Medium sized owl (206-350g). It has a large head and short neck, with large yellow eyes and a short hooked black bill. The plumage on the body is mottled brown, with bars on the tail and wings. On the tops of their head, they have tufts of feathers that resemble ears. These however, are not always visible.
Has one of the most widespread distribution of any bird, present on all continents except Antarctica. In the northern parts of its range it can be migratory in the winter moving to warmer southern areas.
Short-eared owls typically prefer open habitats, such as grasslands (including agricultural land), coastal wetland areas and inland wetland areas (such as marshes and fens).
Small mammal specialist, with rodents being their main food group. Voles especially are important (90% of their diet), but mice, rats, shrews, moles, bats and squirrels are also taken. Small birds are also sometimes predated (such as starlings), as well as invertebrates occasionally (beetles, roaches, caterpillars).
Diurnal or crepuscular hunter, most commonly seen during early morning and late afternoon, presumably to coincide with when their prey species are active. Generally form monogamous pairs and nest on the ground, concealed by low vegetation. Breeding in the northern hemisphere happens from March-June, often forming large communal breeding flocks at this time.
Short-eared owls can be seen all year round in northern England and Scotland. During the winter, there is an influx of migrating continental birds (Scandinavia, Russia, Iceland) to central, southern and eastern parts of England. These tend to be localised to coastal marshes and wetlands over winter.
Habitat loss is of open habitats to development, agriculture and even to forestry is a key factor in their decline. Pest control of rodents will also have knock on effects on short-eared owl numbers.
Did you know?
- Short-eared owls have a very specific way of consuming their prey- it’s pretty gruesome! It involves the owl decapitating its prey, removing the entrails and then swallowing it whole.
- Part of the males courtship flight is to “clap” their wings under their bodies in quick bursts.