• Barn Owl
  • Barred Owl
  • Boreal Owl
  • Burrowing Owl
  • Eastern Screech Owl
    Eastern Screech
  • Elf Owl
  • Ferruginous Pygmy Owl
    Ferruginous Pygmy Owl
  • Flammulated Owl
  • Great Grey Owl
    Great Grey
  • Great Horned Owl
    Great Horned
  • Long Eared Owl
  • Northern Hawk Owl
    Northern Hawk
  • Northern Pygmy Owl
    Northern Pygmy
  • Northern Saw-whet Owl
    Northern Saw-whet
  • Short-eared Owl
  • Snowy Owl
  • Spotted Owl
  • Western Screech Owl
    Western Screech
  • Western Screech Owl
    Whiskered Screech Owl

SHORT-EARED OWL (Asio flammeus)

short eared owlAnother owl with a funny name…But if we have a Long-eared Owl, of course we must have a Short-eared Owl too. Though these two “tufted” owls have similar names, they are actually quite different.

In fact, the Short-eared Owl is quite different than all other owl species. First, Short-eared Owls have a flight style like no other. It’s erratic, to say the least. Often described as “moth-like”, it flaps its wings high in a slow, floppy fashion.

Secondly, they favor a different type of habitat than most other owls. While many owls seek deep, dense forests, Short-eared Owls prefer to be out in the open. They make their homes in mostly flat, treeless terrain like marshes, tundra, swamps, grasslands, or fields.

So where do they nest without trees, you might ask? Short-eared Owls don’t need trees; they nests right on the ground! While most owl species are content to plop right down into an abandoned nest of a Magpie or Crow, or cozy up into an old woodpecker hole, female Short-eared Owls choose a high place or a mound and scratch out a bowl-shaped depression, filling it with grass and soft, downy feathers. Birds that nest on the ground are at high risk from predators like foxes, cats, dogs, and other wild and domestic animals.

So, save a bird! The next time you take old Fido for a walk through the meadow, keep him on a leash!

Maps provided by The Birds of North America Online and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

  • A medium-sized owl with a large round head, very small ear tufts, yellow eyes, black beak, and long, broad wings with black patches on “wrists”

    Males: buff colored chest with brown streaking; belly whitish with less streaking

    Females: same as males, perhaps darker; colors resemble dried grasses and aid camouflage

    Young: crown and rump are dark brown; face is darker, body less streaked

  • Female slighter larger and heavier than male

    Height: Males 37cm (14.6 in), Females 38cm (15.0 in)

    Weight: Males 200-450g (7.1-15.9 oz), Females 280-500g (9.9-17.6 oz)

    Wingspan Both: 106cm (41.7 in)

  • Range: one of the most widespread owls in the world; can be found on every continent except Australia and Antarctica; breeding range in North America extends from Northern Alaska to Newfoundland and south to Southern California and Virginia

    Habitat: open country: tundra, marshes, grasslands, savannas, moorlands

  • Mostly small mammals like voles, shrews, moles, mice and rabbits; sometimes bats, weasels, or birds
  • Usually silent, except during winter, breeding season, or when warning intruders

    Males: usually a raspy bark; sometimes a “keee-ow” to warn intruders; also a 13-16 note series of repeated “hoo”s given in flight during courtship

    Females: give ‘keeow-ow” bark like male

  • Nest Site: nests on the ground, often atop a mound or high area; scratches out a bowl-shaped nest, fills it with grass and feathers

    Eggs: 5-6 eggs on average; sometimes up to 10

    Incubation: 26-29 days
  • Usually diurnal and nocturnal, sometimes crepuscular; flies low over the ground in search of prey; very agile, unusual flight

Short-Eared Owl Range Map

Short-Eared Owl Range Map

Short-Eared Owl Audio

Short-Eared Owl Facts

Other Names: None
Family: Strigidae
Closest Relative: Long-Eared Owl

Conservation Status

Not globally threatened; but threatened or endangered in 7 northeastern U.S. states; significant declines noted in most western states.


Learn more about ORI's research on this species.