The Short-eared Owl is a bird of prey belonging to the order Owls. From time immemorial, the owl has been considered a symbol of wisdom and secret knowledge. Often she is portrayed as an indispensable companion of the Slavic Magi or the animal god Veles. Today, the Short-eared Owl is one of the most common birds of prey on the territory of the Eurasian continent, and its habitat is truly colossal.
Origin of the species and description
Classification of Short-eared Owl as species occurred in the middle of the 18th century. The famous Swedish biologist Carl Liney was identified as a separate species of these birds. But without a doubt, as a species, the short-eared owl formed several thousand years ago.
There is an opinion that this winged predator lived on the territory of Eurasia even before the end of the Ice Age. And unlike many other bird species, short-eared owls were able to adapt to a changing climate and survived all natural disasters perfectly. The oldest remains of an owl date back to the 3rd millennium BC and they were found in France during archaeological excavations.
Interesting fact: Short-eared owls occupy an important place in the mythology of different nationalities. Among the Slavs, it is a symbol of wisdom and knowledge, and in Asian countries it is a symbol of imminent death, an indispensable companion of a demon that takes souls.
Video: Short-eared Owl
By their wingspan and weight, short-eared owls are medium-sized birds, but this does not make them less dangerous predators.
These birds are distinguished by the following key features:
- body length, no more than 45 centimeters;
- wingspan – about 1 meter;
- body weight, not more than 500 grams;
- the head is large and round with pronounced eyes of yellow (or light orange color);
- the beak is strong and powerful, predatory bent down.
The plumage of the bird is light brown. The feathers are soft and tightly attached to each other. Some subspecies of short-eared owls have down that helps not to freeze even in the most severe frosts. From below, the plumage is somewhat lighter than on the back, which is clearly visible when the bird is flying. Interesting features of the bird include the fact that the males of the short-eared owl are smaller than females, but do not differ at all from each other in plumage color.
Appearance and features
Family owls are one of the most numerous winged predators in the world. This is due to the fact that owls live in almost all climatic zones and have adapted to life in various natural conditions. The appearance and behavior of a bird depends on which subspecies it belongs to.
Currently, several subspecies of short-eared owls are distinguished:
Great Gray Owl — one of the largest birds of this species. There are individuals reaching a meter in size with a wingspan of one and a half meters. You can recognize the owl not only by its large size, but also by the black circles around the eyes. Also, there is a large black spot under the beak. It resembles a beard and hence the name of this bird appeared. An interesting feature of the Great Gray Owl is that it does not build its own nests, preferring to occupy already prepared nests of other birds. The bird lives in the Russian Federation, as well as in the Far East, in countries such as Mongolia and China;
Little Owl — the smallest member of the owl family. The size of an adult individual does not exceed 20 centimeters, and the wingspan does not exceed 40 centimeters. It resembles a pigeon in size, but is an active predator and hunts the same pigeons perfectly. The plumage of the pygmy owl is gray-brown, the head is small, the eyes opposite are large and widely spaced. A feature of the bird is that it is covered with thick feathers to the very claws.
Snowy Owl — perhaps the most unusual representative of the owl family. It is distinguished not only by its large size (up to 50 centimeters long and up to 2 kilograms of weight), but also by its excellent camouflage. The plumage of the bird is white, with a small black dot. This allows her to perfectly disguise herself in the conditions of the tundra and permafrost. The birds and I are able to survive even in extremely low temperatures, and feel great even on the islands of the Arctic Ocean.
Hawk Owl — the most dangerous predator of the family. The bird got its name due to the fact that the color of its plumage (brown-brown) is similar to the color of the plumage of a hawk. The bird lives in the forest regions of Europe, Kamchatka, North America and even Chukotka. Its main prey is black grouse, hazel grouse, hares and squirrels.
Where does the short-eared owl live ?
Short Owl an owl is an unpretentious bird, characterized by a high ability to adapt. Therefore, it is not surprising that the winged predator lives throughout the globe with the exception of Antarctica and Australia.
An interesting fact: The high adaptive abilities of an owl are evidenced by the fact that it is able to survive even on snow-covered islands in the Arctic Ocean in permafrost and constant negative temperatures.
Short-eared owls happily live throughout Eurasia from Portugal and Spain to the Trans-Baikal and Mongolian steppes. The optimal place for an owl to live is the tundra, steppe or large wastelands with low vegetation. If necessary, birds are able to live on the outskirts of the forest, but they will never settle in a dense forest.
As for the countries of Latin America or southern states with constant high air temperatures, birds prefer to settle in the floodplains of large rivers, in swampy areas or on the coast. Short-eared owl feels equally good in the swamps of Louisiana, and the highlands of the Andes at an altitude of 3000 meters.
In the northern regions, birds migrate to warmer regions, and in hot countries, owls lead a sedentary lifestyle and spend their whole lives in one territory. Birds are not afraid of people and quite often settle near large agricultural lands, fields or human dwellings.
Now you know where the Short-eared Owl is found. Let's see what it eats.
What does a Short-eared Owl eat?
Most often, these birds of prey prey on small rodents. Vole mice, wood mice and rats are the main diet for the short-eared owl. With a shortage of rodents, owls are able to catch snakes, frogs, large flying insects, and even fish (this usually happens in coastal areas or near large rivers). Large individuals are able to hunt a hare and catch cubs of foxes and wolves.
Interesting fact: The standard region of a short-eared owl is 60-80 grams of meat. These are 2-3 mouse voles. But when it gets colder or while raising chicks, the short-eared owl is able to catch 10-12 voles a day, which is quite comparable to its own weight.
The Short-eared Owl is one of the few birds capable of stocking up for a rainy day. When the bird is fully fed, it regurgitates undigested food near the nest. Usually, these are 6-8 half-digested mice voles. Such stocks help the bird survive the hungry spring or survive the winter in case of severe frosts.
The method of hunting the short-eared owl is very interesting. The bird hunts with equal success both sitting on a hill and being in low-level flight at a height of up to 10 meters from ground level. At the same time, being on the hunt, the short-eared owl focuses not only on excellent vision, but also on sensitive hearing, which allows detecting mice even underground.
Character and lifestyle features
The Short-eared Owl spends most of its life alone. Only during the breeding season (several months a year), the male and female live in close proximity to each other. Each short-eared owl has its own territory. It is smaller than that of large birds of prey, but its area is quite enough to feed the bird throughout the year.
The peak of vital activity is manifested in the short-eared owl at sunset, at dusk and at night. The owl goes hunting and devotes several hours to catching various small animals. By midnight, the activity of the bird fades, and it goes to the nest. However, do not think that an owl cannot hunt in daylight. If necessary (when you need to feed the chicks or there is not enough prey at night), the owl can hunt in the morning or in the evening. The bird prefers to spend only the hottest hours in the nest.
If an owl lives near large bodies of water and has to compete with gulls and skuas, it completely switches to a nocturnal lifestyle, since other birds sleep at night. The way of rest of the Short-eared Owl is very interesting. In order for the wings to relax, the owl sits on a branch in a strictly vertical position or spreads out on the ground with its wings stretched. Thanks to the camouflage plumage, the bird is very difficult to spot, and you can walk a few meters from the owl without noticing it.
In addition, short-eared owls are very fond of sunbathing. To do this, they sit down facing the sun and lower their wings as much as possible. Migrating owls (especially those that live beyond the Arctic Circle) gather in flocks of 50-80 individuals and cover a distance of 2-3 thousand kilometers to the places of permanent wintering.
Social structure and reproduction
As mentioned above, single owls and couples get together only for the breeding season. The mating season for owls begins at the end of March and ends at the beginning of June, it all depends on the climatic conditions in which the bird lives. In the spring, monogamous couples are formed, but after a season, the couples break up and the chances that they will reunite again are small.
To attract a female, males show the inside of their wings and fly in a spiral, demonstrating their capabilities. The female is necessarily presented with a gift in the form of a caught game, and if she accepts the gift, then the pair is considered formed. The owl's nest is placed directly on the ground. Usually, it is a small hole lined with feathers and dry grass from the inside. The nest is built jointly by the male and female, and, as a rule, it is carefully camouflaged. It is difficult to detect it both from the ground and from the air.
There are usually 5-10 eggs in the nest and only the female is engaged in hatching them. In turn, the male provides food for both the female and all his offspring. For this reason, owls can hunt even during the day, and even prey that is not characteristic of them. Incubation of eggs takes 22-25 days. The chicks hatch covered in white down. On the 12th day they are able to swallow the prey themselves, and until that time the female feeds them with semi-digested food.
Interesting fact: Quite often, the first hatched owlets eat their younger brothers. Practice shows that if 5-6 chicks hatch, then no more than 3 flies out of the nest.
After 20 days, the chicks leave the nest and make attempts to fly up. After another 10 days, they already know how to fly, and after another month they are able to do without their parents. They start hunting on their own and fly off to seek their own territory.
Natural enemies of the Short-eared Owl
Despite that the short-eared owl is a bird of prey, it has many natural enemies. This is due to the fact that the owl builds a nest on the ground and almost all four-legged predators can reach it.
All kinds of foxes, martens and even wild boars pose a serious danger not only to laying eggs, but also to young chicks sitting in the nest. Owls carefully mask the nest, but it is not difficult for predatory animals to track down the nest and feast on eggs. For this reason, short-eared owls have a very low birth rate, and only 1-2 chicks survive from each clutch.
Young fledglings and adult birds may be threatened by other raptors. Eagles, hawks and kites – they all pose a serious danger even to birds that have reached puberty. Inexperienced young animals become easy prey for large birds of prey.
However, the greatest danger to owls is man. A variety of human activities are seriously reducing the range of short-eared owls. For example, there are very few of these birds in Europe, and they feel truly at ease only in Siberia, the Far East and the polar Urals.
Chemicals used to bait rodents also pose a serious threat to birds . There are frequent cases when birds were poisoned with rat poison, eating voles and rats.
Population and species status
Although the short-eared owl species has a “minimum threat of extinction” status, the number of birds is declining every year. A secretive and solitary lifestyle does not allow us to say exactly how many short-eared owls live in a particular period of time, but according to rough estimates by ornithologists, about 300 thousand individuals live in Eurasia.
At the same time, the resettlement of birds is uneven and in developed and densely populated countries, such as Germany, Austria or Italy, the number of birds is reduced by 9-12% annually. Most of the short-eared owl population lives on the territory of the Russian Federation. In remote places of Siberia and the Far East, there are about 250 thousand birds, that is, about 80% of all owls on the continent.
Another 200 thousand short-eared owls live in North America, but their number is constantly decreasing. About 25% of all owls living in North America are ringed and by their number one can judge the reduction of the entire species. Every year, bird populations are declining by 5-8%, which means that in a few years the number of the species will drop to extremely small values and the threat of extinction will be quite real.
To be fair, it must be said that short-eared owls live in all major zoos in the world. Birds breed well in captivity and the final extinction of the species does not threaten these birds. The whole question is whether owls will remain in the wild or become permanent residents of zoos.
The short-eared owl is one of the most unusual birds that can be found in nature. Camouflage plumage, unusually large eyes, the ability to turn the neck 180 degrees – these are just a few of the facts that make this bird truly unique.