Nature Canada

Species Spotlight: Short-eared Owl

Get to know some of the species at risk in the Lac Deschênes IBA with the Species Spotlight, aka “Sp-Spot”. Today meet the: Short-Eared Owl

Photographer Wildaboutburnley

Photographer Wildaboutburnley

Scientific Name: Asio flammeus
SARA Status: Special Concern; Ontario: Special Concern; Quebec: Likely to be designated
Taxonomic Group: Birds
Size: An average length of 33-43cm, weight of 206-475g, and wingspan of 105-107cm.

Known for its floppy flight pattern and the black rings around its eyes which give it the appearance of wearing mascara, the short-eared owl can be found throughout the world in marshes, grasslands, and tundra. This owl’s plumage colouring provides it great camouflage in its natural habitats, however it will also play dead when threatened to deter any possible predators.

While these birds will go to such great lengths to avoid predators, they will go even further to hunt their preferred prey: voles. Not only do they drift around nomadically to find higher vole populations when nearby ones are low, but they will also hover above prey for prolonged periods of time before pouncing to ensure success.

With many marshes being drained for urban development and grasslands being taken over for agricultural practices, short-eared owl populations are gradually declining as a result of this loss in their natural habitat. In addition, the number of deaths of these birds caused by collisions with vehicles, from cars to aircraft, has been detrimental to overall populations and is continuing to increase every year.

Where Else Can You See This Species?
Short-eared owls are nomadic in nature and thus tend to move around a lot. However, they can often be seen in the Old World, the Americas, Hawaiian Islands, Iceland, and the Galapagos Islands. In Ontario, they are common in open areas throughout the southern regions.

Did You Know?

  • Unlike most owls, short-eared owl pairs nest on the ground.
  • To minimize predation threats as a result of vulnerability, owlets will begin to leave the nest starting from twelve days after hatching.
  • To attract mates, male owls will execute spectacular aerial performances which involve flying up to 400 feet above the ground.

Check back every week to read about a different species at risk that can be found in Lac Deschênes.
You can report sightings of this and other rare species to the Canadian Wildlife Service at (819) 997-2800 or on the MNR Natural Heritage Information Centre website. A photo and the location of your sighting are also very helpful!

We would like to thank our guest blogger Stephen Lee for contributing this post. Stephen is a student in the IB program and is interested in ecology and sustainability.

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