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The Owls of North Dakota

Short-Eared Owl
Asio flammeus

JPG -- Picture of Species

The short-eared owl is readily identified by its distinctive mothlike, flopping flight. It is 13-17 inches in length, has an average wingspan of 3 1/2 feet, and is tawny brown with bold streaks on the breast and a pale, lightly streaked belly. It has small ear tufts which are barely visible, and in flight shows black wrist marks on the bottom of its wings.

The short-eared owl is found almost worldwide and ranges over all of North America. A bird of open country, it prefers grassland, marshes, tundra and dunes. The birds in the north ranges will migrate as far south as Texas, the Gulf coast, and Florida when snow cover conceals food sources. It is considered locally abundant and declining, with populations dependent upon rodent population cycles.

The short-eared owl nests on the ground, generally in a slight depression, which the bird lines with grass and a few feathers. If the nest is threatened, adults will perform a "broken wing" act to lure away intruders, or may attack to protect their nest or young. They have also been known to remove eggs or young from nests which were threatened by unusually high water conditions.

This bird hunts during the day, chiefly at dawn and dusk, over prairies, marshes, tundra, and weedy fields. It quarters across fields, circling and gliding close to the ground, and will often drop straight down with wings upheld to pounce on a mouse.

Rodents are their primary food source, especially voles, but they will also eat insects and small birds.

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