Family: (Strigidae) Owls
Preferred Habitat: Prairies.
Seasonal Occurrence: Uncommon spring through fall.
Profile by Glenn Olsen: The Short-eared Owl is an uncommon winter visitor to our area. It is not easily found but searching for one is a great reason to get outdoors. The most productive months to conduct your search are November through March. Primary sites include open grasslands such as those we find on the Katy Prairie Conservancy properties, Attwater National Wildlife Refuge, weedy fields, grass strips of small airports, coastal marshes and sometimes agricultural fields with stubble.
This is a medium-sized owl (roughly the size of an American Crow) whose color pattern ranges from pale brown to dark brown mottled upper parts with off-white underparts to tawny-buff underparts with brown streaks. The facial pattern is usually distinctive with a pale colored face and darker area around the eyes. Look for this owl about an hour before darkness settles over the fields or just as daylight creeps into the day. Simply use your eyes to scan for a bird flying just a few feet above the field. It is slightly smaller than a Northern Harrier which shares the same habitat and has a similar hunting style. The owl can be distinguished from a harrier by its lack of white rump, larger head, and more rounded wing tips. If you see it flying away from you, just wait patiently as Short-eared Owls often crisscross or make circular routes over the field.
They hunt primarily small mice, voles, rats, shrews, rabbits and even birds if the opportunity to catch one presents itself. Sometimes, especially on overcast days, this owl may be found hunting at other times of the day but in the same habitat as described. Short-eared Owls breed in the northern third of the U.S. and into Canada and Alaska. They winter throughout the southern half of the U.S. and Mexico.