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A photo of a Short-eared Owl (Asio flammeus)
Short-eared Owl

Short-eared Owl

Asio flammeus

The Short-eared Owl, Asio flammeus, is a medium-sized owl notable for its mottled tawny to brown plumage, barred tail and wings, and a striking facial appearance accentuated by yellow-orange eyes encircled by black, giving the impression of a mask. This species exhibits a floppy flight pattern due to irregular wingbeats, often described as moth or bat-like.

Identification Tips

When observing the Short-eared Owl, look for its large eyes, big head, short neck, and broad wings. The bill is short, strong, hooked, and black. Females are slightly larger than males, and the species can be identified in flight by its broad white band along the rear edge of the wing and pale primary-patches. The upper breast is streaked significantly, and the bird's very short ear tufts are usually not visible unless in a defensive pose.

Habitat

This owl favors open country and grasslands, often roosting under short, shady trees in grassland or desert habitats.

Distribution

The Short-eared Owl has a vast range, found on all continents except Antarctica and Australia. It breeds in regions including North America, Europe, North Africa, and northern Asia, and is partially migratory, moving southward in winter from the northern parts of its range.

Behaviour

The Short-eared Owl is known to be diurnal and crepuscular, as well as nocturnal, with hunting often occurring just feet above the ground. It is monogamous and nests on the ground, with the male performing a conspicuous courtship display in flight. The species is known to lure predators away from its nest with a feigned injury display.

Song & Calls

The calls of the Short-eared Owl include a scratchy bark-like sound, raspy waowk, or a series of toot-toot-toot notes. On breeding grounds, a loud eeee-yerp can be heard, but the species is generally silent on wintering grounds.

Breeding

Breeding season peaks in April, with nests concealed by low vegetation. Clutch size varies, with up to a dozen eggs laid in years of abundant prey. Incubation is primarily by the female, lasting 21–37 days, and offspring fledge at just over four weeks.

Similar Species

The Short-eared Owl can be confused with the Long-eared Owl, but differences include ear-tuft visibility, iris color (yellow in Short-eared, orange in Long-eared), and patterns around the eyes. The Short-eared Owl is generally paler and has different wing markings and tail bands.

Diet and Feeding

The diet mainly consists of rodents, particularly voles, but also includes other small mammals and occasionally birds and insects. The Short-eared Owl hunts by flying low over open fields before swooping down on prey.

Conservation Status

The IUCN lists the Short-eared Owl as a species of least concern, with an estimated global population of 1,200,000 to 2,100,000. However, it is noted to be declining in the southern portion of its United States range and is listed as endangered in New Mexico.

Short-eared Owl Sounds



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Short-eared Owl Fun Facts

Did you know?
During migration Short-eared Owls are able to travel large distances over the sea.

Short-eared Owls on Birda

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