Unlike most owls, this medium sized bird is often seen hunting during daylight hours, mainly around dawn and dusk and particularly across farmland and in grassland, marsh and moorland areas.
The adult short-eared owl has a round head and short neck. I has prominent, large piercing yellow eyes circled by a black ring with pale buff or whitish rounded ‘disc’ shaped patches surrounding the upper part of the face and forehead. There are small tufts of feathers on the top of the bird’s head with the appearance of ears from where this owl gets its name, they are often difficult to spot and usually lay flat on top of the head. The underside of the bird is a creamy white colour streaked with thin dark lines and a white belly area. The broad underwing is mainly buff or white with blackish wing tips and a narrow dark brown angled bar across the covert feathers towards the end of the wing.
The upperside of the owl is a buff and brown marbled pattern with orange/buff areas across the outer wing and a dark brownish ‘wrist’ patch with similarly coloured wingtips. There is a row of pale-coloured spots running down the back on both sides of the bird above the wings and a short square orange/buff tail with dark stripes running parallel to its outstretched wings. The feathers at the trailing edge of the wings are tipped white. The bill is short and thin, black in colour and hooked. Its feet are black with a yellow sole.
Close up of a Short-Eared Owl
In flight the short-eared will often issue a loud ‘boo – boo – boo’ hoot, alternatively, they have a short almost bark type call of ‘ke-ow’ or ‘waowk’.
Short-Eared Owl in flight
As with all other owls, the short-eared is a carnivore preferring as its staple diet the vole but it will also take other small rodents and occasionally birds.
Short-eared owls have one of the most widespread distribution patterns of all birds being found on all continents apart from Australia and Antarctica. Within the UK the bird is classified as being Amber on the category of conservation index.
Short-eared owls prefer open countryside and hunt across farmland, moors and coastal marshes. They are highly terrestrial. The UK’s resident population is predominantly concentrated in the north of England and Scotland although during the winter months visiting migrants can be found throughout our shores, more commonly in wetlands and coastal marsh areas.
Perched Short-Eared Owl on a fence post
Probably the owl which most closely resembles the short-eared and may easily be confused with it is the long-eared owl. Generally, however, the long-eared has darker plumage and a red/orange eye with a dark facial disc and pale coloured eyebrows, angled downwards in an obvious V shape. As previously stated the short-eared is often seen during daylight hours, particularly at and after dawn and before dusk where it can be viewed flying at a low height searching for its prey. Its stiff wings beat a slow rhythm and it tends to glide as it banks and circles across its hunting grounds. More easily sighted in winter in wetland and marsh regions when numbers of birds are greater.
Short-Eared Owl flying
The short-eared constructs a nest on the ground lined with grass or feathers in a scrape in which it lays between 4 to 8 plain creamy white coloured eggs. Up to two broods may be produced between April to July.
Nest of a Short-Eared Owl with chicks and eggs
Whilst some authorities give an estimated lifespan for the short-eared within Europe as between 10 to 15 years others quote a much shorter period with 7 years often given for North American populations.
The Eurasian Scops Owl is one of the smaller members of the Strigidae family of owls being smaller even than the Little Owl. It is one of the few European owls that leaves its breeding grounds and migrates south during the winter.
The little owl is quite common in many places, and is unique in that it often hunts during the day.