Critter Corner - Short-eared Owl
(Asio flammeus)

DID YOU KNOW:

Short-eared owls are secretive, ground-dwelling owls that often spend winter in our area.  They live in open country such as pastures and prairies.  Small feather tufts on top of the head give this bird its name, though the tufts are not the ears.  The ears are on each side and toward the face and hidden by feathers.  These owls are about the size of a crow and have a 3 1/2 foot wing span.  Because birds have hollow bones and light-weight feathers, these owls weigh less than 1 pound.

EATING HABITS:

Short-eared owls prefer mice for dinner.  Rats, shrews, birds, rabbits and bats are also hunted.  These owls hunt day and night, flying in circles and gliding low to the ground.  They locate their prey with excellent eyesight and hearing.  Owls are considered to have the finest hearing of any animal.

THE YOUNG:

Short-eared owls nest on the ground.  They make a small depression and line it with grasses and feathers, then the mother lays four to seven eggs.  As Mom incubates the eggs, Dad helps guard the nest and brings her food.  The eggs hatch in about three weeks, and the young are flying about a month later.  Both parents guard and feed the owlets and teach them to hunt.

HABITAT (HOME):

Short-eared owls breed and raise their young in the northern United States and Canada.  Open country is essential for their survival.  Many of these owls spend winters in Missouri and Kansas because the weather is not as severe as it is in the north.

 

DEFENSIVE HABITS:

These brown-streaked owls are well camouflaged in their grassy habitat.  If danger comes too close, they will fly to escape.  Owls snap their beaks together and hiss when threatened.  They are very protective of their babies.  A parent will try to lead the predator away by acting as if it has a broken wing.  If this doesn't work, Mom and Dad can attack with strong beaks and sharp talons -- they are fierce fighters.

UNUSUAL FACTS:

  • One of the short-eared owl's calls sounds like the barking of a small dog.

  • Like most hunting birds, the females are larger than the males.

 To learn more about short-eared owls

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(Photo credits: Large picture of short-eared owl, Missouri Department of Conservation; Short-eared owl in grass, US Fish and Wildlife Agency; Short-eared owl nest, National Parks Service; Short-eared owl on branch, USDA)