The short-eared owl (Asio flammeus) is a bird of prey with an expansive range; it can be found on every continent at some point in the year except Antarctica and Australia. One subspecies can even be found in Hawai’i. Despite their name, they do not have external ears; the ear-tufts on top of their heads resemble the ears of mammals but are actually just small groups of feathers. In many cases, these tufts of feathers can be so short they go unnoticed.

Male short-eared owls put on impressive aerial displays, involving flapping their wings and acrobatics, during courtship. During fights, males will sometimes lock their talons together in flight and tumble great distances before separating. Even during normal flight, short-eared owls are unusual. They use an exaggerated, irregular wingbeat that leads many to describe their flight as “moth-like.”

Because of its expansive distribution worldwide, the short-eared owl has a large population estimated to be around 2,000,000–3,000,000 individuals. However, over the last 40 years, this owl has seen significant population declines in parts of its range. Short-eared owls build their nests on the ground and require thick vegetation to conceal their eggs and the incubating female, making them sensitive to habitat loss. They are also dependent on small rodents for food and may be hurt by poisons used to control these pests.

  1. What is the approximate population of the short-eared owl, and where are they found?

  2. What are some of the challenges the short-eared owl faces?

  3. What are some of the behaviors short-eared owls exhibit while in the air?

aerial
Adjective

existing, moving, growing, or operating in the air.

Noun

one of the seven main land masses on Earth.

courtship
Noun

behavior in animals resulting in mating.

expansive
Adjective

vast or very large.

external
Adjective

outside of something.

habitat loss
Noun

the reduction or destruction of an ecosystem, making it less able to support its native species.

incubate
Verb

to heat and take care of eggs until they hatch.

population
Noun

total number of people or organisms in a particular area.

rodent
Noun

order of mammals often characterized by long teeth for gnawing and nibbling.

subspecies
Noun

(subsp.) group of organisms within a single species, often distinguished by geographic isolation.

talon
Noun

claw of a bird, especially a bird of prey or raptor.

vegetation
Noun

all the plant life of a specific place.