Nesting time with the owl begins in February, and continues through March and April. The clown-like antics of both sexes of this bird while under the tender influence of the nesting season tend somewhat to impair their reputation for dignity and wise demeanor. They usually have a simple nest in a hollow tree, but which seems seldom to be built by the bird itself, as it prefers to take the deserted nest of some other bird, and to fit up the premises for its own use. They repair slightly from year to year the same nest. The eggs are white, and generally four or five in number. While the young are still in the nest, the parent birds display a singular diligence in collecting food for them.
If you should happen to know of an owl’s nest, stand near it some evening when the old birds are rearing their young. Keep quiet and motionless, and notice how frequently the old birds feed them. Every ten minutes or so the soft flap, flap of their wings will be heard, the male and female alternately, and you will obtain a brief glimpse of them through the gloom as they enter the nesting place. They remain inside but a short time, sharing the food equally amongst their brood, and then are off again to hunt for more. All night, were you to have the inclination to observe them, you would find they pass to and fro with food, only ceasing their labors at dawn. The young, as soon as they reach maturity, are abandoned by their parents; they quit the nest and seek out haunts elsewhere, while the old birds rear another, and not infrequently two more broods, during the remainder of the season.
The habits of the Long-Eared Owl are nocturnal. He is seldom seen in the light of day, and is greatly disturbed if he chance to issue from his concealment while the sun is above the horizon. The facial disk is very conspicuous in this species. It is said that the use of this circle is to collect the rays of light, and throw them upon the eye. The flight of the owl is softened by means of especially shaped, recurved feather-tips, so that he may noiselessly steal upon his prey, and the ear is also so shaped as to gather sounds from below.
The Long-Eared Owl is hardly tameable. The writer of this paragraph, when a boy, was the possessor, for more than a year, of a very fine specimen. We called him Judge. He was a monster, and of perfect plumage. Although he seemed to have some attachment to the children of the family who fed him, he would not permit himself to be handled by them or by any one in the slightest. Most of his time he spent in his cage, an immense affair, in which he was very comfortable. Occasionally he had a day in the barn with the rats and mice.
The owl is of great usefulness to gardener, agriculturist, and landowner alike, for there is not another bird of prey which is so great a destroyer of the enemies of vegetation.