Canadian Species Spotlight - Short Eared Owl

The Short Eared Owl

The Short-eared Owl has a large, round head, with small tufts of feathers that look like ears. This medium-sized owl is about 34 to 42 centimetres long, with fairly long wings and a short tail. Adults are cryptically coloured to blend in with their surroundings and have a brown back and creamy-buff chest with brown streaks. Males and females are similar in appearance, but females are slightly larger and tend to be darker.

Its colours give the Short-eared Owl excellent camouflage, so this bird is mostly seen in flight, often at dawn and dusk. It can easily be identified by its irregular flight, which resembles that of a foraging moth – deep wingbeats, occasional hovering, and skimming patches of grassland or marsh.


Short-eared Owl prefer open areas such as grasslands, meadows in early succession (some shrubs or trees), marshlands, sloughs, beaches, sedge fields and previously forested areas that have been cleared. Suitable winter habitat includes marine foreshores, grasslands, fallow fields, etc. with a sufficient prey base and adequate roost sites. While this species is an old-field/open grassland and marshland specialist, it is occasionally spotted in suburban areas where large old-field or grassland features exist. Old-fields (5 years+) were found to be the most favourable habitat for Short-eared Owl and its prey. Winter roosts have been reported in abandoned dumps, quarries, gravel pits, storage yards,stump piles, old fields and dunes. Unlike most owls that nest in cavities or take over abandoned nests of other birds, Short-eared Owls build crude nests on the ground. Nests may be lined with grass,leaves, twigs or feathers. In general, any area that is large enough, has low vegetation cover (preferably 30-50 cm in height) with some dry upland areas for nesting that supports abundant, preferred prey may be considered potential breeding habitat. Nesting areas are often near waterbodies.


This owl preys on native and introduced rodents including rat, mice, mole and vole species, especially Townsend’s Vole which often determines local density of adult birds. Songbirds may be taken when small mammals are scarce. As with Barn Owl, this species is susceptible to starvation during prolonged periods of snow cover. In the winter, Short-eared Owls congregate at sites that provide abundant prey opportunities. Birds forage primarily by flying low, typically into the wind, and dropping down onto prey, sometimes after a brief hover.

Do You Want to Photograph a Short Eared Owl? 

I run a workshop in British Columbia every year where the Short Eared Owl can be photographed. This photo workshop is centered around the largest bald eagle migration in North America. Between 2000 to 8000 bald eagles find their way to this area beginning in late October to feed on the spawning salmon.

In addition to Short Eared Owls and Bald Eagles, you will also have the chance to photograph Red Tailed Hawks, Grebe, Golden Eyes, Wood Ducks, Sandhill Cranes, Herons, Pintails, Belted Kingfisher, Short Eared Owls, Barn Owls, Barred Owls, Buffleheads, Mergansers, Egrets, Snow Geese, Mute Swans, Rough Legged Hawk, Canvas Back, Golden Eagles, Peregrine Falcon, Virginia Rail, Common Snipe and the Great Horned Owl.

See the details on this workshop here,