Short-eared Owl

Asio flammeus

37-39cm

Appearance

Of average size for the owls in the region; adults and juveniles are similar. Plumage is mottled brown and is darkly streaked, the breast is pale but is also darkly streaked, the face is pale with circular discs, there are two short 'ear tufts', and the eyes are vivid yellow surrounded by black markings. The wings are long and they're pale from beneath with black tips, while from above they are brownish with a white trailing edge.

Habitat

Prefers expansive countryside and may be found on moorland, coastal marshes, rough grassland and dunes.

Character

During courtship, this bird performs displays in the air, soaring above its territory and touching its wings together underneath its body. Mostly hunts at dawn and dusk, but may do so throughout the day. Usually seen alone, but birds may congregate in small groups for roosting.

Food

Eats short-tailed voles, rats and mice, smaller birds, and, less commonly, insects and amphibians.

Breeding

Female lays 4-7 eggs in March and incubates them for 24-29 days. Young hatch intermittently over a week, and are fed by both parents; they depart the nest and head for nearby foliage until they learn to fly at about 24-27 days old. When food is abundant, two broods may be raised.

Population

Northern populations are migratory, with some birds crossing the Sahara Desert, while others arrive in the region after crossing the North Sea. Populations can be nomadic and vary depending on the availability of food. Numbers of breeding pairs in the UK are between 620 and 2200, and there are several pairs in Ireland.

Observation Tips

During breeding season, hotspots for this bird include the south of Scotland and the Orkney Islands. Coastal areas in England, particularly in the south or the east, are the best places to visit during winter.

Voice

A relatively quiet bird, though has a raspy barking sound and a low-pitched hoot when in display.
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