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Short-eared Owl
Asio flammeus

Short-eared Owl
Short-eared Owl

    Land Tenure - Short-eared Owl Habitat
  • Length: 35 - 44 cm; wingspan: 1 metre.
  • Short 'ears' are actually tufts of feathers on top of their heads; real ears are hidden under feathers on the sides of their heads.
  • Tawny plumage with dark streaks on underparts.
  • When in flight, black patches can be seen near bend of underwings.


British Columbia Blue List
Canada: Vulnerable

Special Significance

In British Columbia Short-eared Owls are found in a variety of open areas including estuaries, grasslands, marshes, fields, tundra, alpine meadows and rangelands. These owls may have an important role in agricultural areas where rodents can cause crop damage. Short-eared Owl populations are declining primarily due to the loss of their breeding habitat due to urban, agricultural and recreational development. Much of this owl's habitat is now on privately-owned agricultural land. Landowners are encouraged to assist the continued survival of this rare owl. Farmers are encouraged to leave some of their fields unplanted each year or to delay harvesting until after the owl's nesting season.


  • Breeds throughout British Columbia wherever suitable habitat exists.
  • Fraser River delta is the main wintering area in British Columbia.
  • This species has not nested in the South Okanagan for over a decade and is only occasionally sighted.
  • Nests from sea level to 975 metres.


  • Breeding habitat is in open country with short vegetation including rangelands, grasslands, near dry marshes, farmlands, low arctic tundra, brushy fields and forest clearings.
  • Nests are built on the ground in dry marshes or tall grass meadows.
  • Forage over open fields during the early morning or late evening.
  • Short-eared Owls overwinter in old fields, hay meadows, pastures or marshes.


  • Nesting occurs from March to mid-July; nest is a shallow scrape on the ground in tall grass or marsh vegetation.
  • Number of eggs laid depends on abundance of mice; in British Columbia usually lay 6 or 7 eggs.
  • Eggs are incubated by females for 23 to 29 days; young are ready to fly within four weeks.

Food Habits

  • Diet consists almost entirely of voles (meadow mice), but occasionally eats other rodents, shrews and small birds.

Interesting Facts

  • Short-eared Owls are most active at dawn and dusk, instead of at night like most owls.
  • Normally a quiet bird, although when courting and nesting they make a variety of barking or yapping calls; also clap wings in flight as part of courtship display.
  • Enjoy sunbathing; they face the sun with their eyes closed and wings spread.
  • Sometimes Short-eared Owls roost together in flocks of 100 birds or more in winter.
  • Young owls learn to walk and run before learning to fly because they nest on ground.


  • Habitat loss due to urban, agricultural and recreational development.
  • Disturbance of nesting sites by humans or livestock.
  • Destruction of nests during harvesting of hayfields.

Management Considerations

  • Leave some agricultural fields unplanted each year or delay harvesting until after the owl's nesting season.
  • Protect known nest sites from human disturbance.
  • Discourage free-roaming cats and dogs from nesting areas.
  • Protect important habitat such as marshlands, tall grass meadows and grasslands.
  • Maintain good range condition in grasslands to provide habitat for main prey species.


1. Campbell, R.W., N. K. Dawe, I. McTaggart-Cowan, J. Cooper, G. Kaiser and M.C. McNall. 1990. Birds of British Columbia: Volume 2. Royal British Columbia Museum,Victoria, BC.
2. Clark, R.J. 1975. A field study of the Short-eared Owl, Asio flammeus (Pontoppidan), in North America. Wildlife Monographs. 47: 1 -67.


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