Short Eared Owl
33 cm – 42 cm
80 cm – 91 cm
260 grams – 475 grams
Not globally threatened but many island populations are threatened or vulnerable mainly due to loss of habitat. Locally frequent.
Open areas with bushes and scattered trees. Large clearings near forest edges, coastal areas and moorland.
The Short-Eared Owl has a worldwide range that rivals that of the Barn Owl and is the greatest exponent of low-level hunting over open ground. This is a mainly diurnal owl and has a light and effortless flight which is a joy to watch.
These owls move out in winter from the greater part of their northerly range in Europe and Asia, going in almost any direction, unpredictable and footloose until they find food. Their prey is almost exclusively made up of small mammals such as mice, voles and shrews. They will occasionally take small birds. A recent study in Finland recorded 40 pairs of Short-Eared Owls who survived in an area less than 20 square kilometres during a breeding season. Each pair laid an average of over seven eggs and reared almost five young in a year when voles were abundant.
Short-Eared Owls do have ear tufts, as the name suggests, but often they cannot be seen. When laid back flat they are all but indistinguishable, but an owl taken by surprise can raise them into quite substantial “horns”. At the nest, the adult birds make use of their flexible, expressive facial discs and these horns to put on a frightening exhibition that probably deters many predators. These owls nest on the ground in a rough, shallow scrape. Nests and eggs are not unknown in the winter provided there are plenty of voles.
The number of Short-Eared Owls has declined over a long period in many areas. Drainage of coastal marshes and pastures has also affected them seriously.