding season.

In comparison to great horned owls which usually have deeper voices because they possess larger syrinxes (the sound-producing organ) located at the base of the trachea while long-eared owls generally sing more often than their larger cousins but tend towards higher frequency pitches. It’s important for researchers studying bird behavior to understand how these differences in vocals between two closely related species can affect predator-prey relationships and interspecies competition within forest ecosystems where both species occur together.


Long-eared owls, like many other bird species, communicate through vocalizations. In the previous subtopic, we discussed how pitch plays a crucial role in conveying information to conspecifics and potential predators or prey. However, volume is another important aspect of long-eared owl vocalizations that can affect communication within their species.

Long-eared owls are known for having relatively quiet calls compared to other owl species. Their hoots have been described as soft and gentle, barely audible from a distance of 50 meters away. This low volume may be due to the fact that these birds primarily hunt small mammals such as rodents which they need to approach silently to avoid detection.

However, researchers have found evidence suggesting that long-eared owls do modify their call volumes depending on various factors. For example, males may increase the volume of their hoots during territorial disputes with other males or when advertising their status as high-quality mates during breeding season. Similarly, females may produce louder alarm calls if they feel threatened by an intruder near their nest site.

Interestingly, some studies suggest that long-eared owl chicks also adjust the volume of their begging calls based on hunger levels. Chicks with higher food demands tend to produce more intense and persistent vocalizations than those who are already well-fed. These findings highlight the importance of considering both pitch and volume when studying avian vocalizations and understanding how they contribute to reproductive success and survival in different ecological contexts.


Long-eared owls have a variety of vocalizations that they use to communicate with conspecifics and potential predators or prey. In addition to pitch and volume, researchers have also investigated the phenomenon of duetting in these birds.

Duetting is a behavior where male and female birds sing together in coordinated sequences. While it has been observed in many bird species, including some owl species like the Eastern screech-owl, it was not clear whether long-eared owls also engage in this behavior until recently.

A study published in 2019 found evidence of duetting among pairs of breeding long-eared owls. The researchers recorded vocalizations from multiple breeding pairs and analyzed their spectrograms to identify patterns of coordination between males and females.

They found that males typically initiated duets by producing two hoots followed by a longer trill, which was then matched by the female’s own hoot-trill sequence. The timing between each partner’s vocalization was precise, suggesting that duetting may serve as an important signal for pair bonding and/or territory defense.

Overall, this study provides new insights into the complex vocal communication system of long-eared owls and highlights how further research can shed light on the ecological and evolutionary significance of various vocalizations.

Vocalizations Of Great Horned Owls

Great horned owls, also known as Bubo virginianus, are a species of owl commonly found in North and South America. They have an array of vocalizations that they use to communicate with each other and defend their territories. These vocalizations include hoots, barks, screeches, hisses, and grunts.

One of the most recognizable calls of great horned owls is the deep hooting sound which can be heard across long distances. This call is usually performed by males during breeding season to attract females and defend their territory from other males. The pitch of this hoot varies depending on the individual bird but typically consists of three to eight notes.

In addition to the hoots, great horned owls make a range of other sounds such as barks or yelps when they feel threatened or disturbed. When defending its nest or young ones against predators like raccoons or snakes, it will produce loud screeching noises accompanied by wings flapping aggressively.

Finally, another notable vocalization made by these birds is a low-pitched growl used when they feel cornered or trapped. This growling sound is produced by vibrating air sacs located at the sides of their necks while snapping their bills together repeatedly.

Overall, great horned owls exhibit remarkable diversity in their vocal repertoire reflecting complex social behavior and communication within their populations. Understanding these vocalizations helps scientists better understand how these animals interact with each other and adapt to changing environmental conditions over time.

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Mating Behavior Of Long Eared Owls

The Great Horned Owl’s vocalizations are a defining characteristic of this species. Known for their deep, resonating hoots and screeches, these calls can be heard echoing through the night in forests across North America. The male owl typically initiates vocalization to establish territory or attract mates while females respond with higher-pitched calls. These vocalizations also serve as a warning to potential predators.

In contrast, Long Eared Owls have much quieter vocalizations, consisting mostly of soft hooting sounds. Despite their subdued nature, these owls possess keen hearing abilities that allow them to locate prey even in complete darkness. Their hunting strategy is similar to that of other owl species; they use stealth and surprise attacks to catch small mammals such as mice and voles.

Mating behavior among Long Eared Owls is complex and often involves elaborate courtship rituals. Male owls will perform impressive flight displays by soaring high into the air before rapidly descending towards the female in an attempt to impress her. Once paired, males may bring food offerings to the female as part of their courtship display. Nesting occurs between late winter and early spring when pairs construct nests made from twigs and vegetation.

Overall, despite some similarities in habitat preference and diet between Great Horned Owls and Long Eared Owls, there are notable differences in their behaviors and characteristics. While Great Horned Owls utilize loud vocalizations for territorial purposes, Long Eared Owls rely on quiet communication skills but exhibit more intricate mating customs involving flight displays and offering gifts during courtship. Understanding these distinctions helps us appreciate the diversity within owl populations while providing insight into how different factors influence evolution within bird species.

Mating Behavior Of Great Horned Owls

The mating behavior of Great Horned Owls is a subject that has intrigued wildlife biologists and ornithologists for decades. These majestic birds are known for their distinctive hoots, which they use to communicate with one another during the breeding season. The courtship process usually begins in late fall or early winter when pairs start vocalizing together.

During this time, males will also engage in elaborate displays designed to impress females. This can include puffing up their feathers, bowing deeply, and swaying back and forth on branches. Once a pair has formed, they will often roost close together throughout the winter months until it’s time to nest.

Great Horned Owls typically mate for life and will return to the same nesting site year after year. Both parents play an active role in raising their young, with females laying 1-4 eggs which hatch approximately 30 days later. After hatching, the chicks are brooded by the female while the male brings food to the nest.

Overall, the mating behavior of Great Horned Owls is a fascinating topic that highlights the intricate social lives of these birds. Their lifelong partnerships and cooperative parenting strategies give us insight into how animals form relationships and navigate complex family dynamics without human intervention.

Frequently Asked Questions

Which Owl Is More Commonly Found In Urban Areas?

Urban areas are home to a variety of wildlife, including owls. While both long-eared and great horned owls have been reported in urban environments, the latter is more commonly found due to its adaptability and versatility. Great horned owls have a broad diet that includes small mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and even other raptors. This makes them well-suited for thriving in different habitats, from forests to suburban neighborhoods. Additionally, their nocturnal habits make them less visible than diurnal species during peak human activity hours. However, it’s worth noting that habitat destruction and fragmentation can negatively impact owl populations. As such, conservation efforts should be put into place to protect these majestic creatures living amongst us in our cities.

Can Long Eared Owls And Great Horned Owls Mate And Produce Offspring?

The mating and producing of offspring between two different owl species is known as hybridization. In the case of long eared owls and great horned owls, there have been reported instances of hybridization in the wild. However, these cases are relatively rare due to differences in breeding seasons and habitat preferences. Additionally, hybrids often suffer from reduced fitness and reproductive success compared to purebred individuals, which may limit their survival in the long term. Overall, while it is technically possible for long eared owls and great horned owls to mate and produce offspring, such occurrences are infrequent and generally not considered significant factors influencing population dynamics or conservation efforts for either species.

How Do Long Eared Owls And Great Horned Owls Differ In Terms Of Their Nesting Habits?

Long eared owls and great horned owls differ in their nesting habits. Long eared owls prefer to nest in dense coniferous forests with tall trees, often using abandoned nests of other birds or squirrels. They also tend to group together during the breeding season, forming loose colonies. In contrast, great horned owls are more adaptable and can be found nesting in a variety of habitats including forests, deserts, and even urban areas. They typically build their own nests on sturdy branches or rocky outcroppings and do not form large breeding colonies like long eared owls. Overall, these two owl species demonstrate distinct preferences for nesting habitat and social behavior during the breeding season.

Do Long Eared Owls And Great Horned Owls Migrate To Different Locations During Different Times Of The Year?

Ornithologists have discovered that long eared owls and great horned owls exhibit different migratory patterns. Long eared owls tend to be more nomadic in nature, with some individuals migrating southward during the winter months while others remain in their breeding range year-round. Great horned owls, on the other hand, are known to be resident birds that typically do not migrate at all. However, there may be instances where some populations of great horned owls will move short distances for better food sources or environmental conditions. Further research is necessary to fully understand the specific movements and behaviors of these fascinating avian species.

Which Owl Has A More Varied Diet, The Long Eared Owl Or The Great Horned Owl?

The great horned owl (Bubo virginianus) is known to have a more varied diet than the long-eared owl (Asio otus). This species of owl has been observed feeding on small mammals, such as rodents and rabbits, as well as birds, reptiles, amphibians, and even invertebrates. The ability to adapt its diet to different prey availability allows it to thrive in various habitats across North America. On the other hand, the long-eared owl primarily feeds on small mammals such as voles and mice. While they may occasionally take birds or insects as prey, their diet is less diverse compared to that of the great horned owl. Overall, dietary diversity can be an important factor in determining an owl’s success in surviving and reproducing within its habitat.


Long eared owls and great horned owls are two of the most commonly found owl species in North America. Both of these nocturnal predators have distinct characteristics that make them easily identifiable, but they differ in many ways.

In terms of habitat preference, long-eared owls tend to be more common in urban areas than their counterpart due to their ability to adapt better to human habitation. However, both species can inhabit a wide range of habitats from forests to grasslands. Although it is possible for long eared owls and great horned owls to mate and produce offspring, this occurrence is rare as mating typically occurs between individuals within their own species.

The nesting habits of these two species also vary significantly. Long-eared owls prefer to nest in dense trees or shrubs while great horned owls often use abandoned nests made by other birds or even squirrels. Furthermore, long-eared owls migrate from northern regions during winter months while great horned owls remain year-round residents throughout much of North America.

When it comes to diet choice, the great-horned owl has a more varied palate compared with the long-eared owl which primarily feeds on small rodents such as mice and voles. Great horned owls will eat almost anything smaller than themselves including rabbits, skunks, snakes, insects and even other bird species!

In conclusion, although these two owl species may appear similar at first glance; differences exist when examining various aspects such as habitat preferences, breeding patterns and diet choices. Whether you’re an ornithologist seeking adventure or simply someone who enjoys nature’s beauty – understanding how wildlife coexists within our ecosystems is fascinating!

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