Friday, October 19, 2012

Owl of the Week: Short-Eared Owl

Good evening faithful readers!  Tonight I will tell you about the wonderful Short-Eared Owl, a specie of owl that we don't often see here at the Rocky Mountain Raptor Program.  We do have them in Colorado, but they're more secretive than their larger and more common fellows, such as the Great Horned Owl and the Long-Eared Owl.  Also, while some Short-Eared Owls may reside in Northern Colorado year-round, they are much more common in the winter.
Short-Eared Owls are actually very similar to Long-Eared Owls in size and shape.  Both are rather tall and skinny for their size, and weigh between half a pound and a pound.  Also, both owls have distinct facial discs and similar facial markings.  However, the similarities stop there.  The Short-Eared Owl has lighter plumage overall, and a notably lighter face than the Long-Eared Owl, and their eyes are more yellow than orange.  They also look different in flight, but that's getting into too much detail for the purposes of this blog.

And, of course, there are the "ears".  Remember, Owls don't have external ears like Humans and foxes, so the "ears" in this case are just the feather tufts on top of their heads.  In these birds, the ear tufts are present and noticeable, but a bit on the diminutive side, and very centrally located, like so:
Unlike Long-Eared Owls which favor wooded areas, the Short-Eared Owl is found in open places like prairies and mountain meadows.  They do prefer some protection for nesting, however, and build nests on the ground in dense undergrowth, dense tree stands, or low rubble.  One of the most interesting things about this beautiful owl is its communal nesting habits.  Often, but not always, Short-Eared Owls will join together and nest in groups of up to 200 birds!  Whether or not that happens is highly dependent on prey abundance. Wouldn't that be a sight?

Short-Eared Owls primarily dine on delicious voles and other small mammals.  They tend to fly low over fields and drop in their unsuspecting prey, silent and deadly as all owls are.  Prey differs by location (these birds live on all the continents except Antarctica and Australia), and in the arctic tundra they're big fans of lemmings, as you can imagine.  Every source I checked described their flight as "noticeably moth-like", and I didn't really know what that meant, so I looked up a video for you:

With a little imagination, I can see describing that flight as moth-like.

As I said, the RMRP doesn't see these owls as patients very often, so I don't have much more information to share with you about them.  The Short-Eared Owls the RMRP has admitted have usually been the unfortunate victims of car strikes, an all-too-common injury among birds.  Remember, if you see an injured owl or any other bird of prey, keep an eye on the bird and call the RMRP's Emergency Hotline (more details on our website). As always, thanks for reading, and thank you for your support of the Rocky Mountain Raptor Program and our mission to give wild raptors a second chance at freedom.  Stay tunes for next week's owl, the Boreal Owl!


  1. I imagine seeing 200 of these guys on a mountainside would be an awesome sight. Any tips on populations within hiking distance?