Plants and Animals

Asio otus Long-eared owl

species photo
species photo
species photo
species photo

Key Characteristics

As the name suggests, the Long-eared owl has long "ear" tufts. It also has an orange facial disk with a dark vertical line through each eye. The back is plain gray and the belly has dark streaking and barring. Upon a quick glance it resembles the much larger and more common Great-horned owl. If you are fortunate to observe the owl in flight at dawn or dusk you may notice the dark wrist patches on the underside of the wings shaped like parentheses. Short-eared owls also have these wing patches but are lighter colored overall.

Status and Rank

US Status: No Status/Not Listed
State Status: E - Endangered (legally protected)
Global Rank: G5 - Secure
State Rank: S1 - Critically imperiled


CountyNumber of OccurrencesYear Last Observed
Bay 1 1999
Ionia 1 1987
Mackinac 1 2004
Macomb 1 1970
Mason 1 2020
Muskegon 1 2005
Oakland 1 1970

Information is summarized from MNFI's database of rare species and community occurrences. Data may not reflect true distribution since much of the state has not been thoroughly surveyed.


Long-eared owls use many different forest communities for nest and roost sites but seem to be associated more closely with conifers than deciduous trees and occasionally use pine plantations. The proximity of these wooded areas to open grassy areas with abundant prey appears to be an important landscape feature.

Natural Community Types

For each species, lists of natural communities were derived from review of the nearly 6,500 element occurrences in the MNFI database, in addition to herbarium label data for some taxa. In most cases, at least one specimen record exists for each listed natural community. For certain taxa, especially poorly collected or extirpated species of prairie and savanna habitats, natural community lists were derived from inferences from collection sites and habitat preferences in immediately adjacent states (particularly Indiana and Illinois). Natural communities are not listed for those species documented only from altered or ruderal habitats in Michigan, especially for taxa that occur in a variety of habitats outside of the state.

Natural communities are not listed in order of frequency of occurrence, but are rather derived from the full set of natural communities, organized by Ecological Group. In many cases, the general habitat descriptions should provide greater clarity and direction to the surveyor. In future versions of the Rare Species Explorer, we hope to incorporate natural community fidelity ranks for each taxon.

Management Recommendations

Long-eared owls are often found in small woodlots with nearby open areas like pasture, hayfields, old fields, and grasslands but larger forest blocks should also be considered for protection. They may also be found not far from the edge of larger forest stands with some of these same open areas. Forests and open areas identified as breeding territories or overwintering areas should be preserved from development.

Active Period

Migration from fourth week of November to fourth week of February

Nesting from third week of March to first week of June

Survey Methods

Like most owls the Long-eared owl is active at night and is best surveyed by using call playback to improve detection. The call should be played at or near suitable habitat and are frequently conducted from road shoulder. Thirty seconds of calls should be alternated with 30 seconds of silence over a 2 to 5 minute period. Several surveys no less than 10 days apart are recommended at each site to verify the presence/absence of the Long-eared owl.

Visual, broadcast conspecific call

Survey Period: From first week of February to fourth week of April

Time of Day: Night


Survey References

  • Bibby, C.J., N.D. Burgess, and D.A. Hill. 1992. Bird Census Techniques. Academic Press, New York.

Technical References

  • Evers, D.C. 1994. Endangered and Threatened Wildlife of Michigan. The University of Michigan Press, Ann Arbor. 412pp.
  • Johnsgard, P.A. 1988. North American Owls. Smithsonian Books, Washington D.C. 352pp.

More Information