Owl's namesake 'ears' not always visible

Sunday, February 6, 2011

The short-eared owl is a wide-ranging species appearing on five continents, the exceptions being Australia and Antarctica.

In North America, the short-eared owl winters across the southern half of the U.S. and almost all of Mexico. It summers and breeds, or lives year-round, throughout the rest of North America, including the far reaches of Alaska.

The short-eared owl's diet consists of small rodents such as field mice and occasionally a songbird.

In Southeast Missouri this owl can sometimes be seen flying low on a daytime hunt over a winter farm field. At such times it can be confused with a Northern Harrier, which hunts by flying low over farm fields, also. The harrier is a more graceful flier. The short-eared owl's flight is more reminiscent of a huge bat.

Most of the time, as in the photo, the short tufts of feathers that look like ears are not visible. When alerted to danger the owl's little "ears" will spring up.

This is a small owl, only about 15 inches tall when sitting, but it has a wingspan more than three feet wide.

While the short-eared owl is wintering in our area he is a silent bird. He is not the one you hear on a cold winter night. Maybe he is quiet for his safety because the great horned owl (at night) and bald eagle (at day) will catch and eat him if they can.

Through the Woods is a weekly nature photo column by Aaron Horrell. Find this column at semissourian.com to order a reprint of the photo. Find more work by him at the O'Tenem Gallery.

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