Short eared owl-Asio flammeus

The short eared owl is placed in the Family Strigidae and the Order Strigiformes. It was once referred to as the Hawk owl and is still known in some parts as the Woodcock owl.

During the winter many short eared owls make the long journey from Scandinavia, to over winter with us, they are often seen arriving with their close relatives the Long eared owl.

The short eared  owl  is essentially a bird of open country, particularly frequenting marsh lands, heather clad moors, gorse commons and dunes along the coast. In autumn they may be encountered in stubble or turnip fields. Short eared owls are often "started" up by sportsmen in pursuit of game;it then flies off with a quick zig zag flight { hence woodcock owl} for about a hundred yards or so before landing on the ground, never in a tree.

In older bird books it is referred to by the Latin name of Asio accipitrinus. Owls were once popularly supposed to be birds of darkness, being crepuscular or nocturnal, but short eared owls are regular day time flyers and may often be seen beating about in its own peculiar unsteady, erratic way during bright sunshine without any visible signs of inconvenience.

Short eared owl

Public domain Courtesy of the USFWS.

Description short eared owl

The plumage is a yellowish buff, heavily streaked  with black; the underparts are buff with pale streaks. The head and neck are buff with pale streaks; the tail is broadly barred, facial disc striking; eyes bright and yellow surrounded by black; the hooked horn coloured beak is set in the facial disc.

The legs and feet are feathered. The bird is about 15 inches long. Large white spots on the outer webs of the wing coverts. The tail barred with brown tipped with white. The female is larger than the male and she is often clad with a warmer tinted plumage. The wings are rounded.

In relation to its body size the wings are medium/long the tail is medium/short, the bill does not project, legs are short.

They have the typical  slow,flapping flight of the larger owls, but also soars, wheels and glides like a buzzard; the carriage is held less upright than other owls. The ear tufts are rarely seen in the field.

DIET of the short eared owl

Wherever there are large numbers of field voles short eared owl will occur. There is on record, in 1890-91, there was a bad plague of voles in south west Scotland--" and very soon a wonderful increase in the population of short eared owls became noticeable.indeed, it was estimated that no fewer than 400 pairs nested that year in the vole infested region and cleared it of the rodent pest.


Display flights commence at the start of the breeding season. These flights include vertical swoops and pronounced clapping of the wings { made when the wings meet below the body} as they descend towards the ground only pulling away at the last moment.

As with other species of owls the feathers create an illusion that the bird is larger and bulkier than it is in reality..This species is extremely light weight {260-425gms }. Because of this fact the flight can appear to be bouyant and effortless. 

The short eared owl prefers to nest on the ground. They make a shallow scrape in the shelter of tall grass, reeds, heather or scrub. the short eared owl breeds late in the season . The 6 or more creamy white eggs being generally laid in May. They are better concealed in some places more than others, however, the female crouches over them and shields them from the sun and from being seen by her camouflaged plumage. On northern moorland some nests are still occupied as late as August.

The female begins her incubation after the first egg has been laid, hence the chicks hatch at different stages. Each egg takes around 27 days and the incubation is carried out by the female.

The first born chick is soon much larger and stronger than its siblings and receives the lions share of the food produced by the parents. While the owlets are young and the nest being on the ground they are vulnerable to predators; However, they do grow quickly and within 10 days they have increased their body weight by 600%.

Before they fledge the owlets become very restless and will make exploratory excursions through the heather or reeds {depending on habitat} for quite appreciable distances, but always returning to the nest for food and rest. The parent birds are devoted parents and with out fear they will attack any intruder.

Nature has deemed that if food is scarce the larger owlets will kill and eat their siblings. This is a common occurrence with many species of birds of prey. Although this may sound cruel, it does guarantee at least one or two of them will grow strong enough to survive, weak owlets would certainly perish.

The surviving owlets fledge at about 26-32 days. they continue to be fed by their parents until they are able to fly at about four weeks old. They become independent at around eleven weeks old.

The birds will rear two broods if there is an abundance of food, particularly field voles. Indeed the success of the breeding season depends entirely on the availability of food at the time the chicks hatch. 

Conservation issues

In the UK the birds are placed on the Amber list of conservation concern {due to European concerns}.

Because of their remote habitat  preferences estimated trends are not available.

In the UK they are classed as Migrant/resident breeder, and passage winter visitor.

The latest estimate {1988-91} was 1000-3,500 pairs in summer. 

Associated pages-Click on the content banners at the top of this page. Scroll down to view.

The Barn Owl.

Tawny owl.

All other birds that feature on this site can be viewed by clicking on the relevant content banners { they are all grouped together}

The BTO.

Links-The BTO. Click on the links banner. Scroll down to The BTO. From there, there is a direct link to the British Trust for Ornithology  website home page.



Thank you for visiting. 

Short eared owl chick about 18 days old.

Courtesy of Richerman CC BY-SA 3.0 License.

UK conservation 2021.

UK -Amber listed-due to declines of over 25% in population/distribution over the last thirty years or so .

Europe- Species of least concern. 

Reuse of Images

The images on this page may be reused. However, the name of the relevant author must be attributed along with any accompanying license.