SHORT-EARED OWL – (Asio flammeus)
The Short-eared Owl is an average size owl, measuring around 40 cm (16 in.) in length. The plumage is brown mottled with light beige and orange. The under parts are light beige to orange and finely streaked with brown. The eyes are orange-yellow. The facial disk is beige with a brown edge on the outer side of the eyes, sometimes forming a whole ring around the eyes. The legs are covered with beige to orange feathers. As with other birds of prey, females are larger. Sexes are similar.
The short-eared owl is a widespread species that inhabits open country such as the prairie, the tundra and the steppes, also wetlands such as marshes, where it can find small rodents, its favorite prey. The short-eared owl hunts during the day, although in the evening, which makes it easier to observe. When hunting it flies low, hovering above the ground. The nest is usually on the ground, or near the ground in wet areas.
As its English name implies, the short-eared owl has small tufts that are usually difficult to see, unless the bird is in defensive mode. The name ‘Owl’ is an onomatopoeia for the bird’s call and comes from Cockney. The genus Latin name ‘Asio’ means a short-eared owl, and the species name ‘flammeus’ means ‘flame’, in reference to the plumage color.
Although the short-eared owl breeds on PEI and is a year-round resident, it is rarely observed on the island, or in the Maritimes. This region is situated at the southeast edge of its breeding range in Canada. The short-eared owl is found in most of the northern Hemisphere, Argentine and Chile, and Southeast Asia. It also nests on oceanic islands such as Hawaii. It is partially migratory.
Conservation: the short-eared owl is listed as a species of ‘special concern’ by COSEWIC, due to population declines. An important factor is loss of habitat, where agriculture expanded and pesticides are used. Habitat is also lost due to urban development and wetland drainage.