Birds of America
By John James Audubon, F. R. SS. L. & E.
OTUS VULGARIS, Fleming.
This Owl is much more abundant in our Middle and Eastern Atlantic Districts
than in the Southern or Western parts. My friend Dr. BACHMAN has never observed
it in South Carolina; nor have I met with it in Louisiana, or any where on the
Mississippi below the junction of the Ohio. It is not very rare in the upper
parts of Indiana, Illinois, Ohio, and Kentucky, wherever the country is well
wooded. In the Barrens of Kentucky its predilection for woods is rendered
apparent by its not being found elsewhere than in the "Groves;" and it would
seem that it very rarely extends its search for food beyond the skirts of those
delightful retreats. In Pennsylvania, and elsewhere to the eastward, I have
found it most numerous on or near the banks of our numerous clear mountain
streams, where, during the day, it is not uncommon to see it perched on the top
of a low bush or fir. At such times it stands with the body erect, but the
tarsi bent and resting on a branch, as is the manner of almost all our Owls.
The head then seems the largest part, the body being much more slender than it
is usually represented. Now and then it raises itself and stands with its legs
and neck extended, as if the better to mark the approach of an intruder. Its
eyes, which were closed when it was first observed, are opened on the least
noise, and it seems to squint at you in a most grotesque manner, although it is
not difficult to approach very near it. It rarely on such occasions takes to
wing, but throws itself into the thicket, and makes off on foot by means of
pretty long leaps.
The Long-eared Owl is careless as to the situation in which its young are
to be reared, and generally accommodates itself with an abandoned nest of some
other bird that proves of sufficient size, whether it be high or low, in the
fissure of a rock or on the ground. Sometimes however it makes a nest itself,
and this I found to be the case in one instance near the Juniata river in
Pennsylvania, where it was composed of green twigs with the leaflets adhering,
and lined with fresh grass and sheep wool, but without feathers. The eggs are
usually four, nearly equally rounded at both ends, thin-shelled, smooth, when
newly deposited pure white, with a slight blush, which is no longer observable
when they have been for some time sitten upon; their average length an inch and
a half, their greatest breadth an inch and three-sixteenths. I found eggs of
this bird on the 15th of April, and again on the 25th of June, which induces me
to believe that it rears two broods in the season in the State of Pennsylvania,
as it probably does also to the westward. WILSON relates the following instance
of its indifference as to the place selected for its eggs. "About six or seven
miles below Philadelphia, and not far from the Delaware, is a low swamp, thickly
covered with trees, and inundated during a great part of the year. This place
is the resort of great numbers of the Qua-bird or Night Raven (Ardea
Nycticorax), where they build in large companies. On the 25th of April, while
wading among the dark recesses of this place, observing the habits of these
birds, I discovered a Long-eared Owl, which had taken possession of one of their
nests, and was sitting: on mounting to the nest, I found it contained four
eggs, and breaking one of these, the young appeared almost ready to leave the
shell. There were numbers of the Qua-birds' nests on the adjoining trees all
around, and one of them actually on the same tree."
When encamped in the woods, I have frequently heard the notes of this bird
at night. Its cry is prolonged and plaintive, though consisting of not more
than two or three notes repeated at intervals.
Dr. RICHARDSON states that it has been found "as far north as lat. 60
degrees, and probably exists as high as the forests extend. It is plentiful in
the woods skirting the plains of the Saskatchewan, frequents the coasts of
Hudson's Bay only in the summer, and retires into the interior in the winter.
It resides all the year in the United States, and perhaps is not a rare bird in
any part of North America; but as it comes seldom abroad in the day, fewer
specimens are obtained of it than of the other Owls. It preys chiefly on
quadrupeds of the genus Arvicola, and in summer destroys many beetles. It lays
three or four roundish white eggs, sometimes on the ground, at other times in
the deserted nests of other birds in low bushes. Mr. HUTCHINS says it lays in
April, and that the young fly in May; and Mr. DRUMMOND found a nest on the
ground, containing three eggs, on the 5th of July, and killed both the birds.
On comparing the above mentioned eggs with those of the English Long-eared Owl,
the American ones proved to be smaller, measuring only an inch and a half in
length, and 1.27 inches in breadth; while the English ones measured 1.8 inch in
length, and 1 1/4 in breadth. The form and colour were the same in both."
The food of this Owl consists of rats, mice, and other small quadrupeds, as
well as birds of various species; its stomach having been found by me crammed
with feathers and other remains of the latter.
There is a marked difference between the sexes. The males are not only
smaller than the females, but darker; and this has tempted me to consider the
Strix Mexicanus of Mr. SWAINSON and the Prince of MUSIGNANO as merely a large
female of our Long-eared Owl.
LONG-EARED OWL, Strix otus, Wils. Amer. Orn., vol. vi. p. 52.
STRIX OTUS, Bonap. Syn., p. 37.
LONG-EARED OWL, Strix otus, Nutt. Man., vol. i. p. 130.
LONG-EARED OWL, Strix otus, Aud. Orn. Biog., vol. iv. p. 573.
Tufts elongated; general colour of plumage buff, mottled and spotted with
brown and greyish-white; dirty whitish anteriorly, with the tips black;
posteriorly reddish-white; ruff mottled with red and black; upper part of head
minutely mottled with whitish, brownish-black, and light red; the tufts light
reddish towards the base, brownish-black in the centre toward the end, the inner
edge white, dotted with dark brown; upper parts buff, variegated with brown and
whitish-grey, minutely mottled or undulatingly barred; first row of coverts
tipped with white; quills and scapulars pale grey, barred with dark brown; the
primaries buff towards the base externally. Tail with ten bars on the middle
and eight on the outer feathers; lower parts with more buff and fewer spots than
the upper; each feather with a long dark brown streak, and several irregular
transverse bars; legs and toes pure buff.
Male 14 1/2, 38. Female, 16, 40.
A male sent in spirits from Boston by Dr. BREWER:--The roof of the mouth is
flat, with two longitudinal ridges, the sides ascending; the posterior aperture
of the nares oblong, 4 twelfths long, with an interior fissure. The tongue is
7 1/2 twelfths long, deeply emarginate and papillate at the base, flattish
above, with a faint median groove, the sides parallel, the tip narrowed and
emarginate. The mouth is very wide, measuring 1 inch and 1 1/2 twelfths. The
oesophagus is 5 1/2 inches long, of nearly uniform diameter throughout, as in
all other Owls, its breadth being 1 inch. The proventricular glandules form a
belt 9 twelfths in diameter. The stomach is large, round, 1 inch 9 twelfths
long, 1 inch 7 twelfths broad, its walls thin, its muscular coat composed of
rather coarse fasciculi, but without distinction into lateral muscles; the
tendinous spaces circular, and about 8 twelfths in diameter; its epithelium soft
and rugous. The duodenum is 3 twelfths in diameter, and curves at the distance
of 3 inches from the pylorus. The intestine is 23 inches long, its smallest
diameter only 1 twelfth.
The coeca, Fig. 2,
are in this individual unequal, as
they very frequently are in Owls; the largest being 2 inches 10 twelfths in
length, their greatest diameter 5 1/2 twelfths, their distance from the anus 3
inches and a quarter. The cloaca is of an enormous size, ovate, 2 inches long,
1 inch 2 twelfths broad. It contains a calculous concretion 9 twelfths long, 7
twelfths broad, and 3 twelfths thick.
The trachea, which is 3 inches long, is 3 1/2 twelfths in breadth at the
upper part, 2 1/2 twelfths in the middle, and 3 twelfths at its lower extremity;
its rings about 75 in number, cartilaginous, and considerably flattened. The
lateral muscles are strong, the sterno-tracheal moderate, and there is a single
pair of very slender inferior laryngeal muscles. Five of the lower rings are
elongated, arched, and slit. The bronchi are rather long, of 12 half rings.
The conch of the ear, Fig. 1,
is of enormous size, extending from the level
of the forehead over the eye to the chin, in a semilunar form, of which the
posterior curve is 3 inches, and the distance between the two extremities in a
direct line I inch and a half. There is an anterior semicircular flap in its
whole length, 5 twelfths in breadth at the middle. The aperture or meatus
externus is of a rhomboidal form, 4 1/2 twelfths in length, 3 1/2 twelfths
broad, bounded anteriorly by the eye, posteriorly by a ligament extended along
the edge of the occipital bone, above by a ligament stretching to the operculum,
below the articulation of the lower jaw. Above the meatus is a deep depression
covered with skin, above which another ligament stretches across to the
In another specimen, a female, the oesophagus is 5 1/2 inches long, its
average diameter 11 twelfths. The intestine is 21 inches long, from 2 1/2
twelfths to 1 twelfth in diameter; the coeca are 2 1/4 inches in length; their
greatest diameter 4 twelfths; the cloaca still larger than that of the other
individuals, being 2 inches long.