Long-eared Owl (Asio otus)



Long-eared Owl © Peter Smith

Long-eared Owl © Peter Smith

Adult Long-eared Owls do not move far from their breeding territory all year round, but immature birds will wander. Lees (1994) reported that dispersal and movements were greatly aided by water courses where owls can hunt along continuous river banks rich with small mammals, then arrive at suitable overwintering grounds or at potential breeding sites.

It seems surprising that only two of the tetrads with owls present in the breeding season also had a winter record, especially as adults are probably resident and re-commence breeding activity during our winter period. They have presumably been overlooked in some sites, and they certainly do little to draw attention to themselves in winter apart from their spectacular gathering at communal day-time roosts. Their feeding behaviour changes little from the breeding season, and Long-eared Owls are seldom seen hunting by day except in very hard weather. They take a similar range of prey items as in the breeding season, but tend to eat a higher proportion of birds, especially wintering thrushes and finches, probably mostly caught at their roosts.

Out of the eight tetrads on the winter map, seven did not have Long-eared Owls reported in the breeding season, and some of these are likely to have been occupied by continental birds. The British wintering population is considerably augmented by immigrants from Fennoscandia, the numbers varying from year to year according to small mammal abundance and the severity of winter weather. Three birds roosted together at Brimstage (SJ38B) in 2004/ 05, and two birds were at Neumann’s Flash (SJ67S) in 2006/ 07, but the other records were all of singles.

There is little information on wintering Long-eared Owls in the writings of the earlier Cheshire ornithologists, and the annual county bird reports have contained few records from the mid-1980s until recently. Wintering birds are found annually, in variable numbers, from sites along the Mersey valley from Frodsham Marsh to Woolston/ Risley. Odd birds are reported sporadically from scattered sites elsewhere in the county, but the only other location with a claim to regular occurrence is Neumann’s Flash, with sightings in most of the last ten winters and, in 1999/ 2000, a roost of up to nine birds.

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