Short-Eared Owl

Asio flammeus

Last updated: November 15, 2022
Verified by: AZ Animals Staff
© iStock.com/Devonyu

The short-eared owl is one of the most widespread owl species in the world, covering five continents.

Short-Eared Owl Scientific Classification

Kingdom
Animalia
Phylum
Chordata
Class
Aves
Order
Strigiformes
Family
Strigidae
Genus
Asio
Scientific Name
Asio flammeus

Read our Complete Guide to Classification of Animals.

Short-Eared Owl Conservation Status


Short-Eared Owl Facts

Prey
Rodents, shrews, rabbits, gophers, bats, and weasels
Main Prey
Rodents
Name Of Young
Owlets
Group Behavior
  • Mainly solitary
Fun Fact
The short-eared owl is one of the most widespread owl species in the world, covering five continents.
Estimated Population Size
1.2 to 2.1 million
Biggest Threat
Habitat loss, collisions, hunting, and pesticides
Most Distinctive Feature
yellowish-orange eyes encircled with black rings
Distinctive Feature
large head, broad wings
Wingspan
43 inches
Incubation Period
24 to 37 days
Age Of Independence
27 to 36 days
Age Of Fledgling
12 to 18 days
Habitat
prairies, coastal grasslands, meadows,
Predators
bald eagles, northern goshawks, red-tailed hawks, and snowy owls
Diet
Carnivore
Lifestyle
  • Nocturnal
Type
Bird
Common Name
short-eared owl
Special Features
Short, hooked bill
Number Of Species
11
Location
North America, South America, Europe, Asia, Africa
Nesting Location
Marshy areas on the dry ground
Migratory
1

Short-Eared Owl Physical Characteristics

Color
  • Brown
  • Yellow
  • Black
  • White
Skin Type
Feathers
Lifespan
4.8 years
Weight
7.3 to 16.8 ounces
Length
13 to 17 inches
Age of Sexual Maturity
One year

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They have long, broad wings and soar like hawks.

Summary

The short-eared owl (Asio flammeus) is a medium-sized owl native to all continents except Antarctica and Australia. They live in open areas with low vegetation, like coastal grasslands, prairies, and meadows. They are primarily solitary but may roost communally. And they spend their days and nights hunting for prey as they soar hawk-like across the terrain. Find out everything there is to know about this owl species, including where it lives, what it eats, and how it behaves.

5 Amazing Short-Eared Owl Facts

  • The short-eared owl is one of the most widespread owl species in the world, covering five continents.
  • They have black rings around their eyes, giving them the appearance of wearing mascara.
  • They use their long, broad wings to soar like hawks when migrating.
  • They are active all hours of the day and night during the nesting season but are primarily nocturnal the rest of the year.
  • They place their nests on the ground, which makes them susceptible to mammalian predators. However, both parents fearlessly defend their nests.

Where to Find the Short-Eared Owl

Short-eared owls live on all continents except for Antarctica and Australia. They breed in Europe, Asia, South America, and North America and are partially migratory. Some populations in the northernmost ranges move south during winter. They are also highly nomadic, typically relocating to areas with higher rodent populations. These owls prefer to live in open areas with low vegetation, such as prairies, coastal grasslands, meadows, savannas, tundra, marshes, dunes, and agricultural regions. Look for them soaring low to the terrain or nesting on the ground surrounded by vegetation.

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Short-Eared Owl Nest

They nest in marshy areas on the dry ground, typically on a ridge around tall grass and shrubs. The nest is a depression in the soil 10 inches across and two inches deep, which females line with grass and feathers. 

Scientific Name

The short-eared owl (Asio flammeus) is from the Strigiformes order in the Strigidae family, encompassing typical or “true” owls. It is in the Asio genus, and its specific epithet, flammeus, is Latin for “flame-colored.” 

There are eleven recognized subspecies of short-eared owl:


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  • A. f. flammeus – North America, Europe, North Africa, and northern Asia
  • A. f. cubensis – Cuba
  • A. f. domingensis –  Hispaniola
  • A. f. portoricensis – Puerto Rico
  • A. f. bogotensis – Colombia, Ecuador, and northwestern Peru
  • A. f. galapagoensis – the Galápagos Islands
  • A. f. pallidicaudus –  Venezuela, Guyana and Suriname
  • A. f. suinda – from southern Peru and southern Brazil to Tierra del Fuego
  • A. f. sanfordi – the Falkland Islands
  • A. f. sandwichensis – the Hawaiian Islands
  • A. f. ponapensis – eastern Caroline Island

Size, Appearance, & Behavior

Short Eared Owl
The short-eared owl is somewhat social, forming monogamous bonds and communally breeding on occasion.

©RobDemPhoto/Shutterstock.com

This medium-sized owl measures 13 to 17 inches long and weighs 7.3 to 16.8 ounces, with a 33 to 43-inch wingspan. This species has big eyes, a large head, a short, hooked bill, and broad wings. Adults are a mottled brown with yellowish-orange eyes encircled with black rings and whitish discs. Males and females are similar in appearance, but the females are slightly larger.

These birds are primarily nocturnal but stay active all hours of the day and night during the breeding season. The short-eared owl is somewhat social, forming monogamous bonds and communally breeding on occasion. This species is typically silent but makes various barks, hisses, and squeals on their nesting grounds. They have long, broad wings and soar like hawks, especially when migrating.

Migration Pattern and Timing

The short-eared owl is partially migratory. Populations in northern regions will move south during winter. In North America, those that breed in Canada advances to the United States during winter. In contrast, some populations in the Northern United States and parts of South America stay in their environments year-round.

Diet

Short-eared owls are carnivores who hunt by flying low to the ground.

What Does the Short-Eared Owl Eat?

Their diet consists mainly of rodents, such as voles, lemmings, and mice. They also eat shrews, rabbits, gophers, bats, weasels, and muskrats. Short-eared owls occasionally eat other birds, especially in coastal regions. They hunt by flying low to the ground and hovering before dropping down on their prey. They look for food primarily by sound, typically around dawn and dusk.

Predators, Threats, and Conservation Status

The IUCN lists the short-eared owl as LC or “least concern.” Due to its extensive range and extremely large population, this species does not meet “threatened” status thresholds. These birds are vulnerable to habitat loss, collisions with wind turbines and vehicles, hunting, and pesticide ingestion. Future threats include endangered young from spring heat waves and habitat loss from wildfires. 

What Eats the Short-Eared Owl?

The short-eared owl is vulnerable to diurnal raptors, such as bald eagles, northern goshawks, red-tailed hawks, and snowy owls. They also nest on the ground, which makes their eggs and young targets for mammalian predators like dogs, foxes, coyotes, skunks, ravens, gulls, and crows. They use camouflage as a deterrent but will fearlessly attack intruders when threatened. 

Reproduction, Young, and Molting

Short-eared owls are seasonally monogamous and perform “sky dances” during courtship. Females lay six to eight white eggs and incubate them for 24 to 37 days, while the males bring food. Both parents assist in feeding their young and tirelessly defend their nests by making loud noises, posturing, and chasing. The young fledge the nest 12 to 18 days after hatching and can fly at 27 to 36 days. This species reaches sexual maturity at one year and has an average lifespan of 4.8 years, but it can live more than 12 years in the wild.

Population

The global short-eared owl population is estimated to number 1.2 to 2.1 million mature individuals. Europe forms 14% of its global range, with 169,000 to 284,000 individuals. From 1970 to 2017, there was a 68% reduction in its numbers in North America. However, trends for this species are difficult to determine due to its nomadic nature. It is unknown if their population is still declining.

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About the Author

Niccoy is a professional writer and content creator focusing on nature, wildlife, food, and travel. She graduated Kappa Beta Delta from Florida State College with a business degree before realizing writing was her true passion. She lives in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains and enjoys hiking, reading, and cooking!

Short-Eared Owl FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

What is the call of the short-eared owl?

This species is typically silent but makes various barks, hisses, and squeals on their nesting grounds.

Why is the short-eared owl endangered?

Short-eared owls are not threatened or endangered. However, they are vulnerable to habitat loss, collisions with wind turbines and vehicles, hunting, and pesticide ingestion.

Where can I find a short-eared owl?

Short-eared owls live on all continents except for Antarctica and Australia. These owls prefer to live in open areas with low vegetation, such as prairies and coastal grasslands.

How many short-eared owls are left?

The global short-eared owl population is estimated to number 1.2 to 2.1 million mature individuals.

How big is the short-eared owl?

This medium-sized owl measures 13 to 17 inches long and weighs 7.3 to 16.8 ounces, with a 33 to 43-inch wingspan.

What does the short-eared owl eat?

Their diet consists mainly of rodents, such as voles, lemmings, and mice. They also eat shrews, rabbits, gophers, bats, weasels, and muskrats.

What are short-eared owl predators?

The short-eared owl is vulnerable to diurnal raptors, such as bald eagles, northern goshawks, red-tailed hawks, and snowy owls.

What time do short-eared owls come out?

They look for food primarily by sound, typically around dawn and dusk.

Thank you for reading! Have some feedback for us? Contact the AZ Animals editorial team.

Sources
  1. Connecticut Deparment of Energy and Environmental Protection, Available here: https://portal.ct.gov/DEEP/Wildlife/Fact-Sheets/Short-eared-Owl
  2. Red List / BirdLife Internation, Available here: https://www.iucnredlist.org/species/22689531/202226582

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