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Short-eared Owl

Asio flammeus ORDER: STRIGIFORMES FAMILY: STRIGIDAE

IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern

This open-country hunter is one of the world's most widely distributed owls, and among the most frequently seen in daylight. Don't look too eagerly for the ear tufts, which are so short they're often invisible. More conspicuous features are its black-rimmed yellow eyes staring out from a pale facial disk. These birds course silently over grasslands on broad, rounded wings, especially at dawn and dusk. They use acute hearing to hunt small mammals and birds.

Keys to identification Help

Owls
Owls
Typical Voice
  • Size & Shape

    Short-eared Owls are medium-sized owls with rounded heads. The "ears" mentioned in their name are difficult to see. The wings are broad and the tips are smoothly rounded. The tail is short.

  • Color Pattern

    Short-eared Owls are medium brown spotted with buff and white on the upperparts. The face is pale with yellow eyes accentuated by black outlines. The breast is heavily streaked with brown; the chest and belly are pale or buffy. The pale underwing has a dark comma-shaped mark near the wrist, and the upperwing shows a pale patch in the primaries.

  • Behavior

    They hunt during daylight, flying low over short vegetation. They flap with stiff beats of their rounded wings, giving their flight a buoyant, mothlike quality.

  • Habitat

    Look for Short-eared Owls in grasslands and open areas, where they perch in low trees or on the ground.

Range Map Help

Short-eared Owl Range Map
View dynamic map of eBird sightings

Field MarksHelp

Similar Species

Similar Species

Northern Harriers hunt in the same habitats with a similar flight style, but they have smaller heads, longer tails, and more pointed wings. Harriers show a bold white rump patch that Short-eared Owls lack. Long-eared Owls are darker, with prominent ear tufts and barring on the belly, but are very similar in flight. Barn Owls are much less likely to be seen during the day. They are paler overall, with a white, heart-shaped face and brown eyes.

Regional Differences

The pueo of Hawaii is a distinct subspecies of the Short-eared Owl that is native to the islands but similar in appearance to the North American subspecies. A buffier, less streaky form is native to the Caribbean and is a rare visitor to Florida.

Find This Bird

Unless you live in the northern U.S. or Canada, you'll want to look for Short-eared Owls during winter. Look for open fields, grasslands, or airports and visit near dawn or dusk for your best chance of finding them. They may be sitting directly on the ground or flying low and erratically as they hunt. They often cover great distances in a crisscrossing or roughly circular route, so if one flies out of sight be patient—it may come back for a return visit.

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bird image Blue-winged Warbler by Brian Sullivan

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