Short-Eared Owl

(Asio flammeus )

The Short-eared Owl is an open-country species, usually spending considerable periods of time away from bushes and trees. Swamps, grasslands, bogs, salt marshes, reed beds and swamps are the habitat of the Short-eared Owl. It roosts in grass and low plants.


It is a "restricted feeder" in so far as it occurs and nests most frequently where voles, lemmings and mice are abundant, which means that it is more nomadic than most New York state owls. It hunts low over grasslands, quartering the fields and leisurely hovering on still or slightly vibrating wings.

The Short-eared Owl's wings are long, a characteristic of open-country birds, and its flight is buoyant and moth-like. The Short-eared Owl is crepuscular, feeds during the twilight periods, rather than a nocturnal hunter like most owls.

The Short-eared Owl shows strong ecological similarities with the Northern Harrier or Marsh Hawk. The Short-eared Owl's outer ear openings are complicated and asymmetrical in structure. The right ear is larger and opens upward while the smaller left ear opens downward. Its calls are subdued and infrequent, apparently the Short-eared Owl is very vulnerable in its open habitat.

Short-eared Owls are very protective of their nesting sites. The female may display broken wing behavior and yelp loudly to lead predators away from her nest. Short-eared Owls have been found nesting close enough together to suggest the existence of nesting "colonies," a situation which results from food abundance. They lay four to seven white eggs on the ground by scraping a shallow nest site in sandy soil or on a dry spot. Young hatch asynchronously resulting in sibs variously sized. After young hatch, they are brooded by the female for about 12 days and leave the nest, scattering around in the safety of the vegetation, at the early age of 12-17 days, an adaptation of ground-nesting. The dispersed chicks call to their food-bearing parents by a wing-flapping recognition display, in which they show the white underside of their wings.

Fox and mink kill many Short-eared Owl chicks. Short-eared Owls are an engdangered species in New York State. Loss of habitat is the main reason for the population decline of the Short-eared Owls.

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