Lee Richardson Zoo
City of Garden CityAZA LogoFOLRZ LogoKansas Association of Conservation and Environmental Educators

Short eared owlShort-eared Owl

Order Strigiformes – Owls
Family Strigidae – true owls

Scientific Name:  Asio flammeus flammeus


DescriptionConsidered to be a medium sized owl which reaches lengths of 14.6-15.4 inches.  Has a fairly stocky body.  The ear tufts are rarely seen and are very close together on the head.  Pelage is buff with a light brown streaking below and darker streaking above.  The facial disk and wing linings are also light.  Females tend to be paler and larger than males.  All short-eared owls appear pale in flight.  Juveniles initially have a dense downy coat of a light buff color.  Their second coat will be a slightly darker brown.


RangeHome Range:  Found in nearly all of temperate Eurasia and North America.  Has been found in western and the southern half of South America.


Habitat Type:  Marsh lands and grasslands, open areas, tundra, and moorland.


Short eared owlReproductive Habits:  The breeding season begins whenever food and temperature are favorable.  This may be as early as November but normally takes place in the Spring.  Male short-eared owls perform an elaborate courtship flight several hundred feet in the air.  This acrobatic flight involves sharp swoops, somersaults, audible wing clapping and a vroo-hoo-hoo call.  The female lays a clutch of 5-7 (occasionally up to 16) creamy white eggs in a shallow depression in the ground usually covered by tall vegetation.  The female incubates the eggs for 23 days during which time the male will bring her food.   After the young hatch, the parents will sometimes drop small prey to them on the ground.  Though they may fly at 4 weeks, the juveniles are not independent until six weeks of age.


Diet in Wild:  Small birds and mammals, such as; mice, voles, shrews, moles and even young rabbits and hares (also small birds but less frequently). Voles make up the largest percentage of their diet.


Diet in Zoo:  1.5 oz BOP meat, 1 adult mouse on Wednesday, fast on Sunday.


General Info:  Short-eared owls fill the ground dwelling niche that many other owls do not use.  Although this reduces competition, these owls suffer from increased predation.  For this reason, the calls of the short-eared owls are soft and rarely used to avoid drawing attention. The territorial and courtship call is a low-pitched voo-hoo-hoo-hoo.  The alarm and aggression call is a wak-wak-wak.  Males will vigorously defend nesting territory and will often swoop and strike at any predator (including humans).   Females will often fake a broken wing to lead predators away from the nest.  Though territorial clashes are frequent, some loose knit colonies have been known to form during periods of abundant food.  In extreme weather conditions, the owls may make use of a rodent’s burrow for part of the day.  This species is very nomadic and tends to seek areas with abundant voles and lemmings.  Though short-eared owls can be active at any time of the day, they are generally crepuscular or diurnal.  Their vision is as good as any diurnal bird but their hearing is poor compared with nocturnal owls.

Only listed on CITES appendix ll, short-eared owls are in a stage of rapid decline.  Because available habitat has become diminished, these owls have recently begun to inhabit farmland and areas around airports where machinery and airplanes kill a large majority of adults.


Predators:  Large birds of prey and other owls, fox, mink and other mammals.  Eggs are often preyed upon by crows and rats.



Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Birds—Western Region. 1977. Miklos D. F. Udvardy. Alfred A. Knopf. New York. p. 452.


Birds in Kansas. Vol I. 1989. Max C. Thompson et al. University of Kansas Press. Lawrence, KS. pp. 343-344.


Grzimek’s Animal Life Encyclopedia. Vol 8 Birds II. 1975. Bernhard Grzimek. Van Nostrand Reinhold Company. New York. pp. 392-397, 419.


Owls of the Northern Hemisphere. 1988. Karel H. Voous. The MIT Press. Cambridge, MA. pp. 271-278.


Grzimek’s Animal Life Encyclopedia. Vol. 9, 2nd ed., 364-365 pp.