Although the long-eared owl is a mostly solitary species, it is known to roost communally in groups of 2 to 20, and may also form small nesting colonies. This species typically hunts during the night, but often begins activity at dusk, especially during the breeding season. Small mammals form the major part of the long-eared owl’s diet, especially voles, although birds may be an important source of food in some areas. The long-eared owl is a highly proficient hunter, relying on sound to locate prey, and can even catch mice in complete darkness (2). It actively seeks out prey, flying noiselessly on a zigzag path through open woodland and over clearings and fields (2) (5). Prey is usually taken on the ground, with the long-eared owl swooping down and dispatching its victim by biting the back of the skull, before swallowing the animal whole (2).
The long-eared owl breeds between February and July. Breeding pairs are typically monogamous, although polygyny is also known to occur. Pairs normally utilise abandoned nests of other birds, but may also use cavities in trees and cliffs, or even build a nest on the ground. A clutch of five to seven eggs is laid (more if food is abundant), which are incubated by the female for 26 to 28 days, while the male supplies food. In a behaviour known as “branching”, chicks leave the nest before being able to fly and reside in surrounding vegetation, roosting separately, and thereby potentially reducing predation. While the young are capable of flight at around 35 days, both parents continue to provide food for several weeks after fledging. The long-eared owl reaches sexual maturity at around one year old, and has been known to live for up to 27 years in the wild (2).
While some populations of the long-eared owl are resident throughout the year, others make local seasonal movements in response to prey availability or even lengthy migrations. Some European breeding populations, for example, winter as far south as Egypt (2).