South Dakota
Birds and Birding
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Short-eared Owl

Asio flammeus

Length: 13 - 17 inches Wingspan: 38 - 44 inches Seasonality: All Seasons
ID Keys: Pale buffy-brown overall, with strongly streaked breast, dark around yellow eyes, short hard to see ear tufts

Short-eared Owl - Asio flammeusThe Short-eared Owl is an owl of open terrain such as prairies and farmland, and is also often active during daylight, making it a more observable owl than most.  They often be seen in low flight over fields and grasslands as they search for prey.  Other than North America, nesting populations can also be found in Eurasia, South America, and even many oceanic islands such as Hawaii.

Habitat: Can be found in a variety of open habitats, dependent upon the availability of small rodents.  This may include prairies, large marshes, farmland, shrubby fields, and even tundra.

Diet: Primarily feeds on small rodents, up to the size of rabbits and muskrats. Will also feed on small birds if available.

Behavior: They hunt by flying low over fields, hovering and then dropping on their prey upon locating it.  Much of the hunting is done by sound alone, but they are also capable of hunting by sight.  They are most active at dawn and dusk, but do hunt during the daytime as well.  Multiple Short-eared Owls are often found utilizing the same fields for hunting, offering the birder the opportunity to see several in a relatively small area.

Nesting: May through June

Song: Generally quiet, but sometimes gives a loud sharp barking call

Migration: Some birds throughout the northern half of the U.S. are year-round residents.  However, those summering in Canada are strongly migratory, and other populations may be nomadic, depending upon populations of small rodents.

Interactive eBird map: Click here to access an interactive eBird map of Short-eared Owl sightings

Similar Species: Long-eared Owl

Conservation Status: Has disappeared from many former nesting areas in the southern part of its range, probably due to habitat loss. 

Further Information: 1) Patuxent Bird Identification InfoCenter, Short-eared Owl

2) Cornell Lab of Ornithology - Short-eared Owl

3) -- Short-eared Owl

Photo Information: July 16th, 2004 -- Richland Wildlife Area -- Terry Sohl

Additional Photos: Click on the image chips or text links below for additional, higher-resolution Short-eared Owl photos.


Click on the map below for a higher-resolution view
Short-eared Owl - Range Map
South Dakota Status: Uncommon migrant, summer, and winter resident in the western and north-central part of the state.  Casual in the rest of the eastern part of the state.