Nature Canada Nature Canada Nature Canada
Bird Tweet of the Week: Short-eared Owl

Bird Tweet of the Week: Short-eared Owl

[caption id="attachment_27127" align="alignleft" width="300"]Image of a Short-eared Owl Photos from Flickr, Ann Cook[/caption]
The Short-eared Owl is an migratory species associated with large open areas such as grasslands, fields, marshlands, and even airports. However due to habitat loss, the Short-eared Owl is labeled at-risk both provincially and nationally. Each week we introduce a new bird from the Ottawa-Gatineau area through our segment on CBC Radio’s In Town and Out. Alex MacDonald, Nature Canada’s Manager of Protected Areas, shares interesting facts about the birds that live in our communities. Be sure to tune-in to “Bird Tweet of the Week” on CBC Radio One 91.5 FM on Saturday mornings from 6am to 9am and listen to past episodes on our website. This episode aired on Saturday April 9th, 2016.
Email Signup

Want more nature news?

Subscribe to Nature Canada's online community!

Who’s there? Identifying owl calls 

Who’s there? Identifying owl calls 

Is there an owl in your neighbourhood? Probably. Some can be found almost anywhere with trees, even in the city! Even so, owls are famously mysterious. Many people have never seen one in the wild. Winter is a great time to look because the bare branches help reveal roosts. Some owls such as the Great Horned and Northern Saw-Whet also become more vocal in late winter as breeding season approaches.

Guide to common Canadian owls and their sounds

Barred Owl

  Image of a Barred Owl
Habitat: Mature forests across southern Canada. Most active during: Night. Sounds: Its most famous call sounds like a raspy: “Who cooks for you, who cooks for you-all?”

Great Horned Owl

  Image of a Great Horned Owl
Habitat: Diverse treed landscapes across North America, including urban parks. Most active during: Dusk and night. Sounds: The classic owl sound effect used in TV and film, which sounds like: “Who’s awake? Me too.”

Eastern and Western Screech Owl

[caption id="attachment_24284" align="alignleft" width="269"]Eastern Screech Owl by Mike Norkum. CC BY ND 2.0 Eastern Screech Owl by Mike Norkum. CC BY ND 2.0[/caption]
[caption id="attachment_24285" align="alignleft" width="236"]Image of a Western Screech Owl Western Screech Owl by Jon Nelson. CC BY 2.0[/caption]
Habitat: Both species use a wide range of habitats, including urban parks. The eastern species occurs in Manitoba, Ontario and Quebec; the western screech is found in BC. Most active during: Night. Sounds: While these two species look alike, they sound different. The eastern screech produces a high-pitched whinny whereas the western screech trills a series of nasal hoots that gets faster at the end.

Snowy Owl

Image of a Snowy Owl
Habitat: Open spaces including shorelines, airfields and farms. Although they breed in the tundra, some winters they migrate to southern Canada and the US. Most active during: Daytime. Sounds: Harsh squawks.

Short-Eared Owl

Image of a Short Eared Owl
Habitat: Open areas like farmland and marshes. This species breeds across Canada, but is usually only found in BC and Ontario during winter. Most active during: Dawn and dusk. Sounds: Raspy yips or quiet hoots.

Long-Eared Owl

Image of a Long-Eared Owl
Habitat: Woodlands across southern Canada. Most active during: Night. Sounds: Evenly spaced hoots, like the sound made by blowing across the top of a bottle.

Northern Saw-Whet Owl

Image of a Northern Saw Whet Owl
Habitat: Mature forests across southern Canada. Most active during: Night. Sounds: Shrill, monotonous toots. Also high-pitched whines, for which the species might be named; apparently someone thought it sounded like the whetting of a saw.

Finding owls

Here are a few other clues you can look for:
  • Other birds making noise and mobbing the owl;
  • Pellets (regurgitated clumps of indigestible food) and white poop stains around the bases of tree trunks;
  • A habitat that matches your target species’ requirements. Does it need a perch with a view? Open space for hunting? Dense forest for shelter?

Respecting owls

Visiting owls is exciting, but it’s important to be a polite guest. To protect the owls’ well being, please do not:
  1. Get too close. If an owl is staring at you, elongating its body or flying away, it needs more space.
  2. Lure owls closer with food. This can encourage dangerous habits.
  3. Be noisy. Staying quiet will also increase your chances of seeing an owl.
  4. Play owl recordings. It is stressful for an owl to respond to ‘false alarms,’ thinking another bird is nearby.
  5. Tell all your friends. Too much human traffic would be disturbing.

Species Spotlight: Short-eared Owl

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 [caption id="attachment_1198" align="alignleft" width="228"]Photographer Wildaboutburnley Photographer Wildaboutburnley[/caption] 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.

this initiative is funded by

Want to Help?

Canada’s wilderness is the world’s envy. It’s our duty to keep our true north strong and green.