The Long Eared Owl
 Morris's British Birds 1891
 Scanned by
Previous Preview Back to thumbnails Next Preview

Long Eared Owl
Image Title: Long Eared Owl
Description: Long-eared Owl (Asio otus)

Previous Preview Back to thumbnails Next Preview

Strix otus, LINNAEUS. LATHAM. Otus vulgaris, FLEMING. SELBY. Strix—Some species of Owl. Ous, (plural ota)—An ear.

As wisdom is certainly both more to be acquired by, and more to be considered to exist as the consequence of hearing, than of any other of the senses, the 'ears' of this species may have been the procuring cause of the agnomen of the 'Bird of wisdom' attaching to its kind. It might, however, possibly be objected to this theory, that if it were correct, the ass should be deemed the wisest of animals. The Long-eared Owl is plentiful in many countries of all the four quarters of the globe. In Europe it occurs in Denmark, Russia., Sweden, Norway, France, Italy, Greece, and its Islands; Turkey, Malta, Portugal, Sicily, and Spain. In Asia, in Arabia, Persia, Georgia, Palestine, Japan, China, and India, in Nepaul, Cashmere, in the low jungles near Delhi, and thence to the Punjaub. In Africa, in Egypt, Algeria, the Azores, and the Canary Islands. In this country it is generally distributed, though nowhere numerous. In the fir woods north-east of York it is to be pretty commonly met with, and occurs, among other places, near Barnsley, Huddersfield, and Halifax, and in various parts of the county, but is gradually becoming more scarce. One in Ampney Down, Gloucestershire, in 1868. In Oxfordshire at Wroxton, and Kings Sutton. In Cornwall it has not been uncommon; several were obtained about the year 1867, from the neighbourhood of Penwarne. It is also a resident in Ireland, in Kildare, etc; and Scotland, as in Gladsmuir woods. East Lothian, and on to Caithness.
It has occurred in the Orkneys, and once in Shetland in October, 1868, to further in the Ferroe Islands and Iceland, also in Guernsey and Sark.
This Owl is not only a nocturnal, but occasionally, and even in bright sunshine, a diurnal feeder: for the most part, however, it keeps quiet by day. It is readily tamed, and affords much amusement by the many grotesque attitudes it assumes, to which its ears and eyes give piquancy. It may often be detected with a small orifice left through which it is peeping when its eyes would seem to be shut, and it has the singular faculty of being able to close one eye while the other is not shut, so that it may appear to be 'wide awake' on one side, while apparently asleep on the other, or, if asleep, may be so literally 'with one eye open.' The ears are raised by any excitement; at other times they are depressed. If attacked it makes a vigorous defence, throwing itself on its back, striking with its claws, and hissing and snapping with its bill. If provoked only, it merely makes a querulous noise. A friend of Mr. Thompson's, of Belfast, kept this and the preceding species instead of cats, and found them more effective as destroyers of rats and mice. They were, he says, 'very fond of having their ears rubbed.' They naturally affect wooded districts.
A good many breed in this country, but larger numbers arrive in the autumn, to depart again in the early spring.
The food of this Owl consists of leverets, rabbits, rats, shrews, mice, moles, sparrows, snipes, chaffinches, blackbirds, linnets, goldfinches, and other small birds, which it is said to surprise when at roost; as also of beetles and other insects, and at times fish. It' seizes its prey with its bill, with which it carries it if not large, but if otherwise transfers it to its foot. Twenty-five pellets cast up by this bird produced the remains of two Titmice, and thirty-five voles and six mice.
Meyer says that the note is described by the word 'hook.' Nidification commences early in March, or perhaps even sooner. Thus the Rev. R. P. Alington wrote to me on the 11th. of April, 1862, 'I shot a young bird on the 7th. of this month, which must have left the nest ten days at least. The eggs must have been laid therefore early in March, or the last week in February. Selby, according to Yarrell, says that 'the young do not leave the nest for a month after hatching.' In that case the old bird must have laid early in February, or even in the last week of January.
Other birds' nests, such as crows, magpies, and ring-doves, are generally, if not always, fitted up by the one before us as its domicile, by flattening them and lining them with a few feathers or a little wool. It sometimes even locates itself in that of a squirrel, and is not deterred by its not being far from the ground. Trees, too, give it its 'locus standi,' evergreens, such as spruce, Scotch and other firs, holly, and ivy, seeming to be preferred, especially in large woods. Ivy-covered rocks, and even the ground it also nestles on. It appears to be thought by some that there is a difference of eight or ten days in the laying of each egg, which are severally sat on in the intervals, causing a corresponding difference in the time of the young being hatched. 'The Long-horned Owl,' says Mudie, 'generally takes possession of the deserted nest of some other bird, such as one of the crow tribe, which nestle earlier, and thus have their brood out of the nest by the time that the Owl lays.' The Long-eared Owl, be it remembered, lays in March, and though I think that Mr. Macgillivray is rather too severe upon Mudie, whose work is actually described by Mr. Neville Wood, as one of 'the two best which have yet appeared!' yet I cannot forbear asking here 'at what month in the year does Rook-shooting commence? If the young Rooks have fled before March, they must have had but a cold berth of it in February! Such an imagination as this reminds me of a somewhat corresponding mistake developed in an illustrated London paper. 'Our own correspondent,' 'on the spot' I suppose, was describing the circumstance of Her Majesty's witnessing the process of 'shearing' in the Highlands of Scotland, and a veritable engraving duly chronicled the barbarous despoiling of sheep of their fleeces in the month of October; and in that part of the kingdom too! The writer was not aware that the term 'shearing' applied in the north of England to corn as well as to sheep, and had as little thought for the unfortunate animals, as Mudie for the wretched Rooks. See what I have recorded in a preceding page as to the early nidification of one of these Owls. If a Rook had preceded it in the tenancy, the nest must have been built the preceding winter.
The eggs, which are of a round shape and white, generally two in number, but sometimes three or four, and some writers say five, are laid about the end of March or the beginning of April, by the latter end of which month the young are hatched.
'For the first month,' says Mr. Selby, 'they take up their abode in some adjoining tree, and for many subsequent days, indeed for weeks, may be heard after sunset uttering a plaintive call for food, during which time the parent birds are diligently employed in hawking for prey.' It is thought by the Hon. Grantley F. Berkeley that this bird conveys its young in its feet, after the manner of the Woodcock, as he saw a nearly unfledged one on a high bough of a tree, which it could not have reached by itself.
These birds vary considerably in the depth and tone of their markings. The whole plumage is exceedingly soft and downy. Male; weight, nine or ten ounces; length, from one foot two to one foot three inches; bill, dull black, partly covered by the plumage—a streak of dark brown extends from it to the eye. Cere, flesh-coloured, hid by the feathers of the wreath, which are light brown on each outer side, with a half-circular boundary line of darker brown; on the inner side, dusky at the base, and white towards the tips. Iris, orange yellow, the radiated circle round the eye is cream-colour, faintly tinged with orange; the bristly feathers between the eyes and the bill are black at the base and white at the tips, the shafts black. Head, yellowish brown, mottled with darker and white. The forehead is very narrow in appearance, being closed in by the ruff on each side, which is formed of several rows of reversed feathers, and surrounds another series of similarly formed ones forming the face. The tufts, which are formed of from seven or eight to twelve feathers, an inch and a half or more in length, are brownish black in the middle, and edged with white, light, or rufous, or yellowish brown—the hind ones are the shortest; the face is ferruginous, speckled with black and rufous, and surrounded, in one of my specimens, with part of a circle of white on the lower side. Neck and nape, light yellowish brown, much speckled and streaked with brownish black, dusky, ash grey, rufous, or white—the whole elegantly blended. Chin, throat, and breast, dark greyish white or cream-coloured, mixed with light or rufous brown, and streaked with dark brown, the shafts black; back, yellowish brown.
The wings, when closed, reach a little beyond the end of the tail, and expand to the width of three feet, and from that to three feet two inches. The second quill feather is the longest, the third a little shorter, the fourth a little longer than the first. Greater and lesser wing coverts, light yellowish brown, speckled and streaked with brownish black, dusky grey, rufous or white, all elegantly mingled; primaries, light brown or salmon-colour, barred and mottled towards their base with darker, tawny, or brown, and clouded with reddish grey, and brown at the tips: the second feather is the longest, the first and fourth equal, the third about half an inch shorter. Secondaries and tertiaries, barred more finely with tawny and dull black, and mottled; larger and lesser under wing coverts, light brownish yellow, with a spot of black at the base of the primaries. Tail, barred and speckled irregularly on the middle feathers, and decidedly on the outer, with dusky and cinereous brown, yellowish or reddish orange, or dull white. It is square in shape, rather short, and composed of twelve broad rounded feathers; underneath, greyish white, crossed with narrow bars of dusky brown. Under tail coverts, light brown, verging to white; legs, feathered with light brown or buff feathers. Toes, the same, except the ends of the two front ones, the third and fourth connected at the base by a short web; the first is capable of extended side motion, the third is the longest, the second and fourth nearly equal. Claws, dull black, inclining to pink at the base, they are rather long, much curved, and sharp.
Female; length, one foot two to one foot four inches; the wreath is lighter, and the back has more greyish white than in the male: the older the birds, the more grey. The wings expand to the width of
from three feet two to three feet four inches.
The young are at first covered with white down, which next turns to yellowish, with which brown becomes gradually interspersed. At first the bars on the wings and tail are more distinct, and the streaks
broader and darker, as indeed is the whole plumage, than in the adult birds.

"The Owl awakens from the dell, The Fox is heard upon the fell."
The Lady of the Lake.

Buy Bird Books from Amazon Here

Home Page  Scanned images Copyright Ash.Midcalf  Email Us