Wildlife In FOcus | Short-EARED OWL

David Coultham

Species Guide | Short-Eared Owl (Asio flammeus)

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Video | Short-Eared Owl – All You Need To Know

APPEARANCE

The Short-Eared Owl is a medium-sized bird with mottled brown feathers on their bodies, and paler colors under their wings. They have piercing yellow eyes with pale feathers framing their facial features. Unusually for owls, you can often spot them hunting during the day.

Did You Know? The first recorded sightings of Short-Eared Owls in the U.K. date back to 1678! It is highly likely however that they were present long before this time.

The scientific name Asio refers to the genus of owls with tufts of feathers on their heads that resemble the ears of mammals. In actuality, they are not ears at all! They are just long feathers that the owl occasionally uses to display; particularly when in a defensive stance.

Image Credit | Wirestock

Diet

The Short-Eared Owl’s favorite food is the field vole. It’s the availability of this food that will often be the reason the owls can be seen hunting during the day. They will also eat other small mammals and occasionally will target smaller birds. Their hunting technique involves flying low over the ground and dropping onto their prey feet first.

HABITAT

The primary habitat for the Short-Eared Owl is rough open country such as moorland, grasslands & bogs. During the summer breeding season, you are most likely to spot them in the North of England as well as Scotland; however, their populations are scarce with estimates supporting that there may only be anything from 600 to 2000 breeding pairs in the U.K. Populations of Short-Eared Owls in the U.K. are bolstered during the winter months by birds that migrate from Europe.

Check out the European distribution of Short-Eared Owls on the EuropeBirdPortal.

From a global context, they are present on every single continent except Australia and Antarctica; making them one of the most widespread birds on the planet.

Note that this map is for a rough illustration of breeding distribution across the UK1, whereby light green indicates established populations. Noting also that populations are more widespread during the winter due to migratory birds.

Behavior

Short-Eared Owls are relatively quiet birds, and you will rarely hear them except during the breeding season when the males display to attract females, or if they are signalling an alarm call.

Short-Eared Owl
Alarm Call:

João Tomás, xeno-canto.org

The Short-Eared Owl breeds from the age of one year. They are generally monogamous in nature breeding during the Spring and Summer months, but whilst the breeding window is quite large they typically have a single brood each year, though two broods are not unknown. They make their nests on the ground concealed within vegetation and are lined with grass and feathers. The female lays up to 7 eggs which are incubated (by the female) for 26 days, and are fully fledged after another 26 to 31 days.

Image Credit | Wirestock

STATS

Wing Span290 – 105 cm
Body Weight3260 – 350 grams
Longevity6 – 7 Years

NATURAL PREDATORS

As a ground-nesting bird, they are susceptible to predation by several mammals, so nest concealment is their best form of defense.

Did You Know? Short-eared owls will pretend they are injured to predators that get a little too close to their nests to act as a distraction.

Conservation Status

Short-Eared Owl numbers have declined significantly in the U.K. Several reasons cited, including the loss of habitat due to human activity4, as well as the cycle of felling and growing woodland plantations for human use. Consequently, they are registered as an Amber Species in the U.K. but are registered as Least Concern from a global viewpoint by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

U.K.
Conservation Status

Global
Conservation Status



References

  1. Population data based on BTO assessment
  2. Featherbase
  3. RSPB
  4. Sensitivities To Land Use Change By Breeding Short-Eared Owls in Britain
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