Short-Eared Owl (Asio flammeus)  


Class: Aves
Order: Strigiformes
Family:    Strigidae
Size:    Length: 12 to 16 inches (30 to 41 cm)   Wingspan: 42 to 45 inches (106 to 115 cm)
Weight: 11 to 14 ounces (312 to 397 grams)
Diet: Mostly mice and voles
Distribution: Every continent except Australia and Antarctica
Young:  4 to 7 young, once a year 
Animal Predators:  Birds of prey, badgers and coyotes
IUCN Status: No special status
Terms: Young: Owlet   Group:  Parliament
Lifespan: 15 years in captivity



·     The short-eared owl is also known as the marsh owl.

·     It can eat up to 2,000 mice and voles in a four-month period.

·     The short-eared owl can swivel its head in a 180-degree motion.

·     Indigestible items such as fur and bones are regurgitated in pellet form.



These owls are beautifully coloured, with mixed beige, black and white feathers. They have large dark yellow eyes with large black irises. Their eyes are fixed forward and are unable to move from side to side, so they have to rotate their head to see to the side. Although they have very small ears, their ear openings are large and their hearing is acute. The females are slightly larger than the males. 



These owls live on every continent of the world with the exception of Australia and Antarctica, including Canada, U.S., northern Europe, southern Asia, and the northern tip of Africa. In northerly ranges, short-eared owls migrate south for the winter. They prefer to live in open areas with few trees, such as marshes, bogs, fields and even airports. 


Feeding Habits

Shorted-eared owls eat mostly mice and voles, swooping down on them and picking them up with their sharp talons. They also feed on other small mammals such as rats and squirrels, as well as some small birds and insects. 



Mating takes place in winter, and in April, the female lays four to seven eggs over a period of several days. The female incubates the eggs for 21 to 26 days, while the male brings food to her. If a predator approaches the nest, the male will swoop down and pretend to be injured to draw attention away from the nest. The eggs hatch one at a time, usually within a two-day interval. The owlets are born with their eyes closed and covered in an off-white down. Their eyes open when they are between six to eight days old. The eldest owlet may be a week or more older than his youngest sibling and already walking while the youngest is still in the egg. The mother keeps watch over them until the youngest is three weeks of age, while the father brings food back to the nest for all of them. At two weeks, the youngsters begin to leave the nest on foot, keeping within close proximity, and at one month, they start learning to fly. They leave their parents’ sides only when they are fully mature and capable of hunting on their own. 



Short-eared owls are monogamous and live in pairs, but hunt alone. They build a nest on the ground surrounded by tall grasses within a dense shrub or low within a coniferous tree. Because they hunt mostly at night, they rely heavily on their hearing to locate prey. When the hunting has not been successful during the night, they will venture out during the day to supplement their diets. The calls of short-eared owls include a repetitive, soft “hoo, hoo, hoo” as well as a sharp “kee-ah.”



Short-eared owl populations have declined in North America since 1900 from loss of habitat. They are Endangered in Massachusetts, Illinois, and Oahu, Hawaii and of Special Concern in California. Environment Canada’s COSEWIC lists them as Special Concern. Although short-eared owls are not protected by Canada’s Migratory Birds Convention Act, legislation in most provinces protects them from hunting, possession and selling



Short-Eared Owl Wildlife Fact File, IM Pub, US