Unlike other owls, Short-eared Owls can be active both day and night, doing much of their hunting at dusk.
They are a medium-sized owl, often about 30-40 cm (one foot) long with a wingspan close to one meter (three feet). They are most easily identified by their large cream-coloured facial disk, yellow eyes, moth-like flight, and light-coloured body with dark wing tips.
Perhaps their most unique feature, however, is that they emit a barking sound when annoyed or to express territoriality. They are also rather flamboyant actors, sometimes putting on an act of distress by squealing over a “broken” wing to distract predators from their nests or young.
Photo by Hank Tseng
They are different from their other owl-relatives in their tendency to nest on the ground in open fields.
These owls will often congregate in areas where there is abundant prey, such voles, often in open habitats. Short-eared Owls are specialized vole hunters, and in the lower Fraser River delta their diet consists mainly of Townsend’s voles, often found in Grassland Set-Asides.
Short-eared Owls are a Blue-Listed (Threatened) species in British Columbia and are listed as a species of special concern under the federal Species at Risk Act. This is most likely due to the loss of important breeding habitat such as marshes and grasslands. The Fraser River delta provides some habitat suitable for breeding, and the owls remain within the Greater Vancouver area year-round.