The Short-eared Owl

February 08, 2016  •  Leave a Comment

The Short-eared Owl is a medium-sized owl, mostly mottled brown with a pale chest with thin streaks. It has a large head that is round in shape. Large buff wing patch on the outer wing is visible in flight. The males are approximately 14 ½ inches tall the females are slightly larger around 15 inches tall. The male weighs 7 to 16 ounces, the females 10 to 17.5 ounces. There wing span is about 42 inches. Short-eared Owls hunt mainly at night and during the morning and late afternoon. They fly over open areas, they favor a different type of habitat than most other owls. While many owls seek deep, dense forests, Short-eared Owls prefer to be out in the open. They make their homes in mostly flat, treeless terrain like marshes, tundra, swamps, grasslands, or fields. The female Short-eared Owls choose a high place or a mound and scratch out a bowl-shaped depression, filling it with grass and soft, downy feathers. Birds that nest on the ground are at high risk from predators like foxes, cats, dogs, and other wild and domestic animals. The will lay up to 11 creamy white eggs. They will fly a few feet above ground, and pounce when prey is located. In dense vegetation they will hover over prey, often for extended periods when facing into the wind, before pouncing. They also occasionally will hunt from a perch or while standing on the ground. Short-eared Owls eat mainly small mammals, but sometimes take birds. Meadow voles are the primary prey. Deer mice, shrews, mice, moles, rats, bats, rabbits, and muskrats are also taken. Birds probably are more important when Short-eared Owls hunt in marshes and along coastal areas, where they can target shorebirds, terns, and small gulls and seabirds. In inland habitats they take mainly Horned Larks, meadowlarks, blackbirds, and pipits. A few insects such as roaches, grasshoppers, beetles, and caterpillars are also taken. Locating prey by ear the Short-eared Owl kills prey with a bite to the back of the skull; often swallows prey whole.

Short-eared Owls and Northern Harriers often harass each other when hunting the same field, and harriers often steal food from the Owl. The Short-eared Owl will also compete with the Barn Owl in some areas. Some successful nest box programs to attract Barn Owls have coincided with the decline of the Short-eared Owl in the same area. 


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