Short-eared Owl

Asio flammeus
A Short-eared Owl specimen on display in the exhibit "Birds of D.C."

The small tufts of feathers on its forehead give the Short-eared Owl its name. Like all birds, however, the Short-eared Owl’s real ears are small openings hidden underneath the feathers on the sides of its head. This species possesses the short legs, rounded wings, large yellow eyes, and disk-shaped face characteristic of owls. The Short-eared Owl may also be identified by its size (15 inches), streaked brown-and-tan body, and off-white face. Males and females are similar at all seasons. The Short-eared Owl occurs across much of the world, being absent only from polar regions, isolated oceanic islands, and Australia. In North America, the Short-eared Owl breeds across Canada, Alaska, and the northern tier of the United States. Populations breeding in colder regions migrate south for the winter, while warmer parts of the Short-eared Owl’s breeding range host this species all year. In winter, Short-eared Owls may be found across much of the United States and south to central Mexico. Short-eared Owls breed primarily in open, treeless habitats such as tundra, grassland, and prairie. This species also frequents open habitats in winter, when it may be found in fields and marshes. Typical for an owl, the Short-eared Owl eats small mammals, such as mice, voles, and shrews, and may be found in greater numbers where prey is plentiful. The Short-eared Owl is an adept night hunter, using its excellent hearing to locate prey on the ground in order to fly down and capture it with its talons. However, like some other owls, this species frequently hunts during the day as well. This fact, combined with the Short-eared Owl’s preference for open habitat, makes this a comparatively easy owl species to observe.

DC Information

Uncommon winter visitor, November to May, but may possibly breed here. Usually found over grassy marshlands and agricultural areas. Female is larger than male.

Specimen Information

Date:  12/1/1886
Collected By:  James P. Stabler
Locality:  Sandy Springs, MD
Sex:  Male, Adult
Catalog ID:  109955

Distribution Map

distribution map for this species

Bird Vocalizations

Sound from xeno-canto. XC48752 Asio flammeus (Short-eared Owl)

Sound from xeno-canto. XC27372 Asio flammeus (Short-eared Owl)