Short Eared Owl (Asio flammeus)

short eared owl

The short eared owl, also referred to as the short-eared owl or Asio flammeus, is one of the smaller owls in North America. It has yellow eyes with dark brown rings around them, yellow eyebrows, and black ear tufts that look like the tips of horns protruding from its head.

The owl has thick, fluffy feathers on its body, with dark brown markings across the top of its wings and back of its head and lighter feathers underneath.

Asio flammeus belongs to the genus Asio, meaning a form of an Asiatic vulture, in the family Strigidae, which contains all true owls. The species was first described by Linnaeus in his Systema Naturae in 1758 as Strix flammeus.

The short-eared owl is a medium-sized owl found throughout most of North America and Eurasia. It ranges in length with females being slightly larger than males on average. The wingspan can be as much as 102 cm making it one of the largest species of owl in the world.

The adult male has a grey back and crowns with dark streaks; lighter streaks mark the underparts, and the eyes are yellow. Females are mottled brown over most of their bodies, with heavy streaking on the underparts.

Asio flammeus description

short eared owl

The Short-eared owl is one of the widely distributed owls worldwide. They can be found during the day sleeping on branches or fence posts, as long as they are dry and not too warm.

They prey on rodents and shrews but will also eat insects, amphibians, reptiles, or birds. Hunting usually takes place at night with a high concentration around waterways, fields, and meadows where prey animals gather.

It has a low hunting success rate which causes them to occasionally attack domestic animals like chickens and rabbits.

Short eared owl scientific name

The scientific name of the Short eared owl is Asio flammeus

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Short eared owl habitat

The short eared owl is a medium-sized owl found throughout parts of northern and central Europe, North America, and East Asia. They inhabit a variety of habitats ranging from open plains to lowland forests to coastal regions.

They also live in deserts, steppes, mountain ranges, taiga’s, and other diverse areas. Their diet consists mostly of small mammals such as mice or voles but they also eat birds such as grouse or partridges. It is believed that this species chooses these varying habitats based on its need for certain prey.

Short-eared owl size and weight

The short eared owl adults are about 13 to 17 inches (34 to 43 cm) in length and weigh about 0.5 to 1 pound (206 to 475 g). They have a wingspan of about 30 to 40 inches (86 to 102 cm), and females are noticeably larger than males.

Short eared owl feathers and plumages

short eared owl

The feathers of the short eared owl are brownish-black with a few small pale spots. The feathers on the upper parts of the wings have a white edge. The underside of the wings and tail are dark brown with a small white patch near the center.

Most notably, this species has ear tufts on either side of its head that give it its common name.


It was originally thought that owls molt during the winter months, but more recent studies have shown that they are more active during this time than in any other season. They spend a lot of their time in their nest or roost and are inactive for long periods of time.

Owls typically lose their feathers from the tip to the base of the feather on one side of their body at a time and begin regrowing new feathers while molting occurs on the opposite side.

The process can take up to six weeks to complete, so it is important for owls to keep a healthy diet during this time as there is less insulation due to the lack of feathers. Molting may also be regulated by light exposure as well as changes in day length; both of these factors influence hormonal balances which affect hormone-driven seasonal behaviors such as reproduction, migration, and activity patterns.

Eurasian Eagle Owl (Bubo bubo)

Nesting behavior

Short-eared Owls usually nest in tree cavities, caves, and other crevices. They are also known to nest on the ground, amid grasses, low plants, or below shrubs. The female will search for a nest site and begin to collect nesting material such as grasses, leaves, moss, pine needles, and sticks from the surrounding area that may help keep their eggs warm.

Diet and foraging

The short eared owl hunts primarily by day or night and is almost exclusively insectivorous. Its diet includes beetles, butterflies, crickets, grasshoppers, wasps, flies, and ants. The short eared owl will also supplement its diet with mammals such as mice, rabbits, shrews, gulls, shorebirds, rats, weasels, voles, or moles.

Short eared owl sounds and vocal behavior

Short-eared owls are not particularly vocal. During courtship flights and from elevated perches or the ground, males use a series of dozens of hoots as their primary call. During the defense of the nest and offspring, they may scream, bark, or whine.


short eared owl

A short-eared owl baby reaches sexual maturity at one year of age. The northern hemisphere’s breeding season runs from March to June, with the peak occurring in April.
It is possible for these owls to flock together during this time.

In order to attract females, males make great displays of flight during the breeding season. Courtship displays involve the male swooping down and flapping his wings over the nest. It is generally believed that these owls are monogamous.

They nest on the ground in prairies, tundras, savannas, and meadows. Weeds, grass, or feathers may lightly line nests that are concealed by low vegetation. It is not unusual for clutches to contain 4 to 7 white eggs, but vole abundance can result in clutches containing up to a dozen eggs. One brood is produced every year.

The female incubates the eggs for 21 to 37 days on average, before hatching and producing short eared owl babies. It takes about four weeks for a short-eared owl baby to fledge.

Great Gray Owl (Strix nebulosa)

Short eared owl lifespan

The lifespan of a short eared owl is from 9 to 11 years in the wild and 12 to 15 years in captivity. On average, the lifespan of a short eared owl is about ten years.

Movements and migration

The short-eared owl has a limited range of movements and migration. They reside in Eurasia and Africa. They typically stay close to their home and do not migrate often. Some of the places where you can find these owls are France, Italy, Greece, Asia Minor, Corsica, Sardinia, Sicily, Algeria, and Morocco.

Diseases and threats

Owls are threatened by changes in the environment, such as habitat destruction and pesticide use. Collisions with man-made structures also pose a threat. Owls are adept at hunting at night but when they become active during the day due to lack of food or night blindness they may be more vulnerable to predators.

Population status

Approximately 3,000,000 Short-eared owls live in the world, which translates to as many as 2,000,000 mature birds, this is according to the IUCN Red List. It is estimated that 54,700 to 186,000 pairs exist in the European population, which translates to 109,000 to 372,000 mature birds.

In the current IUCN Red List status, this species is categorized as Least Concern (LC) but its population is greatly declining.