California Raptor Center

Short-eared Owl

Scientific Name: Asio flammeus
(Asio is Latin for ‘horned owl’ and flammeus is Latin for ‘flaming” or ‘fiery-red’ which describes the feathers (which or more often a buff color).

Size: Length: 13-17in Wingspan: 38-44in        

Weight: Female: 284-475g (~0.62-1.1lb)  Male: 206-368g (~0.45-0.81lb)

Lifespan: In the wild they the average 4 years and in captivity may live to be around 13 years.

ID: The Short-eared Owl is a medium-sized Owl. The plumage is buffy brown with dark streaks on the chest, belly, and back. Males tend to be lighter in color than females. This coloring provides good camouflage, but if this fails, a Short-eared Owl will feign death to avoid detection. The wings and tail are strongly barred. The yellow eyes are circled with black and set in whitish or buffy-white facial disks, which are suffused with a ring of brown. The bill is black. The head appears round without ear tufts, but at very close range small ear tufts are visible. In flight, the dark "wrist" on the underwing is the key field mark.

Hunting: Short-eared Owls hunt mainly at night and during the morning and late afternoon. They fly over open areas, 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 occasionally hunt from a perch or while standing on the ground.

Prey: Eat mainly small mammals, but sometimes take birds. A few insects such as roaches, grasshoppers, beetles, katydids, and caterpillars are also taken. Short-eared Owls and Northern Harriers often harass each other when hunting the same field, and harriers often steal food from the Owl.

Breeding: The Short-eared Owl nests on the ground, unlike most other Owls. Nests are usually situated in the shelter of a grass mound, under a grass tuft, or among herbaceous ground cover. Nests are loosely constructed by the female, who scrapes a spot on the ground and then lines the scrape with grass stems, herb stalks, and feathers plucked from her breast. Clutch sizes range from 4 to 14 eggs (average 5 to 7), with large clutches laid during years of high food abundance. Eggs are laid every 1 to 2 days and incubation commences with the first. Incubation is done largely by the female, with the male bringing food to the nest and occasionally taking a turn incubating. The eggs have an average incubation of 21 days. Nestlings have been known to prey on their smaller nest mates. The young usually disperse from the nest when they are about 14 to 17 days old. They are independent 1 to 2 weeks after fledging.

Range: The Short-eared Owl is highly migratory, and nomadic, except in southern parts of its range. Short-eared Owls occur widely in the Old World, in Iceland, the Hawaiian Islands, Galapagos Islands, and North and South America.

Status: They are protected under the US Migratory Bird Act and CITES Appendix II.