Short-eared owl (Photo by Gregory Johnston)
What does it look like?
Short-eared owls measure approximately 34 to 43 centimetres in height, with a wingspan double that. Mottled brown with pale chests and thin streaks, they’re identified by the large buff wing patch on their outer wing, visible in flight, and the small feather tufts on their heads that look like ears. Male and female short-eared owls are similar in appearance; however, females are slightly larger and darker. Its colouration acts as an excellent camouflage and is usually noticed only when it flies.
Where is it found?
The short-eared owl is widely distributed on a global scale and lives in habitats such as the Arctic tundra, grasslands, marshes, meadows, prairies and open woodlands. In much of Canada, you are most likely to spot this owl during the spring as it migrates north to breed from wintering areas in the United States and southern Ontario. Between late April and early June, females lay an average of four to seven eggs in ground nests, incubating for roughly 27 days while the male guards the nest and brings the female food. Although the bird breeds in all of Canada’s provinces and territories, the short-eared owl is most common in the prairie provinces and along the Arctic coast.
What do they eat?
Unlike most nocturnal owls, the short-eared owl is diurnal, hunting during the day and at night, mostly at dawn or dusk. It flies over open areas a few feet above the ground to spot and pounce on its prey. The species' diet consists of small mammals and sometimes birds, depending on the species present.
What is this species' conservation status?
In Canada, the short-eared owl is identified as a species of special concern by the Government of Canada’s Committee on the Status of Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC). The owl has suffered from a continuing population decline over the last 40 years, with a decrease of almost 20 percent in the last decade alone. Habitat loss and degradation on its wintering grounds and some breeding sites are a major threat to short-eared owl populations.
What is NCC doing to protect habitat for this species?
At the Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC), we’re working hard to ensure this owl has habitat on which to thrive. NCC’s Missouri Coteau in Saskatchewan and the Gaspé Peninsula in Quebec are two examples of NCC conservation areas that provide nesting habitat for the short-eared owl.