Photo: Sandra and Frank Horvath/Great Backyard Bird Count Participant

Short-eared Owl

Asio flammeus

Easier to see than most owls, the Short-ear lives in open terrain, such as prairies and marshes. It is often active during daylight, especially in the evening. When hunting it flies low over the fields, with buoyant, floppy wingbeats, looking rather like a giant moth. Aside from its North American range, it also nests in South America and Eurasia, and on many oceanic islands, including Hawaii.
Conservation status Has disappeared from many southern areas where it formerly nested. Loss of habitat is probably the main cause.
Family Owls
Habitat Prairies, marshes, dunes, tundra. Found in open country supporting high numbers of small rodents. Nests most commonly on tundra, inland and coastal prairies, extensive marshes, farmland. In winter also found in stubble fields, small meadows, coastal dunes, shrubby areas.
Easier to see than most owls, the Short-ear lives in open terrain, such as prairies and marshes. It is often active during daylight, especially in the evening. When hunting it flies low over the fields, with buoyant, floppy wingbeats, looking rather like a giant moth. Aside from its North American range, it also nests in South America and Eurasia, and on many oceanic islands, including Hawaii.
Photo Gallery
  • adult male
  • adult female
  • adult, Caribbean
  • adult, Caribbean
  • adult male
  • adult female
Feeding Behavior

Hunts by flying low over the ground, often hovering before dropping on prey. Reportedly finds prey mostly by sound but also by sight. May hunt by day, especially in far north, but mostly active at dawn and dusk.


Eggs

3-11, usually 6-8. White, becoming stained in nest. Incubation is apparently by female only, 24-37 days. Male brings food to female during incubation period. Young: Male brings food for young, gives it to female, who actually feeds the young (and broods them in cold weather). If nest is threatened, adults may fly at intruder and make loud wing-clap, or sit on ground with feathers ruffed up, wings spread and tilted forward, to look as large as possible. Young may leave nest on foot after 12-18 days, can fly at 27-36 days.


Young

Male brings food for young, gives it to female, who actually feeds the young (and broods them in cold weather). If nest is threatened, adults may fly at intruder and make loud wing-clap, or sit on ground with feathers ruffed up, wings spread and tilted forward, to look as large as possible. Young may leave nest on foot after 12-18 days, can fly at 27-36 days.

Diet

Mostly rodents. Feeds mainly on voles, also other rodents such as lemmings, deer mice, pocket mice. Also eats shrews, rabbits, gophers; rarely bats, muskrats. Eats birds, especially in coastal regions.


Nesting

In courtship, male spirals up into the air, hovers while giving series of short rapid hoots, then dives, clapping the wings together loudly under its body. Nest site is on dry ground, often on a raised hummock or ridge, especially in marshy country. Usually among tall grass or under a shrub. Very rarely above ground. Nest (built by female) is a depression in soil, lined with grass and feathers.

Illustration © David Allen Sibley.
Learn more about these drawings.

Text © Kenn Kaufman, adapted from
Lives of North American Birds

Migration

Northern birds are strongly migratory. Also somewhat nomadic, concentrating where there are temporary high populations of rodents.

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Migration

Northern birds are strongly migratory. Also somewhat nomadic, concentrating where there are temporary high populations of rodents.

  • All Seasons - Common
  • All Seasons - Uncommon
  • Breeding - Common
  • Breeding - Uncommon
  • Winter - Common
  • Winter - Uncommon
  • Migration - Common
  • Migration - Uncommon
Songs and Calls
Usually silent; on nesting grounds, a variety of barks, hisses, and squeals.
Audio © Lang Elliott, Bob McGuire, Kevin Colver, Martyn Stewart and others.
Learn more about this sound collection.

How climate change could affect this bird's range

In the broadest and most detailed study of its kind, Audubon scientists have used hundreds of thousands of citizen-science observations and sophisticated climate models to predict how birds in the U.S. and Canada will react to climate change.

Learn more

Read more: climate.audubon.org
Owls

Short-eared Owl

The darker the color, the more favorable the climate conditions are for survival. The outlined areas represent approximate current range for each season.

More on reading these maps.

Each map is a visual guide to where a particular bird species may find the climate conditions it needs to survive in the future. We call this the bird’s “climatic range.”

The colors indicate the season in which the bird may find suitable conditions— blue for winter, yellow for summer (breeding), and green for where they overlap (indicating their presence year-round).

The darker the shaded area, the more likely it is the bird species will find suitable climate conditions to survive there.

The outline of the approximate current range for each season remains fixed in each frame, allowing you to compare how the range will expand, contract, or shift in the future.

The first frame of the animation shows where the bird can find a suitable climate today (based on data from 2000). The next three frames predict where this bird’s suitable climate may shift in the future—one frame each for 2020, 2050, and 2080.

You can play or pause the animation with the orange button in the lower left, or select an individual frame to study by clicking on its year.

The darker the color, the more favorable the climate conditions are for survival. The outlined areas represent approximate current range for each season. More on reading these maps.
Winter
Summer

Winter Range
Summer Range
Both Seasons
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