The scientific name derives from the Latin "asio", meaning a kind of horned owl & "flammeus", meaning the colour of fire, in reference to their pure lemon coloured eyes which are reputed to glow like the flames of a fire when they are in flight.
The Short-Eared Owl is found throughout Europe, Northern Asia, North America, and much of the lower half of South America. In the UK it is most often seen in the north of the country, though in the winter it becomes more widespread due to migration from more northerly regions. It is very rare in Ireland, possibly due to the low population of voles. It is an extremely nomadic bird, making its population difficult to estimate. In the UK estimates range from 5,000, during the summer, to 50,000 over winter. A survey taken between 1988 & 1991, put estimates between 1000 & 3480 breeding pairs in mainland UK, though the report admits to the figures being unreliable.
Their ear tufts are very small & usually only seen when they are suprised, the tufts are much closer together than those of other eared owls. They also have a long wingspan relative to their body size. With their facial disc, long rounded wings and low flapping-gliding flying style, they a somewhat reminiscent of Marsh Harriers & Hen (or Northern) Harriers (Circus cyaneus) &, like the harriers, will often hover over their prey before dropping down feet first onto it.
Short-Eared Owls are active at any time of day or night. During most of the year they are often most active at dusk, but during winter & the breeding season they are more active in the daylight hours. In areas where there are few diurnal competitors, such as harriers, they are more likely to be active during daylight hours. In the UK, particularly in the north, they are the most commonly seen owl during the daytime.
They prefer open countryside for hunting, including moorland & marshes. They predominantly prey on small mammals, especially mice & voles, which they will hunt a very wide area for. They will eat small birds, bats, lizards, frogs, beetles & other insects. They are noted for congregating in areas where there is an overpopulation of mice & often in these areas they will raise two broods in a year. In the past they were seen as an important natural pest control & it is thought that they were instrumental in stopping plagues of mice in the UK during the 16th century & in South America during the 1870's. When catching birds, they will often be taken in the air.
Unusually, the Short-Eared Owl builds its own nest, quite often in shallow scrapes on the ground. Very unusually they will take an old nest in a tree. They are very wary of people & the nest will be in usually dense vegetation where it is unlikely to be found. They have been known to attack people in defence of the nest site. Incubation & brooding is done predominantly by the female, the male provides food for the female & the young during the nesting period. Nesting normally starts in early spring, though if food is plentiful & conditions not too harsh, nesting may start in winter. The number of eggs laid varies with the region they live in, in Europe 6-8 eggs is usual, in North America 5 or 6 is more usual. In areas with an abundance of food, the size of clutch may be larger, the largest recorded being 16 eggs. The eggs are normally laid at two day intervals & incubation starts with the first egg & lasts for around 28 days. At around 12 days after hatching, the young start often wandering long distances from the nest & wave their wings & call out when they want to be fed. They are able to fly at between 24-27 days after hatching, but usually remain dependent on their parents for a further three weeks.
Short-Eared Owls have been observed in stealing prey from kestrels & stoats & attacking harriers. They are themselves, often attacked by harriers, kestrels, ravens & carrion crows. Carrion crows will also often rob their nests. Because they are ground nesting, they are particularly prone to ground-based predators such as dogs and foxes.
The American Ornithologists Union (AOU) report the longevity of Short-eared Owls in the wild as only 4.5years, from a European ringing study though, they have been recorded as living to 20years & 9months.
In Hawaii, the subspecies Asio flammeus sandwicensis or Hawaiian owl, known there as "Pueo", is considered sacred & a protector. The owl figures in many of the mythological stories, saving their heroes or restoring them to life after they have been killed. There is still a belief that the owl flying across a persons path is an omen that something bad may happen if they continue their journey.
Least Concern (LC)
Species Number : 367.0
Alpha Code : SEOW
Common Name : Short-eared Owl
Longevity Record : 4yrs 5months
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