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Short-eared Owl


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.



Short-eared owls are not especially vocal. The primary call, a series of a dozen or more hoots, is given by males during courtship flight and also from the ground or from an elevated perch. Both males and females may bark, scream, or whine when defending the nest and offspring. Females sometimes utter a chickenlike cluck.

Other Sounds

Wing-clapping, performed in flight by adults of both sexes, sounds like the rapid slap of a hand against a thigh. Both adults and young snap their bills when threatened.

Search the Macaulay Library online archive for more sounds and videos

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.

You Might Also Like

Raptors of Winter, All About Birds, January 12, 2015.

Raptors and Rat Poison, Living Bird, Summer 2015.

An Encounter With Owls, Living Bird, Autumn 2015.



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bird image Blue-winged Warbler by Brian Sullivan

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