Short-eared Owls are found throughout both the Eastern
and Western Hemispheres between the latitudes of 40 and
70 degrees, in the southern half of South America, at the
north end of the Andes Mountain range, and on many
islands, including the Galapagos, Hawaii, and West
Indies. In North America they occur in fresh and
saltwater marshes, bogs, prairies and grasslands, and
open woodlands from the Arctic to the northern United
States. Northern populations migrate, and in winter
Short-eared Owls are found as far south as southern
Mexico. In many areas of their range populations are
declining because of habitat loss.
Owl Range Map
The most diurnal of owls, they may be seen at any time of
day, but are especially active from late afternoon until
dark, or at dawn. They hunt during daylight hours more
often when Northern Harriers, hawks which use the same
prey, are absent, and during winter or when they are
feeding young. They will also hunt at night. The
characteristic buoyant flight style of the Short-eared
Owl is distinctive, and is often described as moth-like.
They can be confused with Harriers as they fly low over
open country watching and listening for prey, but fly
with flat wings rather than the "V" of the
Harrier. Most of their prey is mammalian, and up to 95%
may be voles. Small birds are also captured.
Males perform a spectacular courtship display, flying
upward in a spiral and then rapidly clapping their wings
together below the body, making a snapping sound.
Wingclaps are also used when defending territorial
boundaries, and in aggressive displays to other owls, or
to humans. Courtship begins as early as late February,
although later in higher latitudes. The female incubates
the eggs and is usually fed by the male. Clutch sizes are
larger when food is abundant. The hatchlings leave the
nest but stay in the immediate area to be fed by their
parents. They begin to fly after 24 to 27 days, but are
dependent on their parents for about seven weeks.
In winter they tend to be gregarious and form communal
roosts, which may be quite large. Roosts may be on open
ground or, when the weather is more severe, in sheltered
areas, such as old quarries or groves of evergreen trees.
As many as a hundred owls may roost together in areas
where food is abundant.
Description: Short-eared Owls are medium
sized owls with long rounded wings. The wings show dark
"wrist" patches on both the upper and lower
surfaces. The wingtips are dark brown and between the
wing tips and the wrist patch is a bright buffy area.
Upperparts are brown to buff with heavy, blurred
streaking. The facial disk is circular and whitish, with
darker areas around lemon-yellow eyes. The ear tufts
arise from the facial discs over the eyes. The underside
is whitish streaked with brown. Females and young birds
are usually darker and buffier.
Short-eared Owls construct nests, although very
rudimentary ones, and thus are unique among the owl
family. Other owls typically usurp the nests of hawks or
crows, or nest in holes. Female Short-eared Owls make a
nest by lining a scrape in the ground with a few leaves,
feathers, or bits of grass.
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