The long and short of owls

In Northern Ontario, we have a number of native owls. These range in size from the Great Horned Owl, with a wingspan of five feet, to the robin-sized Saw-whet Owl.
Here are two which are medium-sized, actually about the size of a crow. But they are different in appearance, habits, and living areas.
The Long-eared Owl has very prominent tufts which are right on the top of its head, and fairly close together. This gives him an alert look which he probably doesn’t really deserve.
It is quite slim in build and not rounded or puffed out, like some other owls. The breast of this one has streaks which run lengthwise rather than being barred.
The hairs around its beak look a lot like a mustache.
This is a bird of the deeper woods. In Northern Ontario, it much prefers the evergreen forests. Its nest is usually an old crow or raven nest, well up in a tree.
The Long-eared Owl is a night hunter. During the day, you usually will spot it snuggled up close to a tree trunk. Motionless, it blends in well with the tree bark so it is really hard to see.
It is one of our more common owls, breeding all the way from B.C. to Nova Scotia, as well as in Europe and Asia.
The Long-eared Owl, like most owls, lives chiefly on small mammals, birds, frogs, large insects, and so on. Asio otus hunts in the forest but also, at times, in the open areas of the woodland, like beaver meadows.
Its main call is a low, moaning “Hooooo,” or a cat-like “meow.”
The Short-eared Owl (Asio flammeus) is quite different in most respects. First, as you would guess from its name, it does have “ear” tufts but they are very small (some owls don’t have any at all). Most of the time, when you get a quick look at him, you don’t even see the tufts.
Unlike the other one, this one is quite fluffy and rounded looking, with a very round face, like a small pie-plate. It is buffy in general colour with (again) longitudinal stripes on its lower body.
Again different from the Long-ear, this is an owl of the open spaces. It cruises quietly and purposefully over fields, marshes and the tundra, dropping quickly to pounce on the unwary mouse. It can often be seen on the ground.
Also, it is generally a day owl but it does hunt at night sometimes–especially at dusk.
The Short-eared Owl is another round-the-world species, found in Europe and Asia as well as here. It nests on the ground, usually in a clump of grass.
And although it rarely makes any noise at all, when it does, it almost erupts with a wheezing bark, sort of “kee-you.”
These two are quite common–the woodsy one with the big “ears” and the field one with the fluffy feathers and the big yellow eyes.
They are with us here in the north all summer but tend to drift south in the winter.

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