By Andy Reago & Chrissy McClarren (Short-eared Owl) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

By Andy Reago & Chrissy McClarren (Short-eared Owl) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Short-eared Owl (Asio flammeus)

Range
Non-resident in Virginia, but winters here in limited numbers. Found from Alaska south to central California, and east across North Central states.

Size
Length          13-17 inches
Wingspan     33-41 inches
Weight          7-17 ounces

Habitat
Grass fields and meadows, woodlands, marshes, moors, dunes and other open country.

Diet
Small mammals, chiefly mice and voles; insects, small birds, etc.

Characteristics
Uncommon owl; rapidly vanishing from many nesting areas. Very long wings for the size of the owl. Known for long nomadic flights, sometimes over the ocean. Hunts standing on the ground, where it blends in perfectly. Has uncanny ability to sense rodent population explosions. Nests on the ground, sometimes in loose colonies, often close to Northern harriers. Call is a low pitched hollow hoo-hoo-hoo-hoo; will also hiss and snap the bill.

Short Eared Owls are the night counterpart of the Northern Harrier or Marsh Hawk. They hunt in meadows, either by coursing low over the terrain or by standing on the ground and waiting for prey to come by. Short Eared Owls are found in Virginia during the winter months, but are believed to migrate to Canada and northern US states to breed. They are reportedly one of the most intelligent of the owls, and are a wonderful education bird.