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Monitoring Short-eared Owls

The Short-eared Owl (Asio flammeus) is a species of Special Concern in Canada because of long-term population declines and loss of habitat (see COSEWIC report). Short-eared Owls are an open-country bird and will wander extensively within their breeding and wintering ranges hunting for small mammals. Because of their nomadic nature, it is difficult to monitor populations. For this reason, little is known about Short-eared Owls.

The Problem

Grasslands are one of the ecosystems that are the most at risk, and grassland bird populations have shown greater and more wide-spread declines than any other group of North American birds. Christmas Bird Count data shows a 3% annual decrease in the North American Short-eared Owl population, with the Canadian population suffering nearly a 25% decrease in the last decade alone.

Short-eared Owls nest, rest, and feed in open areas such as fallow fields, hay fields, grasslands, airports, and meadows. Loss and degradation of these habitats are thought to be the major threat to Short-eared Owls.


One of the most notable characteristics of a Short-eared Owl is its buoyant and somewhat erratic moth-like flight. Short-eared Owls nest and rest on the ground, in thick cover, and are often found in communal groups in the winter. As the snow accumulates, Short-eared Owls will seek shelter in trees. Short-eared Owls tend to be more active during the day than are most other owls, but are generally crepuscular (most active at dawn and dusk), especially during winter.

Documenting Short-eared Owl locations

With help from the birding community, Bird Studies Canada (BSC) began documenting the winter Short-eared Owl population in southern Ontario in 2003. A database of historic winter sites for the species was created, and subsequently those sites were visited by BSC staff and volunteers to check for activity.

In 2010/11 BSC initiated Short-eared Owl data reporting from across Canada to identify breeding and wintering locations. But, to complete this task BSC needs your help. If you see this Short-eared owls please report any observations using the Short-eared Owl Observation Form.

Tracking Short-eared Owls

In 2008, BSC, in partnership with a bi-national working group, began a satellite-tracking project to examine Short-eared Owl movements and habitat use. From 2008 to 2010, four short-eared Owls were equipped with small, solar-powered satellite transmitters. From the movements of these owls, we have learned that owls wintering in south-western Ontario travelled vast areas, as far north as Quebec's Ungava Peninsula, then returned to winter in southern Ontario. This research has established a link between Short-eared Owls breeding in remote northern locations and owls wintering in highly fragmented, rural areas of southern Ontario. Similar studies are taking place in New York, Alaska, Manitoba, and Alberta. Movements of owls from Ontario, Manitoba and New York are available through our Owl Tracker.

We Need Your Help!

We are interested in all observations of breeding and wintering Short-eared Owls in Canada, as well as locations of roost sites that have been active in the past. If you see a Short-eared Owl, please report it to BSC using the Short-eared Owl Observation Form.

For more information on the Short-eared Owl program, contact: Kathy Jones Volunteer Coordinator 1-888-448-2473 ext. 124

Kathy Jones
Volunteer Coordinator
1-888-448-2473 ext. 124

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