They’re named after tall, feathery tufts on their heads that look like ears. Their real ones are hidden under facial feathers, and for many North American long-eared owls, those ears must have been burning lately.
Normally secretive birds, long-eared owls have become a sensation this winter around Chicago, where they’ve dazzled people by suddenly appearing in unusually large numbers.
This is known as an irruption, the technical name for any abrupt surge in a bird population, especially outside its typical haunts.
It’s unclear where exactly all these long-eared owls came from, but the species is known to breed across a northern swath of the United States from Maine to California, plus much of Canada.
Long-eared owls are native to Eurasia and North Africa as well as North America. They live year-round in many regions, but some also escape the northernmost parts of their breeding range during winter, moving south into (slightly) warmer habitats.