Short-eareds --the Moth Owls


Short-eareds --the Moth Owls
By Karen Menard

Airborne hunters gliding over the meadows with undulating wings that flop with purpose, slowly riding and maneuvering the wind with silent grace--a short-eared owl’s flight technique has often been compared to the way a moth flies.

While many moths fly at night seeking flower nectar, short-eareds actually prefer to fly during the day, mostly at dawn and dusk, hunting prey with fur and feathers.  Much of their diet consists of small mammals like voles, mice, and rabbits, as well as birds easily caught via the use of their keen eyesight and hearing.

Short-eareds possess facial discs composed of feathers which assist in directing sound toward the ears. When they raise these feathers slightly, the rustle of a hidden rodent becomes louder and clearer, allowing for an easy catch. Ear openings that are situated higher and lower on either sides of the head allow for triangulation of sounds, further assisting in a successful catch.

Small, feathered ear tufts, also occurring on the head, do not aid in hearing and are usually not visible, (unless alarmed) actually give the “short-eared” its name.  This owl is a member of the Genus Asio, which includes the “eared owls,”--species sporting feather tufts resembling mammal ears.

This species can be seen occasionally during the winter months in open, grassy areas and sites near Lake Erie in expansive, grassland areas. Considered nomads of the bird world, short-eareds are skilled in moving around or migrating to areas with large numbers of prey.

Recently, four short-eared owls made an appearance at Howard Marsh Metropark. Not noted at this park previously, it is very exciting to currently see them utilizing this now expanded wetland habitat for important activities like hunting prey and roosting. Requiring large, uninterrupted tracts of open grasslands to nest, roost, and hunt, their populations continue to be vulnerable to the effects of habitat loss and fragmentation.

Consider packing your binoculars or spotting scope and plan a hike at Howard Marsh Metropark this winter at dawn or dusk to possibly view one of these moth-like beauties skillfully floating low over the marsh.

Did you know?

Short-eareds are one of the most widely distributed birds in the world and found on every continent except Australia and Antarctica.  Short-eared owls can fly long distances over open ocean.


Video: Short-eared Owl in-flight - slow motion - Part 1, by Greg Gard

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