• 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?

      The population is around 2,000,000 to 3,000,000 individuals, and they can be found on every continent except Australia and Antarctica.

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

      The short-eared owl faces habitat loss, since they build their nests in low vegetation that humans tend to clear for buildings and other purposes, and rodent poisoning from eating the small rodents who have been exposed to poison from humans.

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

      Acrobatic flight displays during courtship and talon locking during fights, which can result in them falling great distances before separating to resume flight.

  • Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry
    aerial Adjective

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

    continent Noun

    one of the seven main land masses on Earth.

    Encyclopedic Entry: continent
    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.