written by: R. Elizabeth C. Kitchen•edited by: Niki Fears•updated: 9/25/2009
This article discusses the Short Eared Owl. It details their habitat, diet, mortality, looks and features, mating and where they can be found.
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The Short Eared Owl is a mid-sized owl with buffy brown plumage. It also has dark streaks that appear on its back, chest and stomach. Females tend to be darker colored that males. The eyes are yellow and circled with black and they are set in off-white facial disks. Their beak is black and their ear tufts are small. The female Short Eared Owls are a bit bigger than the males with a wingspan of forty-two inches as opposed to the males wingspan of forty-one inches. These owls get to thirteen to seventeen inches in height and weight approximately seven to seventeen ounces.
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Habitat & Diet
Short Eared Owls can be found in the Old World, North and South America, Iceland, the Galapagos Islands and the Hawaiian Islands. They tend to be seen in large, open spaces such as mountain meadows, grasslands, salt marshes, prairie land, Arctic and alpine tundra and agricultural fields. They tend to roost in a communal fashion within areas of dense conifers, overgrown fields and thick hedgerows. When Short Eared Owls migrate, they fly very high, typically through high mountain passes.
Short Eared Owls tend to hunt mainly at night because they are predominantly nocturnal, but they can also be seen hunting in the late afternoon and early morning. They will fly just a few feet above the ground and then sweep in for their prey. They sometimes hover over their prey for long periods of time when hunting in areas with dense vegetation.
Their diet typically consists of small mammals such as meadow voles, but when these cannot be found they will prey on birds, muskrats, deer mice, rabbits, shrews, bats, ground squirrels, rats, pocket gophers, moles and pocket mice. They may also eat insects such as caterpillars, roaches, katydids, beetles and grasshoppers when their desired prey is not available. Short Eared Owls have a long-standing competition for prey with Northern Harriers, because they are known to steal the Owl's food.
Reproduction & Social Behavior
The breeding habitat for Short Eared Owls must have plenty of ground cover to hide their nests. Unlike most owls, Short Eared Owls do not nest in trees. They also tend to choose a breeding habitat where there is plenty of prey. The females will build the nests with sticks, grass and her own breast feathers. When mating a male and a female Owl will engage in flight and fight briefly with their talons locked. Once a female is pregnant she will lay anywhere from four to fourteen eggs and these eggs are laid every day or two. Females do almost all of the incubation of the eggs, while the male owls search for food and bring it to the nest and the males may also take a turn incubating the eggs. After they are hatched, young Short Eared Owls, will stay with their mother for approximately twelve days before they begin to wander off on their own.
The typical lifespan for Short Eared Owls is approximately thirteen years. They are often sought as prey because they nest on the ground so they are vulnerable to predators. It is uncertain whether or not Short Eared Owls are considered an endangered species.