Short-eared Owl (Asio flammeus)
Length: 13.4-16.9 in
Wing span: 33.5-40.5 in
Weight: 206-475 g
The Short-eared Owl is not especially vocal, however they do give a series of hoots during courtship. They also have a variety of calls that include barks, screams, and whines. Other sounds they produce include wing clapping that occurs during flight and bill snaps when they are threatened.
(Recordings from xeno-canto.org. Spectrographs generated in Audacity)
Adult: Sexes are similar. Medium sized owl. Brown spotted with buff and white on the upperparts. Breast is heavily streaked with brown; chest and belly are pale or buff. The facial disk with fine, brown tinges, and black around the yellow eyes. Bill is black and tail is short. Ear tufts not always visible.
The pale underwing has a dark comma shaped mark near the wrist and the upper wing shows a pale patch on the primaries.
In flight: Most aerial of the owls. Has an easy, floating, moth-like flight. Wingbeats stiffer than a Northern Harrier. Flies low over vegetation.
Short-eared Owl and Northern Harrier share similar habitats and often hunt for prey in the same areas. This sometimes leads to confrontations in flight (see Gallery Photos above).
Short-eared Owls nest on the ground in open areas such as marshes, fields, grasslands, and tundra. They will perch on the ground or in low trees or shrubs.
As preferred habitat has diminished within their range, the have benefitted from strip mining as reclaimed lands have provided suitable habitat.
Foods & Foraging
Short-eared Owls diet consists mainly of rodents; voles, lemmings, deer mice, pocket mice. They also consume shrews, rabbits, gophers, and sometimes birds.
They forage by flying low over vegetation in open country, often hovering before dropping down on prey. The find prey mostly by sound, but also do so by sight. They are active at dawn and dusk.
Click here to see how the range of the Short-eared Owl could be reshaped due to climate change.
The Short-eared Owl has a wide global distribution and is found in Europe, Asia, Africa and the Americas. In North America, they breed throughout Canada south locally to California, Kansas. They winter in the southern part of their breeding range and south throughout the United States and Central America.
Short-eared Owls are year round residents in the extreme northern part of Indiana. They are winter residents throughout the rest of Indiana. Birds in our area arrive in late October and depart by early to mid April.
Arrival & Departure
The Short-eared Owl has a wide global distribution with a population of about 3 million birds. Because of its wide distribution and population this species has not exceeded thresholds that make it vulnerable, even though the species, at least locally, has seen some dramatic declines. Therefore, IUCN has listed the species as Least Concern.
Due to declining populations, at least in North America, the American Bird Conservancy (ABC) has the Short-eared Owl on their Watch List. Canada, many of the western U.S. states, several New England states, and northern Indiana have identified the Short-eared Owl as a bird of conservation concern.
The Short-eared Owl requires large tracts of uninterrupted open grassland and so it is sensitive to habitat fragmentation. Fragmented habitat leads to higher rates of nest predation and therefore negative effects on population. In addition to habitat fragmentation as a reason often cited for their population decline, loss of habitat due to agriculture, over-grazing, and urban development have impacted Short-eared Owl populations.
However, on private lands, programs such as the Conservation Reserve Program and Wetland Reserve Program have resulted in restoration of suitable habitat. Additionally, the Short-eared Owl has done well, both in breeding and wintering areas, on reclaimed strip mine lands.
Short-eared Owl: Least Concern
Least Concern category includes birds that are currently not at risk of becoming threatened.