Species At Risk

Short-eared Owl

(Asio flammeus)

Special Concern

Short-eared Owl
Short-eared Owl occurrences map


The Short-eared Owl has a large, round head, with small tufts of feathers that look like ears. This medium-sized owl is about 34 to 42 centimetres long, with fairly long wings and a short tail. Adults are cryptically coloured to blend in with their surroundings and have a brown back and creamy-buff chest with brown streaks. Males and females are similar in appearance, but females are slightly larger and tend to be darker.

Its colours give the Short-eared Owl excellent camouflage, so this bird is mostly seen in flight, often at dawn and dusk. It can easily be identified by its irregular flight, which resembles that of a foraging moth – deep wingbeats, occasional hovering, and skimming patches of grassland or marsh.

Action we are taking:


The Short-eared Owl has a world-wide distribution, and in North America its range extends from the tundra south to the central United States. In Ontario, the species has a scattered distribution, found along the James Bay and Hudson Bay coastlines, along the Ottawa River in eastern Ontario, in the far west of the Rainy River District, and elsewhere in southern Ontario, at places such as Wolfe and Amherst Islands near Kingston. Most northern populations are migratory, moving southward in the winter.


The Short-eared Owl lives in open areas such as grasslands, marshes and tundra where it nests on the ground and hunts for small mammals, especially voles.


The Short-eared Owl was probably more common and widespread in southern Ontario when there were larger areas of native prairie and savannah, their preferred habitat. The creation of new grasslands with the clearing of forests for farmland may have initially benefited the species, but as agricultural methods became more intensive with the mowing of fields during the nesting season and overgrazing by livestock, these areas became unsuitable for this owl. Other threats include loss of marshes.


The Short-eared Owl is listed as a species of Special Concern under Ontario’s Endangered Species Act. Although species of Special Concern do not receive legal protection under this act, this species is designated as a Specially Protected Bird under the Ontario Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act.

What You Can Do to Help the Short-eared Owl

  • The Ministry of Natural Resources tracks species at risk such as the Short-eared Owl. You can use a handy online form to report your sightings to the Natural Heritage Information Centre. Photographs with specific locations or mapping coordinates are always helpful. nhic.mnr.gov.on.ca
  • Report any illegal activity related to plants and wildlife to 1-877-TIPS-MNR (847-7667).
  • Private land owners have a very important role to play in species recovery. You may be eligible for stewardship programs that support the protection and recovery of species at risk and their habitats.
  • Bird Studies Canada is working to advance the understanding, appreciation and conservation of wild birds and their habitat in Ontario and elsewhere. For more information on how you can help, visit: www.bsc-eoc.org.
  • Volunteer with your local nature club or provincial park to participate in surveys or stewardship work focused on species at risk.

Did you know?

This owl hunts day and night; mainly at dawn and dusk in winter. It flies low over open ground and locates prey by ear. It kills prey with a bite to the back of the skull, often swallowing it whole.

Did you know?

The Short-eared Owl is one of the few species that seems to have benefited from strip-mining. It nests on reclaimed and replanted mines that have been transformed into open areas with vegetation south of its normal breeding range.

Did you know?

The Short-eared Owl may compete with the nationally and provincially endangered Barn Owl (Tyto alba) in some areas. Some successful nest box programs to attract Barn Owls have coincided with the decline of the Short-eared Owl in the same area.

Did you know?

Short-eared Owls are nomadic, meaning that individuals wander over large distances, usually settling in areas where prey densities are high.

Did you know?

The scientific name for Short-eared Owl, Asio flammeus, is Latin for “horned owl” (Asio) and “fiery” or “flaming” (flammeus), referring to its plumage.

Did you know?

There are 10 subspecies of Short-eared Owl, which can be found on every continent, except Antarctica and Australia.

The Endangered Species Act

Contact your local ministry office

Often the best source of local information on species at risk is your nearest ministry office. Call with your questions or concerns.