The Short Eared Owl
This open-country hunter is one of the world's most widely distributed owls, and among the most frequently seen in daylight. Don't look too eagerly for the ear tufts, which are so short they're often invisible. More conspicuous features are its black-rimmed yellow eyes staring out from a pale facial disk. These birds course silently over grasslands on broad, rounded wings, especially at dawn and dusk. They use acute hearing to hunt small mammals and birds.
Size & Shape
Short-eared Owls are medium-sized owls with rounded heads. The "ears" mentioned in their name are difficult to see. The wings are broad and the tips are smoothly rounded. The tail is short.
Short-eared Owls are medium brown spotted with buff and white on the upperparts. The face is pale with yellow eyes accentuated by black outlines. The breast is heavily streaked with brown; the chest and belly are pale or buffy. The pale underwing has a dark comma-shaped mark near the wrist, and the upperwing shows a pale patch in the primaries.
They hunt during daylight, flying low over short vegetation. They flap with stiff beats of their rounded wings, giving their flight a buoyant, mothlike quality.
Look for Short-eared Owls in grasslands and open areas, where they perch in low trees or on the ground.
- The Short-eared Owl is one of the few species that seems to have benefited from strip-mining. It nests on reclaimed and replanted mines south of its normal breeding range.
- As suggested by their wide global distribution, Short-eared Owls can travel long distances over vast expanses of ocean. Witnesses have reported seeing these owls descending on ships hundreds of miles from land.
- Hawai'I's only native owl, the pueo (Asio flammeus sandwichensis), is a Short-eared Owl subspecies found on all the chain's major islands. Pueos may have descended from Alaska forebears, taking hold in the islands after the first arriving Polynesians brought owl food in the form of the Pacific rat.
- Normally reluctant to leave the nest, female Short-eared Owls that are forced to flush often defecate on their eggs. The resulting putrid smell may repel predators or mask the scent of the nest.
- The oldest Short-eared Owl on record was at least 4 years, 4 months old when it was shot in California in 1970, wearing a band that had been applied in British Columbia in 1966.
Check out my Workshop page if you would like to photograph the Short Eared Owl. I see them in the Yukon, BC, Alberta and Ontario and there is always a workshop focusing on the Short Eared Owls.